Writers of all calibers will flock to Skagway this week for the seventh-annual North Words Writers Symposium.
Kim Heacox didn’t always know he wanted to be a writer. He says he didn’t get good grades in high school and was a little, let’s say, aimless in his 20s. It wasn’t until he found himself in his 30s that his path became clear.
“I was intimidated by the accomplishments of my much-older brothers, and I figured that they had all the smarts and I did not,” he says.
Like many in their 20s, Heacox traveled around after high school. He kept a log of his adventures in a journal, mostly, he says, because he was lonely. And he also read. A lot. That helped him recognize decent writing.
“And then probably by my early 30s, I thought ‘Hey, I think I can be a published writer.’ So, it took me 12, 15 years after high school to figure out that maybe I could be a published writer.”
Since then, Heacox has published eight books, with two more in the works. He’s roamed the world on assignment as a travel journalist, and has been recognized with prestigious awards for his various works.
Heacox, who has participated in several of the North Words conferences over the years, will join a handful of other, accomplished writers at the three-day symposium next week. There’s still time for writers to sign up for the event. The conference starts on Wednesday evening and features plenty of one-on-one time with the faculty, along with extracurricular activities to encourage discussion, and a little fun.
“It’s really fun to find out who the young, new aspiring writers are. Sometimes this conference will attract people in their 20s and their 30s who have decided at that point in their lives ‘I want to be a writer,'” he says.
Getting to know burgeoning authors, mentoring them, and helping them navigate the ‘game’ of getting published are all facets of the event Heacox says he’s looking forward to.
Dan Henry is also an accomplished author. He’s been organizing the event since its inception.
“It started in 2010 with Buckwheat Donahue and Jeff Brady and myself deciding that there was so much interest in writing and telling stories in Southeast Alaska, and not really an opportunity to get that out,” Henry says.
He adds that they wanted it be unique – less sitting and listening to writers stroking their own egos, more friendly chats and brainstorming.
“We wanted a conference that would inspire people who, perhaps, are only thinking about writing or maybe have just written a little bit but what to get into it more in a way that doesn’t put them on the spot or embarrass them, but really opens up your mind to all the possibilities.”
This year, Heacox is joined Lynn Schooler, Emily Wall, Eowyn Ivey and Heather Lende – writers of fiction, non-fiction, poetry, and articles of all shapes and sizes. Heacox’s new novel, Jimmy Bluefeather, was released in September, followed a short time later by The National Parks: An Illustrated History. And Lende’s Find the Good: Unexpected Life Lessons from a Small-Town Obituary Writer came out last April. Wall is a University of Alaska Southeast professor and published poet, Schooler is the author of the acclaimed book The Blue Bear, and Ivey’s first book, The Snow Child, made the shortlist for the 2013 Pulitzer Prize.
“Part of the criteria for our writers is that they are people people, and a lot of writers are not necessarily people people,” says Henry. “They can read their writing and whatnot, but we want writers who like other people, especially young or inexperienced people who just need to have some experience.”
This year’s keynote speaker is Brian Doyle, the editor of Portland Magazine and the author of 20 books.
“Brian is an outstanding teacher, professor and a very funny guy. We’re excited to have him, and he really loves working with students.”
Henry says the symposium is an intimate setting with usually around 20-30 people, and that just under 20 have signed on so far for this year. The cost for the entire conference is about $300, which includes all the sessions, activities and most meals. Go here to learn more and register.