Literary Arts

Alaska State Writer Laureate

The State Writer Laureate began in the early 1960s when the Juneau Poetry Society created the Poet Laureate Program and the position of Poet Laureate was officially confirmed by the Legislature in 1963. The program transitioned to the Literary Advisory Committee in 1987 with the assistance of past poet laureates; then in1996, the Alaska State Council on the Arts (ASCA) broadened the position to State Writer Laureate to recognize and honor all genres of writing.

The State Writer Laureate Program is now a partnership between ASCA and the Alaska Humanities Forum. The Writer Laureate designation recognizes the contributions of an Alaskan writer and includes funds to support a unique project of the Laureate’s design during her/her two-year term.

2016-2018: Ernestine Hayes

Let us open this container of stories:
from long ago to yesterday, from newborn to elder,
stories bold, silent, audacious, silenced
whose story will you tell?

For her Writer Laureate project, Hayes has launched a series of writing workshops, Container of Stories, that will reach communities across the state. In these workshops, participants will be encouraged to tell the story of someone whose voice would not otherwise be heard, and will also be encouraged to tell their own stories. The two-day workshops invite participants at every level of writing experience.

Ernestine Hayes, 2016 State Writer Laureate

Ernestine Hayes was born and raised in Juneau when Alaska was still a territory. When she was fifteen years old, she and her mother moved to California. When Hayes turned forty, she resolved to come home or die with her thoughts facing north. It took her eight months to get from San Francisco to Ketchikan. She finally made it back to Juneau two years later.

After returning home, Hayes enrolled at the University of Alaska Southeast, eventually receiving an MFA in creative writing and literary arts. She currently teaches creative writing at the university.

Among other well-known works, Hayes is the author of Blonde Indian, An Alaska Native Memoir. Published in 2004, Blonde Indian received an American Book Award, was named a Native America Calling Book of the Month, and was a finalist for the Kiriyama Prize and the PEN Nonfiction Award. It was also the first book selected for Alaska Reads, a program launched by her immediate predecessor as Writer Laureate, Frank Soos.

Hayes’s latest book, The Tao of Raven, places fiction and nonfiction narratives in the context of Raven and the Box of Daylight and Sun Tzu’s Art of War. Hayes belongs to the Kaagwaantaan clan of the Eagle side of the Tlingit nation. She has four grandchildren and three great-grandchildren.

Would you like to bring a workshop to your community?

A community lead organizer / sponsoring organization is needed to provide the following:

  • Arrange lodging, meals, and local travel (if necessary) within the community for Ernestine during her stay (homestays are acceptable, walkable access preferred).
  • Workshop space (tables and chairs; no A/V needed) for two, 3-hour sessions to be held on consecutive days.
  • Workshop promotion and registration: collect names and emails of up to 15 participants at least two days prior to the event.
  • Printing/copying of workshop materials (up to 10 pages/participant)

Financial support may be available through a Workshop Grant or Community Arts Development Grant from the Alaska State Council on the Arts. Learn more about these grants. The deadlines are Sept. 1, Dec. 1, Mar. 1, June 1

The State Writer Laureate is responsible for:

  • Leading a two-day, 3-hour community workshop (up to 15 participants)
  • Travel to community
  • Public Reading or Craft Talk with Q&A (Optional)
  • Onsite Visit (Optional)

State Writers Laureate

  • 2014 Frank Soos
  • 2012 Nora Marks Dauenhauer
  • 2010 Peggy Shumaker
  • 2008 Nancy Lord
  • 2006 John Straley
  • 2004 Jerah Chadwick
  • 2002 Anne Hanley
  • 2000 Richard Nelson
  • 1995 Tom Sexton
  • 1988 Joanne Townsend
  • 1981 Richard Dauenhauer
  • 1977 Sheila Nickerson
  • 1973 Ruben Gaines
  • 1969 John Haines
  • 1965 Oliver Everette
  • 1963 Margaret Mielke