Kim Heacox and Daniel Henry sing their writers’ rendition of The Beatles “Come Together” at the North Words Writers Symposium banquet.

North Words takes turn with controversial subjects

Story and Photos by Katie Emmets

Award-winning Alaska writer and photographer Kim Heacox said he thinks 2013’s North Words Writers Symposium was the best thus far.
“We really went into the deep end of the pool,” he said in reference to the controversial topics discussed during panels. “You can only talk about relationships, living in Alaska and almost getting eaten by a bear for so long.”
This year’s keynote speaker was Kathleen Dean Moore, an environmental philosopher and essayist, who led panels and raised ethical environmental concerns of climate change, oil production and tourism.
Moore is an essayist who writes from her cabin in Tenakee Springs in the summer and is a philosophy teacher at Oregon State University in the winter.
When discussing her craft, she said that writing a short story was like creating a mosaic.
A writer takes a personal memory, just as an artist would take a piece of glass, and cuts it down so it fits in perfectly with the rest of the piece. Though she might augment truths occasionally by leaving things out or writing about them in a different time frame, Moore said she would never make anything up, just as an artist cannot create a new piece of glass for the mosaic out of nothing.
Moore said the Skagway symposium setting could not be more spectacular.
“It was a perfect place for a gathering of writers, deeply rooted in the layered history and geology of the place,” she wrote in an e-mail. “But absolutely airborne in the scope of its imagination.”
Moore said Skagway allows writers to come outside of themselves and see with “surprised eyes.”

Left, keynote speaker Kathleen Dean Moore reads a poem by Brian Doyle for her keynote address. Right, Howard Weaver shows Henry and Carol Tuynman how he was updating his Twitter account about the symposium.

This year’s symposium, which began the last week of May, had a record number of 24 paying participants in attendance, and Tourism Director Buckwheat Donahue said he expects that number to rise in 2014 after the controversial nature of this year’s symposium.
Though controversy spurred by Moore’s thought-provoking discussions caused some tension between participants, Donahue said, having Skagway’s 14-year-old Denver Evans at the symposium quelled some of the harsh feelings.
“Everyone fell in love with Denver,” he said. adding that writers John Straley and Andromeda Romano-Lax and local publisher Jeff Brady were very supportive.
Symposium staff member Katrina Pearson, who works in the publishing industry, said she was very impressed with the quality of writing Evans produces at such a young age.
“I also really appreciated the sincerity of her writing,” Pearson said.
This was Evans’ second year attending the symposium on a Skagway Arts Council scholarship.
“People were really excited about her,” Donahue said. “To have published authors interested in a Skagway writer is very exciting news.”
Donahue said he thinks this year’s symposium was unlike those in previous years.
“All the others were successful, but this one was by far the best,” he said. “There were only a few people who didn’t express a desire to come back.”
The symposium will continue its fifth year in Skagway next summer.
“We’re rockin’ and rollin’ here,” Donahue said. “Skagway is a popular destination and we have a good formula going.”
The schedule is already drawn out, and Donahue said he hopes to announce next year’s keynote speaker in the fall.