Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Christine Byl: Writing the Complexities of Place

I've spent the past few months outside Talkeetna, an area I've loved visiting but always wanted to explore in more depth, especially in the winter. Throngs of summer tourists, fishing nuts and international summit seekers are nowhere to be found in January, and Talkeetna shows its true colors as a scrappy, artsy village that manages to be laid-back yet welcoming, its residents both solitary and communal. The people I know around town are dog mushers and beer brewers, quilters and climbers, Nordic skiers and airplane mechanics. Living here even temporarily, I'm struck by Talkeetna's highly developed sense of itself as a place. Daily conversations center on recent weather, returning daylight, overflow on lakes, trail conditions, bird sightings, phases of the moon. Like many towns in Alaska, Talkeetna's lexicon arises from its particular surroundings--it's colder at the Y, I skied out the tracks, the chase trail is in, we live up the river, the mountain is out, meet me at the Roadhouse, the Hangar, the Squirrel. There are few things I love more than learning the specific and lively language of a region or subculture, so I'm soaking up as many words and phrases as I can. Talkeetna is such a great place in which to think about language, imagination, writing and the physical world from which it all springs. I'll be leading a workshop to that end on February 11, and I hope some of you will join me at the Sheldon Hangar for the first 49 Writers event in the Upper Mat-Su:

Many writers in Alaska say their work emerges from a sense of place. We'll discuss what this means across different genres. How is place similar to or different from setting? What does a sense of place have to do with voice? How can we see our places as entries into new territory, while avoiding clich├ęs? Come ready to listen, discuss and try a writing exercise designed to locate something you want to say.

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