Bookstr welcomes you to this week’s American Tour article! Today we’re going to present you with five books written by authors who are either native to Alaska or call The Last Frontier home. Three of the writers on this list have Indigenous heritage and were raised in communities where oral storytelling is a powerful form of cultural expression. Grab your warmest coat and let’s venture into the Alaskan wilderness to hear what they have to say!
If you’d like to check out last week’s American Tour article about the Far West, click here.
1. The Raven’s Gift by Don Reardon
Teacher John Morgan and his wife move to an Eskimo village in Alaska in search of ancient Arctic culture. They are at first ecstatic to live among the Native people and learn more about them, but then a deadly epidemic descends upon the town. Since the village is in the midst of a nearly impassable wilderness, no one outside the community can send aid.
John has to help his wife and the Eskimos by walking a thousand miles in the direction of the nearest town. While traversing the Alaskan wilderness, he meets a blind Eskimo girl and an elderly woman. The three must work together to navigate the unforgivable terrain. John discovers newfound hope and connection.
Don Reardon grew up in southwest Alaska, where his small village was surrounded by abandoned remnants of the numerous epidemics that had plagued the Alaskan wilderness. Reardon is now a professor at the University of Alaska Anchorage.
A girl named Tracy was raised in her family home in the Alaskan wilderness as a hunter and trapper. She has always followed her mother’s rules, but the rules fail her one day when Tracy is attacked by a man in the woods and knocked unconscious. The next day, she sees a wounded man emerge from the trees and wonders if he’s the one who attacked her.
Tracy doesn’t tell her father about the man in the woods because he’s still upset about her mother’s death and has been throwing himself into preparing for the upcoming Iditarod. Soon after Tracy was attacked, a stranger named Jesse Goodwin wanders into town looking for a job. Tracy immediately suspects that he’s hiding something and might be connected to the man who attacked her, and she now must face revealing a dark secret in order to protect her family.
Even though Jamey Bradbury was born in Ohio and grew up in Illinois, she has lived in Alaska for the past fifteen years of her life and thinks of the state as a second home. She came to Alaska as an AmeriCorps volunteer when she was young and ended up falling in love with Anchorage.
3. Blonde Indian by Ernestine Hayes
Blonde Indian is a memoir about identity, home, and return for Ernestine Hayes, who grew up in southeast Alaska among the Tlingit community. Hayes describes how she felt alienated as a young girl from her fellow Tlingits because she looked different than they did. She searched for a place to feel at home by moving to Seattle and San Francisco, but the Mainlanders also treated Hayes like an outsider since she had an Indigenous heritage.
Throughout her memoir, Hayes also touches on the historical trauma that Alaskan Natives have endured as a result of colonization. Hayes tells her story using personal narrative alongside Tlingit legends and Native metaphors in this brilliant masterpiece.
4. The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey
Set in Alaska during the 1920s, The Snow Child is about a couple named Jack and Mabel who have recently arrived in Alaska. The two are struggling financially, and their marriage is under stress due to their loss of connection with each other.
When the season’s first snowfall arrives, Jack and Mabel build a child out of snow to take a much-needed break from work. When they wake up the next morning, the snow-child is gone, but they do see a little girl with blonde hair running around in the woods. The girl tells them that her name is Faina, and she lives alone in the Alaskan wilderness with a red fox as her companion. Jack and Mabel treat Faina as their own, but not everything is as it seems in this wild place.
Eowyn Ivey grew up in Alaska and currently resides there with her husband and two daughters. Before she was a writer, Ivey sold books at an indie store called Fireside Books in Palmer, Alaska.
5. Two Old Women by Velma Wallis
Two Old Women is a novelization of an oral legend told by the Athabascan Native Alaskan community that is passed from mothers to daughters in the Yukon River Valley.
In the legend, two old women are abandoned by their tribe during a brutal winter famine. They must work together in order to survive even though they were previously the tribe complainers and aren’t used to living on their own. As the story goes on, the two old women learn the values of determination, friendship, and forgiveness.
Velma Wallis is a Native woman of the Gwich’in Athabascan Alaskan tribe who was born and raised in a small village near Fort Yukon. She now has four children and resides in both Fort Yukon and Fairbanks in Alaska.
After her father passed away when she was thirteen years old, Wallis went to live in a cabin in the wilderness that her father had built so that she could learn independence and perfect her hunting skills. Her solitary experiences at this cabin inspired her to write Two Old Women.
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