Alaska author Dana Stabenow has big plans – and they have nothing to do with the plot of her next crime fiction novel. Stabenow hopes to turn her 10-acre property outside of Homer into a writers retreat dedicated to fostering the skills of female writers.
The property sits on a gently sloping hill with a breathtaking view of lower Cook Inlet, Augustine Volcano and Mt. Iliamna. It’s here where Stabenow plans to build Storyknife, Alaska’s first writers retreat reserved only for female writers.
The inspiration for Storyknife came from an experience Stabenow had years ago. When her writing career was just beginning, one of her first rewards was a residency at Hedgebrook Farm, a writers retreat for women on Whidbey Island in Puget Sound.
"It was two weeks of ... heaven on Earth for a writer," said Stabenow. "There are six cabins and a main house and ... you spend all day in your cabin, writing, and in the evening you come together with your fellow residents and talk shop."
Stabenow says Hedgebrook Farm was not just a beautiful, isolated retreat conducive to getting some serious writing done, although it certainly was that. She says her experience there was the first time that anyone treated writing like a real job.
Twenty years and 29 published novels later, when she bought her house, with its adjoining acreage, its solitude and its inspiring view, she began to dream about the possibilities.
"I thought for some time, wouldn't it be nice to build a Hedgebrook Farm north," she said. "It didn't really become possible until I published 16 out-of-print books as E-books and was able to pay off my house. I thought about ... where I could put that money and the answer was Storyknife."
The first step is to come up with the money to build Storyknife, which Stabenow estimates will be in the neighborhood of $1 million. To help accomplish that, she has set up a website – storyknife.org – to crowdsource donations and help spread the word.
The ultimate goal is a $20 million endowment, which will ensure the long-term stability of the non-profit organization that will run Storyknife.
Stabenow has skin in the game, too, beyond the donation of her property. She has set up a living trust for Storyknife that will forever receive all proceeds from her intellectual property.
Writers would come to Storyknife for two-to-eight-week residencies to focus on their writing projects in uninterrupted peace. She envisions the retreat as a collection of six small cabins and a main house, all built on her Homer property.
She says that the big reason she is doing this now is that, after years of success, she feels an urge to contribute – to help foster the next generation of women writers.
"I want to give back to the (Homer) community," she said. "I want to give back to the writing community. I can't do nothing if I have the power to do something."
So what exactly is a storyknife and how did Stabenow come up with the name? She says she found the term when researching at Anchorage’s Loussac Library for “Dead In the Water,” the third Kate Shugak novel. Storyknife takes its name from the English translation for the Yup'ik word "yaaruin."
"Young Yup'ik girls would have storyknives made for them by their older, male relatives ... and they would take these storyknives down to the river, along with their younger siblings, and they would carve stories out on the riverbanks."
Stabenow still carries her own storyknife. It was made for her by an Aleut artist and presented to her by a close friend 20 years ago, right before she won the 1993 Edgar Award for “Best Paperback Original.”
It’s a concept that is obviously very important to Stabenow and one that she hopes to carry into the future long after she’s gone.