Howard Blum, author of The Floor of Heaven. Photo courtesy of Crown Publishing, a division of Random House.

North Words Writers Symposium returns to Skagway


The Second Annual North Words Writers Conference is coming back to town.
From June 1-4, Alaskan authors, editors and poets will grace the presence of Skagway streets while discussing writing techniques, regional history and having fun.
Prize-winning history writer Howard Blum is this year’s keynote speaker. His new book, “The Floor of Heaven,” chronicles historical tales of the Yukon Gold Rush.
The book follows the exploits of Pinkerton detective Charlie Siringo, gold discoverer George Carmacks, and western con man Jefferson R. “Soapy” Smith. Their three lives are followed until they merge in Skagway in 1898.
Symposium founder Buckwheat Donahue has lived in Skagway for 30 years and thought he knew a lot about the town’s history – but now he knows more.
“I learned quite a bit about Soapy that I didn’t know,” Donahue said. “I really think that every single tour operator in town needs to read this because it’s going to enlighten people who are already familiar with the town’s history and make the retelling of their story really exciting.”
In addition to Blum, the faculty of the symposium includes: Alaska Writer Laureate Peggy Shumaker, Juneau novelist Lynn Schooler, Glacier Bay writer/photographer Kim Heacox, Haines memoirist Heather Lende, Kotzebue fiction and non-fiction writer Seth Kantner, Alaska children’s author Deb Vanasse, screenwriter Dave Hunsaker, Alaska Magzaine managing editor Tim Woody, and University of Alaska Fairbanks English professor Terry Reilly, along with conference directors Daniel Henry of Haines and Jeff Brady of Skagway. Mystery writer John Straley also is a last-minute addition.
This year, Skagway locals and Yukoners are invited to join the symposium at $30 per workshop instead of last year’s $50 cost.
“We had some people last year who thought it was too high” Brady said. “And we listened to them.”
Those who are interested will have the opportunity to sit in on sessions such as “Writing Readable History,” “Dressing for Success: Pimping the Perfect Proposal” and “Funny or Not, Here I come.”
For those wanting to attend the entire symposium, the cost is $350 and registration can be done online at, but sign ups for individual sessions can be done inside AB Hall.
Activities include a train ride to Carcross and excursions to Dyea and Burro Creek, along with most meals included.
Originally, the location of the symposium was set to change every year between Skagway, Dawson and Denali National Park, bringing it back to Skagway every three years.
But plans changed.
Brady said while making initial preparations for this summer’s planned meeting in Dawson, Donahue’s ideas were not received well by contacts in the Yukon because the territory has its own week-long writers conference in the spring.
Brady said the directors also realized that it would be difficult to get participants to Dawson because of costs and logistics.
After coming to this conclusion, they then asked the Skagway Borough Assembly if they would fund it for a second time here, and they said yes.
“We haven’t ruled out Dawson for good, though,” he said.
The most important reason for not going to Dawson, however, had nothing to do with logistics, costs or contacts.
“The comments we got last year wanted it to stay here,” Brady said. “But Denali has the potential to give the symposium a draw every other year that can grow the number of participants, and make North Words even bigger when it comes back here.”