Inupiaq mom from Anchorage has picked up one of America's most prestigious
literary awards. Poet Joan Kane, 32, was among 10 writers to receive
a $50,000 Whiting Writers' Award at a ceremony in New York City
on Wednesday night, October 28.
Whiting awards have been presented annually for the past 25 years.
Among authors who have received the award early in their careers
are playwrights August Wilson and Tony Kushner and essayist Tobias
Wolff. Alaskans who have previously won include Natalie Kusz and
former Daily News columnist Seth Kantner.
poetry is inspired, in part, by what she calls her "ancestral
landscapes" on the Seward Peninsula and King Island.
has previously received an Individual Artist Award from the Rasmuson
Foundation, the Alaska State Council on the Arts' Connie Boochever
Fellowship and been a winner in the Anchorage Daily News Creative
Writing Contest. Her play, "The Golden Tusk," was presented
at the Anchorage Museum this summer. She is co-curator of the "Virtual
Subsistence" art and literature exhibit now on display at the
MTS Gallery in Mountain View.
she hasn't yet seen her first published book. Speaking before leaving
Anchorage to accept the prize, Kane said she didn't expect to hold
a copy of the book, "The Cormorant Hunter's Wife," published
by NorthShore Press, until Friday, when she has a "book launch"
event in Brooklyn.
was born in Anchorage in 1977. She grew up in Muldoon and showed
literary promise early on, writing a prize-winning essay on Martin
Luther King while in the fourth grade.
always been a reader," she said. "My parents used to drop
me off at the Muldoon Library and I'd spend the whole day there."
was also a competitive runner, a string player in the Anchorage
Youth Symphony, vice president of the Alaska Native Youth Leadership
council and an exceptional student at Bartlett High School.
17, she was accepted into Harvard University in an early-action
program based on her first three years of high school. At that time
she thought she might want to be a doctor.
going to college, however, she took a year off. "I was scared
of being homesick," she said. "I read a lot that year.
A novel a day."
She traveled to Ireland and England to see sites associated with
writers like James Joyce and William Yeats. It helped push her in
the direction of creative writing. In 2000 one of her poems won
the college division in the University of Alaska/Anchorage Daily
News Creative Writing Contest.
$50 that came with that was the first money I ever made as a writer,"
she said. "But more than that, it was a validation."
is said to be the first Inupiaq to earn a bachelor's degree from
Harvard. She continued post-graduate studies at Columbia University
in New York, where she received a master of fine arts degree in
creative writing in 2006.
returning to Anchorage she has worked as a consultant on financial
development for Native village corporations. When she returns from
New York she'll present business workshops in Barrow and Wainwright.
that, however, she'll defer travel until after her second child
is delivered, on or around Feb. 27. (That will make two sons. "My
mom finally has something that she can be proud of me for,"
Kane sounded ready for a break from "the non-writing part of
my life." She wants to concentrate on a second book of poetry,
among other things.
money couldn't come at a better time," she said. Although she
received grants and fellowships, her college debts are substantial.
She and her husband, attorney Brian Duffy, sometimes struggle to
pay the bills for their young family.
husband jokes that he's probably the only start-up lawyer whose
practice is being kept afloat by his poet wife," she said.
of the money will buy health insurance, she said.
also like to take her children and her mother to King Island, an
expensive and difficult proposition.
remote settlement in the Bering Sea was abandoned under pressure
from the government in the 1950s. Memories of the deserted village
contribute to overtones of loss and change that haunt Kane's poems.
King Islanders retain a strong sense of identity with the place,
though members of the younger generation -- including Kane herself
-- have never been there.
hopes to visit small communities in the future, to talk about writing
and "bring books to others."
a writer, you have to be concerned when you see all of these towns
without bookstores," she said.
with artist Ron Senungetuk in the Nome Airport last month, she shared
her desire to travel more and see places far and near. At the time,
she had no idea that she would be winning a major national literary
listed a number of wishful destinations.
worry," assured Senungatuk, a family friend. "Those places
will all be there when you're ready to see them."
feel like he saw into my future," she said.
Mike Dunham online at adn.com/contact/mdunham or call 257-4332.