November 9 Cirque literary event in Seward a time for sharing

by Gabrielle Barnett

Back in the 80s, there was that epic day sailing out to Thumb Cove. And that same summer, an expedition to spend time with a friend who worked the cannery. A decade later, an aborted kayak launch in unrelenting wind.

Then, six months pregnant, a ferry ride to Chenega Bay to embark on one last multi-week, pre-Mom paddling adventure. All those marine wildlife viewing cruises with visiting parents, nieces, nephews and “un-laws”. My daughter's turning four birthday outing to the Alaska Sealife Center. Refueling stops after hikes to Lost Lake, Exit Glacier, Resurrection River. But this trip would mark a first: joining Seward authors for an evening sharing our writing.

The event was also a first for Seward, jointly organized by Cirque Journal's Anchorage-based editor, Sandy Klevin, and Sean Ulman, the ringleader of Seward's writing group. Their idea was to introduce Seward writers to Cirque, and introduce Cirque authors to the Seward writing scene. The Cookery-- just off Seward's main drag on 5th Street-- hosted us, opening an extra off-season evening to serve up hearty, flavorsome food for the literary gathering. 

Sandra Kleven reads at The Cookery in Seward, Alaska

Sandra Kleven reads at The Cookery in Seward, Alaska

After my long drive and a short rain-drenched stroll to watch dusk settle into pitch black over the grey, pounding surf, the Cookery's spacious U shaped bar, hardwood floor, and warm lighting were especially inviting. Friendly strangers welcomed me, helping me place my copies of Building Fires in the Snow on the “for sale” table, next to the collection Seward Unleashed, the latest issue of Cirque Journal and works by individual authors.

Acoustic guitar and animated conversation provided the soundscape before the reading itself began. The place was packed. The head count came in at 65-- in a town where the total population rings in just under 2,700. (No, I did not drop a zero.) I met seniors, millennials, and others like me from those generations in between. A few school age children sat with family groups. By evening's end, sixteen authors had read work spanning the genres of poetry, fiction, memoir and creative non-fiction. Themes ranged from love to work, family, friendship, the natural environment, and, of course, fishing. Accounts of growing up Alaskan met stories of finding home hitch-hiking up the Al-Can. And for once, I was not the only one who would take her turn at the mic wearing a pair of Xtra-Tufs. Even if I was the only person with overtly queer material, I felt right at home based on my choice of foot gear-- a choice that has strangers call me out as from Alaska on trips to the rainy Pacific Northwest.

At intermission I went to check out the book table and borrow a copy of Building Fires in the Snow to highlight during my reading. Someone at my elbow exclaimed “That just came out, didn't it?” “Yes,” I said, pleased that word of the book had reached Seward. “We weren't able to include a contribution from a Seward writer, but Mei-Mei Evans' piece features Seward as a setting. You can order it on line, but for me that's not as satisfying as browsing and then taking a book home.” And, I thought, in this era of screens and social media, there's nothing like spending a moonless, stormy night in a small local business, with hot food, abundant drink and fellow writers, some just discovered, some known for years, reading our work aloud.

For another take on the event, see Bob Shafer's column in The Seward Journal.