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Stabenow’s Storyknife

NY Times best selling author Dana Stabenow, and Brian the Mudflats moose.

NY Times best selling author Dana Stabenow, and Brian the Mudflats moose.


When I first started accepting advertising on The Mudflats, I felt a little guilty about it. It seemed strange. And then Dana Stabenow, Alaskan author of the wildly popular Kate Shugak mystery series, snapped me right out of it. She bought my first ad to promote her new book, and told me don’t I dare feel weird about it, and I was to charge her what I thought it was worth, and not a penny less. And that was final.

She was the first person who really made me feel like what I did had value. Not just an unquantifiable societal or political value, but a monetary value. It was quite a feeling. Worth.

Then, when my first work was published in an actual book – a chapter in Going Rouge: An American Nightmare, a compilation of essays about Sarah Palin edited by The Nation Magazine – I was a bit overwhelmed. And there was Dana, back in my inbox. “Congratulations on the essay in Going Rouge. Your piece in the anthology was earned. You’re a damn good writer, Jeanne.”

I remember sitting for a very long time, looking at that email. It was astounding to think of myself as “a writer,” at all, nevermind a damn good one. But if a writer called you a writer, then I guess that’s what you were.

So, it really didn’t surprise me at all that Dana Stabenow has decided she’d like to create an Alaska retreat to support women writers, and that she’d like that legacy to live on in perpetuity. When her dream is realized, she will validate the work, and support the efforts of up to 100 women writers every year. For her, a seminal moment in her writing career came when she attended a similar retreat, where writing was treated like an actual job. My seminal moment came from Dana herself – twice.

We never know how often our words, deeds, and gifts can help to inspire and shape the lives of others. But sometimes, with intention behind it, we know we will make a difference. This project is in the best of hands.


First Phase of Campaign Aims to Raise $1 Million to Develop Alaska Retreat for Women Writers

HOMER, ALASKA (April 11, 2013) – Prolific author of the Kate Shugak series of mystery novels and Homer resident Dana Stabenow announced today the launch of her campaign to raise $1 million to build the Alaska’s only retreat for female writers, Storyknife Writers Retreat. Storyknife will be only the second residency of its kind in the world.

To kick off the campaign Stabenow is launching a crowd-sourced funding round on Storyknife’s website,, and on her fan sites. The organization is accepting donations of all denominations but a list of specific funding levels and benefits is also available on the site.

The $1 million fundraising campaign is the first phase in a much larger effort to raise a total of $21 million to cover the costs of developing the property and ensuring its continuing legacy through a $20 million endowment.


The first thing that Stabenow’s writing ever earned her was not the sale of an article or a book. It was a residency at the Hedgebrook Farm retreat for women writers on Whidbey Island, Washington in Puget Sound.

The author calls her time at Hedgebrook the seminal moment of her writing career. “It was the first time anyone ever acted like writing was a real job,” she says. Stabenow’s vision for Storyknife is to pass that gift on to a new generation of female writers.

Of the nation’s 17 largest writing residencies, only one, Hedgebrook Farm, currently exists exclusively for women. Storyknife will support the growth of the number of professional female writers by giving them a unique space and time to hone their craft.

The Retreat takes its name from the English translation for the Yupik word yaaruin or “storyknife.” Traditionally, Yupik girls would use yaaruin made from wood, bone, antler or ivory, to carve stories in snow and in riverbanks to amuse and instruct their younger siblings.

Dana says, “I came across mention of storyknives in one of the early explorer diaries and I couldn’t rest until I knew more. As a traditional Alaska Native vehicle for storytelling, it is the perfect metaphor for what we hope to accomplish at Storyknife. I’m hoping we get a lot of Alaska Native women writers applying for residencies at Storyknife, too.”


Writers will be admitted to the residency after a rigorous application process, including statements of need and samples of work. Upon successful admission, writers will come to Storyknife for two-to-eight-week residencies to focus on their diverse projects in uninterrupted peace, an atmosphere made possible by the Storyknife endowment. “Following in the tradition set by Hedgebrook,” Dana says, “Storyknife residents will not be allowed to wash so much as a teacup. Their job here is to write.”

With the exception of travel to and from Anchorage, all expenses for writers in residence will be covered, including a specially curated Alaskan adventure of each writer’s choosing. Examples of these once-in-a-lifetime experiences include halibut fishing, ocean kayaking, bear viewing, and flight-seeing.


Located just outside Homer, the Storyknife Writers Retreat will boast six private cabins and a main house dotted around a six-acre property commanding 180-degree views of lower Cook Inlet.

Sustainability and supporting local economies will be an ongoing focus for the Retreat. Meals will feature produce from the property’s own garden, with locally supplied moose and salmon as other culinary mainstays.


Storyknife Writers Retreat is a non-profit organization with the mandate to build and operate a retreat and residency program in Homer, Alaska for aspiring female writers. Its 501(c)3 application is pending. Founded by author Dana Stabenow, the organization is managed by a board of directors and is funded through the support of donors. To make donations or learn more, visit




5 Responses to “Stabenow’s Storyknife”
  1. laurainnocal says:

    What a fabulous project!!! I have read 3 of Dana’s novels and have fallen in love with the intense characters, landscape, culture and storylines. I consider myself a mystery maven and this author is superb. Jeanne, I am not at all surprised that Ms. Stabenow has supreme confidence in your talent. You ARE extremely talented. I am truly gratified that I found you. Keep on keeping on my distant friend. Is Dana any relation to Debbie Stabenow? Carry on ladies!!

  2. mike from iowa says:

    I’d retreat(I’m a pacifist/coward) but since I’m not a girl,I am gonna spend some serious time researching the “storyknife”.Looks to be rilly interesting. Thanks for the new researchable material,AKM, and thanks for all you do. Best wishes for the retreat.

  3. tigerwine says:

    Ohhh I WANNA COME! Hmmm – just yesterday a friend from Homer send me a picture taken at his home overlooking Katchemak Bay, and describing what was going on in his yard:

    “We watched a young bull moose lying just below our window until it was too dark to see, while a snowshoe hare peacefully ate dry grass just a few feet away.

    No better place for a literary retreat – Good Luck, and keep us posted, AKM!

  4. beth. says:

    As DS2 said of a friend years ago: “The value of the ability to let someone know their own self-worth is incalculable,” I think of those words often. Deepest gratitude and admiration to Dana and all those who have that ability. beth.

  5. Carol says:

    I’m not a writer; I’m a reader. I love Dana’s books and have a remote personal contact with her. We went to first grade together and I always remembered her because of her hair. Her hair is everything I ever wanted and never had. This retreat sounds wonderful because as a reader, I’ll have more to read. Not that I have enough time to read everything I want to now, but won’t turn down more reading materials ever.

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