Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Carolyn Servid: The Sitka Symposium is Back Among Alaska’s Summer Literary Events

The Island Institute's Sitka Symposium, held each summer from 1984 to 2009, became one of the most unique literary programs in Alaska and earned acclaim nationwide. After a five-year hiatus, the Institute is reviving the program and will host the 2014 Sitka Symposium from July 20-26 on the Sheldon Jackson Campus in Sitka, marking the 30th anniversary of the first Symposium.

The Symposium earned its reputation on the ways that it differs from other literary gatherings. With its theme-based approach and interdisciplinary faculty, it aims to engage writers with contemporary social, cultural, and environmental issues, and to consider the writer’s role in effecting social change. And because our themes are of broad interest, writers who attend will engage with people of other backgrounds and professions who also come to the Symposium for its challenging ideas and transformative conversations.

This year's theme, "Radical Imagining: Changing the Story With Stories of Change" will explore dominant narratives of our culture in relation to the challenges of our time, and consider empowering stories of transformative change initiated by people in communities large and small. Leading the Symposium will be Winona LaDuke, Anishinaabekwe author, activist, mother, and Green Party vice-presidential running mate to Ralph Nader; Luis Alberto Urrea, critically acclaimed author of thirteen books of fiction, poetry, and nonfiction, American Book Award winner and Pulitzer Prize finalist; Alan Weisman, best-selling author of The World Without Us and winner of the 2014 Los Angeles Times Book Award for his latest book, Countdown; and Molly Sturges, co-founder and Artistic Director of Santa Fe’s renowned Littleglobe, an artist/activist collective, and founder of the national project COAL, a musical fable and catalyst for climate engagement.

At its core this year's Symposium will be akin to the successful and beloved program that ran for twenty-five years, but will also include new elements. Daily faculty talks on our theme, spirited discussions, evening faculty readings, and open mic readings by participants remain strongholds of the daily schedule. This year, faculty will also teach workshops, and participants will have opportunities to learn about inspiring local change initiatives including the Sitka Conservation Society's Fish To Schools Program, the community powered effort to revitalize the Sheldon Jackson Campus, and the Sitka Health Summit. Other evening activities will include a film night, a community potluck to showcase local hidden talents, and an evening dinner cruise.

The Symposium returns to its original home on the Sheldon Jackson Campus, which, as part of its extraordinary renaissance, will be hosting other events concurrent with the Symposium. Come a day or two early and you can take in a concert by renowned jazz vocalist Dee Daniels July 19 and the third annual Sitka TEDx event (which will include Symposium faculty) July 20. Stay over July 26 and you can take in this year’s Sitka Fine Arts Camp sure-to-be-remarkable musical theater performance.

With participants as diverse as the faculty and a limited enrollment of 60 that allows for true engagement in our discussions, the 2014 Symposium is sure to be a mind-expanding experience. The extraordinary natural backdrop of Sitka will only compound that. You can get further information and register for the Symposium at


Nancy Lord said...

I strongly recommend this. I had the opportunity to attend several times in the past, and the experience very much influenced my life and writing. What a line-up of guests this year! I would definitely be there except that the dates conflict with our MFA residency in Anchorage. Summer's too short!

debbie moderow said...

Wonderful Carolyn, that this is happening once again! I too spent a fine time at a past symposium....I highly recommend spending a few days in this extraordinary place with talented people open to grand notions.