Monday, August 5, 2013

Monday Muse: Alaska's State Writer Laureate

Listen for sounds.
They are as important
as voices.
~ Nora Marks Dauenhauer*

Nora Marks Dauenhauer is Alaska's State Writer Laureate. She succeeded Peggy Shumaker, who served from October 2010 to October 2012.

My post on Shumaker's predecessor, Nancy Lord, contains background on the honorary two-year position, which is unpaid.

* * * * *

A member of the Alaska Women's Hall of Fame into which she was inducted in 2010, poet Nora Marks Dauenhauer, whose first language is Tlingit (she is acknowledged internationally as a translator and explicator of Tlingit oral literature and folklore), is a widely published and anthologized writer. Her Life Woven With Song (University of Arizona Press, 2000) is a collection of prose and poetry, including Dauenhauer's well-known and widely accessible "A Poem for Jim Nagataak'w, My Grandfather, Blind and Nearly Deaf" (see video).  Her other poetry collection is The Droning Shaman (Black Current Press, 1988; available through resellers); that debut books was published when Dauenhauer was 64.  Her scholarly books include the bilingual, award-winning Russians in Tlingit America: The Battles of Sitka 1802 and 1804 (University of Washington Press, 2008), co-written with Richard Dauenhauer and Lydia T. Black. Dauenhauer also is a memorist, essayist, short story writer, playwright ("Raven, King Salmon, and the Birds"), and historian.

Dauenhuer is the first Alaska Native to be appointed State Writer Laureate. (Dauenhauer's husband Richard Dauenhauer is a former Alaska laureate (1981); he is an honorary Alaska Native.)

When she began writing poetry, Dauenhauer, who cites "the spirits" as her muse, limited herself to very short poems, such as "Granddaughters Dancing", which appeared in the New York City subways:

Granddaughters dancing,
swaying in the wind.

Some of her later poems are haiku-like, although others run to a number of stanzas. By turns playful, serious, and celebratory, they convey in matter-of-fact titles and imagery past (traditional) and contemporary Tinglit culture and heritage. Their themes include the natural world, food, and ancestral land, family, community and fellowship, as well as the passage of time and change.

Here is an excerpt from another of Dauenhauer's oft-cited poems, one of her lengthiest, which includes a list of ingredients and cooking, serving, eating, and cleaning-up directions (note the humor implicit in the title and throughout the poem, and how the poem conveys the narrator's knowledge):

It's best made in dryfish camp
on a beach by a fish stream
on sticks over an open fire
or during fish
or during canning season
In this case, we'll make it in the city,
baked in an electric oven on a black
fry pan. . . .
~ From "How to Make Good Baked Salmon"

Major publishers of Dauenhauer's work include Cambridge University Press, Graywolf Press, and Rizzoli and the university presses of Alaska, Arizona, Indiana, Nebraska, Toronto, Utah, and Washington.  Literary publications in which her work has appeared include Alaska Northwest and Alaska Quarterly Review and the anthologies The Alaska Native Reader (Duke University Press, 2009), Alaska at 50: The Past, Present, and Future of Alaska Statehood (University of Alaska Press, 2009), and First Fish, First People: Salmon Tales of the North Pacific Rim (University of Washington Press, 2003; out-of-print). (Dauenhauer's books can be found through other booksellers, including Amazon and Barnes & Noble.)

Among Dauenhauer's many honors are the Ecotrust Indigenous Leadership Award (2011), Before Columbus Foundation American Book Award (2008, 1991), the Community Spirit Award of the First People's Fund of Rapid City, South Dakota (2005), and Alaska Governor's Awards for the Arts (1989). She holds an Honorary Doctor of Humanities degree, awarded in 2001 by the University of Alaska Southeast, and was named Humanist of the Year (1980) by the Alaska Humanities Forum. In addition, she is included in American Women Writers National Museum's 50-State Women Honorees for February 2013. She has served on a number of boards and commissions. 


* Quoted in "Listen for Sounds", from "Listening for Native Voices" (Native Writers' Workshop, Nome, Alaska) (The short poem is published in full at the Ecotrust link included below.)

Photo Courtesy Alaska State Council of the Arts

All Poetry Excerpts © Nora Marks Dauenhauer

Nora Marks Dauenhauer Poems Online: "Granddaughters Dancing", "Museum", and "Wealth", All at 49 Writers; "Amelia's First Ski Run", "Grandmother Eliza", and "The Storm", All at Poetry Foundation; "Grandmother Eliza", Audio at Sound Cloud; "The Storm" at Poetry; "A Poem for Jim Nagataak'W, My Grandfather, Blind and Nearly Deaf" at Writing Raven; "Gathering at William Tyson Elementary School, Anchorage, Alaska", "For My Granddaughter Amelia Cheerleading at Homecoming '98, Juneau-Douglas High School", "Cole Sewing", "Gabe's Birthday, "Repatriation", "The Tides Forecasting Winter", "September Morning Fog", "Soccer Squad", and "Digging Spuds" in The Alaska Native Reader at GoogleBooks; "How to Make Good Baked Salmon from the River" at Bread Loaf's Searching for Wildness Blog

"Listen for Sounds", An Introduction to Alaska Native Poets Nora Marks Dauenhauer, Fred Bigjim, and Robert Davis, University of Alaska Department of English (This essay first appeared in The Northern Review, Issue 10, Summer 1993.)

Amy Flecher, "New Writer Laureate Bridges Cultures, Disciplines", Juneau Empire, November 22, 2012

Mike Dunham, "Tlingit Author and Linguist Named Alaska Writer Laureate", Anchorage Daily News, October 10, 2012

Alaska State Council on the Arts

The People's Poetry Language Initiative

State Writer Laureate Page, Literary Arts, Alaska State Council on the Arts

In this recording, Dauenhauer reads her poem "Salmon Egg Puller Large":


Cara Lopez Lee said...

Thank you for introducing me to this terrific poet. I lived in Alaska for about 9 years, and her poetry reminds me of many people and places I crossed paths with along my way.

susanissima said...

Thank you so much for this post! My daughter and her family are moving to Alaska and I'm excited to be connected with the State Writer Laureate's beautiful work.

Beth Green said...

Thanks for posting this. I'm forwarding the link to a client in Alaska to feature on their social media, too. What a wonderful lady!