Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Conference Dinner - Poetry and the Alaska Native Oral Tradition

Over 150 Alaska librarians and guests were treated to a dynamic talk by Alaska Native storyteller and author Ishmael Hope during the 2012 AKLA Conference Awards Dinner.  Ishmael joined the conferences as the 2012 Alaska Spirit of Reading featured author.  His talk entitled Poetry and the Alaska Native Oral Tradition challenged listeners to redefine their definition of poetry.    Ishmael told the audience that, “poetry can exist without language.  It exists in body language and in the echoes of a mountain, the lapping of waves, with or without human beings”.  Only when we open our minds to the different forms of poetic expression can we begin to see the value of Alaska Native oral traditions.  Ishmael shared the original poetry of Nora Dauenhuer, as well as, work from Nora and Richard Dauenhauer’s translations of traditional Tlingit stories.  You can read a full transcript of Ishmaels address to the AKLA Awards Dinner at .

The Alaska Spirit of Reading program is celebrating its fourth year of promoting the joy of reading by providing youth with books and author visits.  The program was created by Sitka librarians Erika Drain, Kari Sagel and Ginny Blackson.  Previous authors in the program have been Ben Mikaelsen, Roland Smith and Will Hobbs.  Since 2008 the program has coordinated author visits across Alaska including: Anchorage, Fairbanks, Bethel, Ketchikan, Juneau, Sitka, and Mat Su.  The 2012 program is featuring the comic book "Strong Man," which highlights a traditional story set in Southeast Alaska. “Strong Man " author Ishmael Hope and illustrator Dimi Macheras will be visiting with students throughout the state in February, March and April.  Ishmael will be the featured guest on APRN’s Talk of Alaska on Tuesday April 24.

The Alaska Spirit of Reading program is made possible through the support of the Alaska Association of School Librarians and an Interlibrary Cooperation Grant from the Alaska State Library and the Institute of Museum and Library Services.  For more information on the program go to

1 comment:

  1. Ishmael Hope read selections of poems by Nora Marks Dauenhauer and Richard Dauenhauer, experts on Tlingit culture and language. He emphasized that the poetry of native cultures should be in the western canon and when we don’t include it or deny its importance, we are denying all history. He repeatedly tells the stories of his elders to his daughter and encourages all to share the stories with the rest of the world. I wrote down one quote from his presentation – “The simple seaming poetry has endless layers of density.” You could tell from his inflection and demeanor while he read these poems about Tlingit ways of being that he is very emotional about native poetry. The poem on fireweed was particularly moving and I am going to try to track it down.