Lḵoot Ḵwáan has du aaní káx̱ woosh kanax̱ gax̱tuda.áat. Tlax̱ ḵúnáx̱ chʼáakw áwe wé tlʼátk káa yéi has wootee. Yeedát tsú yéi has yatee, ḵa chʼa tleix̱ a káa yéi has gug̱watée. Yá tlʼátk káa áwé has du sh kalneekxʼí kei nas.áx̱. Yá tlʼátk, yá nadaayi héen, ḵa yá Aas Ḵwáani has du séínáx̱ aawashée Lḵoot Ḵwáan x̱ʼasheexʼí. Wáa sá haa tuwáa sigóo at yáa awuné ldakát át a jeex̱ yeeteeyí. Gunalchéesh.

We are going to gather on the ancestral land of the Lḵoot peoples. From so very long ago they have been on these lands. Now they are here, and they will always be here. On this land, their stories are sounding off. Through the voices of the earth, rivers, and the Tree People sing the songs of the Lḵoot peoples. How much we want that you give respect to all things. Thank you.

— X̱’unei Lance Twitchell, Ph.D., Associate Professor of Alaska Native Languages at University of Alaska Southeast and member of the North Words Organizing Faculty


North Words organizers are busy proceeding with a return to a conference in Skagway at the end of May 2022. Our previously announced 2021 keynote author, Tommy Orange, will headline the event May 25-28, and he will be joined by Alaska Writer Laureate Heather Lende and several other prominent regional writers.

North Words is an intimate gathering that mixes panel discussions about various aspects of writing with workshops, consultations, readings, and a variety of outdoor activities, culminating with a keynote banquet.

Registration is now open. Interested participants are encouraged to act soon as our limit is 40 participants and accommodations also fill up fast.

Keynote author Tommy Orange headlines North Words 2022

In his ground-breaking 2018 debut novel, There There, one of author Tommy Orange’s ensemble of characters admires a radio show mix of old and new Indigenous music, commenting, “The problem with Indigenous art in general is that it’s stuck in the past. The catch, or the double bind, about the whole thing is this: If it isn’t pulling from tradition, how is it Indigenous? And if it’s stuck in tradition, in the past, how can it be relevant to other Indigenous people living now, how can it be modern? So to get close to but keep enough distance from tradition, in order to be recognizably Native and modern-sounding, is a small kind of miracle (in the music he hears from three First Nations producers from Canada).”

One could take from this that Orange is describing his own artistic discovery with this novel, a brilliant weaving of the lives of twelve Native Americans on a path that concludes at an urban powwow in his home of Oakland, California. There There, an immediate bestseller, won the Center for Fiction’s First Novel Prize and the Pen/Hemingway Award, was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize, made the fiction long list for the National Book Award, and was a New York Times Book Review Top 10 Best Books of the Year.

Orange graduated from the MFA program at the Institute of American Indian Arts, and was a 2014 MacDowell Fellow and 2016 Writing by Writers Fellow. He is an enrolled member of the Cheyenne and Arapaho tribes of Oklahoma. A new novel by Orange is due to be released later in 2022 or 2023.

Orange will be joined by a faculty of distinguished Alaska and regional authors:

Heather Lende is the current Alaska Writer Laureate. Her work, mostly about life and sometimes death in Haines, Alaska, has been distributed widely, from the Anchorage Daily News and Christian Science Monitor to NPR and Country Living. She is former contributing editor at Woman’s Day magazine and has written some 500 obituaries for the Chilkat Valley News in Haines. She is the recipient of the Alaska Governor’s Award for Distinguished Service to the Humanities, the Episcopal Bishop’s Cross Award, the Suzan Nightingale McKay Best Columnist Award from the Alaska Press Club. Her bestselling books include If You Lived Here, I’d Know Your Name, Find the Good, and the 2020 memoir Of Bears and Ballots about her time on the Haines Borough Assembly.

Laureli Ivanoff , Inupiaq and Yupik, is a freelance print and radio journalist from Unalakleet, Alaska. Her stories have been published by the New York Times and Alaska Dispatch (Daily) News and she is a contributor to Alaska Public Radio. Ivanoff specializes in bringing Indigenous perspectives to newsrooms and airways and writes of Alaska Native experience and knowledge in relation to policy, climate change and culture. She is sponsored through a new arrangement with Skagway Traditional Council to bring an Alaska Native writer to North Words every year.

Kim Heacox, a Gustavus, Alaska writer, photographer, musician and climate change activist, has authored or photographed 15 books. A former park ranger, his focus most recently in several widely circulated opinion pieces in international publications has been “in defense of the natural world that sustains us.” Heacox adds that he “doesn’t shy away from challenging power and authority, and in fact feels it’s his responsibility as a free writer living in an imperiled world.”

Tina Ontiveros, a writer, teacher, and bookseller from The Dalles, Oregon, will bring several perspectives to the North Words faculty for the first time. She describes her tough northwestern upbringing in the critically acclaimed 2020 memoir rough house, which former NWWS faculty member Jonathan Evison calls “at once a study of a disappearing culture and an exotic and achingly familiar meditation on family. Amidst an unforgettable world of sawdust and grime, snarling chainsaws and privation, Ontiveros is as vivid in her description as she is unflinching in her honesty.” Ontiveros holds a MFA in Nonfiction Writing from Goddard College.

M Jackson, formerly of Skagway, is a geographer, glaciologist, and author of The Secret Lives of Glaciers and While Glaciers Slept: Being Human in a Time of Climate Change. In the former, she writes, “Alaska is considered a refugium. I am enamored with that word ‘refugium.’ It implies a place where organisms can flee to ensure the species’ survival.”

Hank Lentfer flunked kindergarten his first time through. When his 2020 book, Raven’s Witness: The Life of Richard K. Nelson, won the Grand Prize at the Banff Mountain Book and Film Festival, his older sister called to say she still had a hard time believing her brother could actually read, let alone write. Summers, Hank records the sounds of his wild neighbors. His library of wild voices is curated with the Macaulay Library at Cornell University. Winters he writes from his home in Gustavus. His essays have appeared in Orion, Natural History, and Alaska Magazine.

Nicole Stellon O’Donnell is a Fairbanks poet. Her first collection, Steam Laundry, won the WILLA Award in 2013. In her 2019 book, You Are No Longer In Trouble, she used prose poetry and flash fiction to weave a moving story about growing up a principal’s daughter and the highs and lows of teaching. Everything Never Comes Your Way, her third collection, was published by Red Hen Press in fall 2021.

The North Words organizing faculty is composed of six northern SE Alaskans who love the writing community and emanate the enthusiasm and the spirit of our late founder Buckwheat Donahue. They are writer-publisher Jeff Brady of Skagway, bookseller-publisher Katrina Woolford of Juneau, writer-educator Daniel Henry of Haines, artist-writer Katie Craney of Haines, teacher-writer Kent Fielding of Skagway, and Tlingit linguist and writer X’unei Lance Twitchell of Juneau.

See complete faculty biographies and lists of their book titles on our website.

“We are planning for an in-person symposium in May,” noted Brady, “and we will continue to work with local authorities to ensure we have a safe conference. However, if we find that it would be best to have a virtual conference again, as in 2020, we will be prepared to do so on the same May dates and announce any guidelines or decisions in the spring.”