Monday, June 23, 2014

Nancy Cook: Wrangell Mountains Writing Workshop

As Linda put it so aptly in a recent post: conference season is upon us!  And it's amazing to witness the growing numbers of varied and wonderful opportunities now available for Alaskan writers—right here in the Northland. What makes the long trip to McCarthy-Kennicott worth it for a writer?  Well, for one, the fifteenth annual Wrangell Mountains Writing Workshop offers what the name promises:  a WORKshop.  Different than many listening based conferences, writers at the Wrangell Mountains Center's July 22-28 True Story workshop can plan to get some serious writing accomplished.  Ask Sherry Simpson, Jennifer Brice, Natalie Kusz or any number of Frank Soos' former students; he's a sweet southern gentleman, but he's also an athlete of a teacher, with high expectations and forty years  experience helping writers get the real story on the page.  And Frank loves the Wrangells!  This will actually be his third trip to McCarthy in a decade.  We've hosted him on the river.  We've hosted him cross-pollinating with book artist Margo Klass and quilt artist Maria Shell, and now we're pleased to host him again: teamed up with Tom Kizzia.

Speaking of Kizzia, anyone who enjoyed the page-turning thrill of Pilgrim's Wilderness doesn't want to miss this opportunity to study the craft of nonfiction research right in the town where the Pilgrim  family fiasco went down. Most Alaskans know that Tom is from Homer, but he's also owned a cabin outside McCarthy for twenty years. After years of research for Pilgrim's Wilderness: A True Story of Faith & Madness in the Last Frontier, Tom will not only guide writers through the intricacies of a journalist's approach to booklength creative nonfiction, but can also serve as history tour guide for those visiting McCarthy—a  truly fascinating, funky Alaskan hamlet—for the first or maybe the umpteenth time. 

The other beauty of writing in the Wrangells is the intimacy of the small class intensive—sixteen participants max working this year with three talented writing instructors.  As workshop director, I tend to understate the role I, Nancy Cook, play in teaching, but I am always fully available to the writers at this workshop.  As one of Frank's former MFA students now hardened by fifteen years of rural Alaskan living and ten years teaching at a rural Oregon community college, I love working one-on-one to help writers draft and revise new essays, poems, or stories.  Moreover, as a former park ranger and wilderness educator in the area, I'm also game to serve as tour guide to the area.  Most importantly, I make sure the coffee is ready for optional morning “get your pen moving” writing circles which have been so popular during the past fifteen summers of writing in the Wrangells.

About that coffee... in McCarthy, you don't have to go to Starbucks or Kaladi Bros to buy it!  At the Wrangell Mountains Center's Old Hardware Store facility, all meals, many of them straight from the local garden, are included in the price of the workshop.  And most, if not all participants, camp for free, bunk-up for cheap, or live the life of McCarthy Lodge luxury all within a short walk of our historic classrooms.  This means the opportunity to workSHOP the teaching and student writers' minds continues from dawn til midnight dusk—and into the wee hours around the colorful local Golden Saloon. 

Finally, the Wrangell Mountains Writing Workshop, located in the heart of Alaska's largest Wrangell-St. Elias National Park, promises a true mountain writing adventure.  In addition to traditional craft talks, faculty and participant readings, revision workshops, and one-on-one conferences, we always save time for some adventures in the field.  For avid hikers, this can include quiet reverie at the melting edge (and even atop the melting ice) of the nearby Kennicott Glacier.  For those less game for hiking adventure, we include an afternoon in the easily accessible Kennicott Historic Landmark where we will enjoy a picnic dinner and public reading within the beautifully restored walls of the Historic Kennicott Recreation Hall.  And even when we're back at our Old Hardware Store classroom,  the lovely McCarthy Creek is just a few meters away, singing in the ear as the fireweed blooms fuscia. Summer in the Wrangells is so very special!  

Yes, coming to McCarthy is a trip (six hours from Anchorage, seven from Fairbanks), but there's always the option to cut off the final two hours by taking the gorgeous daily flight from Chitina.  In past years, we've also had lots of luck connecting writers with other writer-ride-shares.  And there's something about driving that McCarthy Road that just shakes up the creative juices.  Getting to the Wrangells is a journey, but comfort, community, and a true writing adventure certainly awaits at the end of the road.  Sixteen participants max.  Read more, and register today at  Or feel free to email questions to ncook (at)  

Nancy Cook directs the Wrangell Mountains Writing Workshop, now in its fifteenth summer.   A former fisheries biologist, wilderness educatior, and National Park Service interpretive ranger, she received her MFA in Creative Nonfiction from the University of Alaska Fairbanks. Her poems and prose appear in the Riverteeth Journal of Nonfiction Narrative, Mountain Gazette, Hipfish, Xtra Tuff, Ice Box, and the Seal Press anthology Going Alone. She has taught writing at Prince William Sound Community College, University of Alaska Fairbanks, and currently serves on the full time faculty at Clatsop Community College in Astoria, Oregon, home of the annual Fisher Poets Gathering. The mother of one daughter, she continues to spend summers at her cabin in an aspen grove near McCarthy. Feel free to contact her directly at  

1 comment:

Maria Shell said...

This writing workshop is fantastic! I highly recommend joining Nancy, Tom, and Frank for a great writing experiment. I've attended many times--you will get work done, bond with other writers, and have a amazing time in one of the most beautiful places in the world.