In Search of Alaskan Short Stories

I recently came across Charles Conley’s “The Final Cold” (Harvard Review, Issue 35, 2008), a haunting story that takes place in the Arctic. It reminded me of the relative lack of Alaskan fiction that I encountered last year. Here is an exhaustive list of those stories with publication information and a few of my own brief notes.

Asher, Charles. “The Hands that Fail You.” Zyzzyva, 23.2 (fall 2007). A solid story about a young fisherman and how he comes to turn on his boss.

Dolleman, Rusty. “Supervision.” Idaho Review, Volume 8 (2006). One of the two best stories on this list, it actually takes place in the Yukon Territory and is about two ethnically divided groups (Native/Anglo) of road maintenance workers. The ethnic tension is developed nicely, though it does rely on the old story of a white man seducing a native woman. The dialogue was pitch perfect.

Ellison, Burns. “And the Loons Cry Very Often.” South Dakota Review, 44.3 (fall 2006). A group of men find the ivory tusk of a woolly mammoth.

Farmer, Daryl. “Old Denali Road.” Fourth River, Issue 5 (fall 2008).

Farmer, Daryl. “Skinning Wolverines.” Hayden’s Ferry Review, Issue 42 (Spring/Summer 2008). This story wonderfully evokes Alaska, especially the tension between insiders and outsiders. It’s about a teacher who has lived in a rural Native village for thirteen years and his conflict with his school’s principal.

Graham, Jennifer. “And Then it all Went up in a Flame.” Seattle Review, 29.1 (2006). A short-short about a house that burns down in Palmer.

Holladay, Cary. “Heart on a Wire.” Glimmer Train, Issue 62 (Spring 2007). A very long story about a prostitute in Alaska. Reminiscent of that almost forgotten John Hawkes novel, Adventures in the Alaska Skin Trade.

McDonnell, Jerry. “Hooks Are Money.” South Dakota Review, 45.1 (spring 2007). Father and son story set in rural Alaska.

Peterson, Carl. “How it Will Be Built Up.” Whiskey Island Magazine, Issue 54 (fall 2007).

Roesch, Mattox. “All the Way Rider.” Narrative Magazine (spring 2008).

Roesch, Mattox. “Burn the House Down.” Indiana Review, 29.2 (winter 2007).

Roesch, Mattox. “Go at Shaktoolik.” Missouri Review (third issue of 2006). I don’t want to give the ending away here, but it is an interesting one. Narrator is a former gang member.

Shepard, Jim. “Pleasure Boating in Lituya Bay.” Ploughshares, 33.1 (spring 2007). Pastiche story set in Alaska and Hawaii.

Spatz, Gregory. “Luck.” Epoch, 56.3. An elderly couple is on a cruise ship in Alaska. Husband begins slowly to lose his mind.

Tulathimutte, Tony. “Scenes from the Life of the Only Girl in Water Shield, Alaska.” Three Penny Review and O’Henry Stories, 2008. This is one of the best Alaskan stories I read all year.

Vann, David. “Ketchikan.” StoryQuarterly, Issue 42 (2006). A man returns to Ketchikan to put his ghosts to rest.

Widdicombe, Jill. “Alaskan Fairytale.” Kalliope, 30.1 (2008). A story/fairytale about a woman and a tree.

It is interesting that not a single story above appeared in one Alaska’s three literary journals. The Alaska Quarterly Review, one of my personal favorites, is run by Ronald Spatz (Stephen King mentioned the journal in his introduction to Best American Stories 2007). The University of Alaska Fairbanks publishes Permafrost once a year. Finally, there is Feed Your Mind/Cirque, which claims on their website to be “a regional literary journal with a strong connection to the North Pacific Rim: Alaska, British Columbia, Yukon Territory, Washington, and Oregon.” However, for some reason there is no way to order this publication from their website, which hasn’t been updated in the year or so that I’ve been checking it. In any event, neither the AQR nor Permafrost is solely dedicated to publishing work about Alaska.

So where can Alaskan writers turn to publish their work? After all, having read 270 on-line and print journals and over 900 individual issues, I would have expected to discover more than the seventeen stories above. As this number strikes me as relatively small, I wonder if it was simply an “off” year. Or is it possible that Alaskan writers face unusual difficulties in publishing their work? If that is the case, what, if anything, does it say that the Western Literature Association has never been farther north than Banff, Alberta?

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2 Responses to “In Search of Alaskan Short Stories”

  1. westlitblogger Says:

    How does Alaska-as-topic compare to other individual western states? Were there more, say, Idaho short stories published than Alaska ones?

    Are Alaskan writers perhaps working in genres other than the short story?

    My wish list of Western Literature Association conference sites:

    1. Hawaii
    2. Alaska
    3. Since I missed the Banff conference, somewhere in western Canada would also be particularly welcome.

  2. Seth Says:

    Those are good questions that I unfortunately can’t answer. Besides the stories that I thought had a shot at making the Best of the West, I only specifically tracked stories that dealt with Alaska. Though such a project would obviously be too daunting for any single individual, it might indeed be useful for current and future scholars to keep notes on every Western poem, essay, and short story published in a given year.


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