Welcoming literary citizens: An interview with 49 Writers’ new director

For Erin Coughlin Hollowell, the poet who in early July became executive director of Alaska’s largest writing group, 49 Writers, part of being a writer is being a good literary citizen, and part of being a good literary citizen is generosity.

It’s a philosophy strongly influenced by fellow Alaskan poet Peggy Shumaker, a mentor and former Alaska State Writer Laureate whom Hollowell calls “the most generous writer I know.”

“From, really, just watching her, I learned how to meet people where they are, and to see every writer as worthy of nurturing,” Hollowell said.

49 Writers is member-driven; if there’s anything a member would like to see — visiting writers, workshops, programs — Hollowell wants to hear about it. She may have heard even if you haven’t told her: I named two of my favorite writers offhand and she told me one of them is almost surely coming to Alaska in 2016. (I would love to tell you, but I’m sworn to secrecy, as it’s not yet a sure thing. Suffice to say, if you’ve read this author’s gorgeous novels, you will be very excited.)

“It’s our fifth year, and I would just love to see us grow and encompass more people,” Hollowell said. “The more voices, the stronger we are. It would be easy for me to advocate for writers if writers self-identify.”

Hollowell, who moved to Alaska “for love,” lives in Homer. She’s also lived in Ketchikan and Cordova, and has held a variety of art-related positions.

She received a master’s degree from the Rainier Writing Workshop at Pacific Lutheran University in 2009.

Hollowell’s first book is “Pause, Traveler,” published by Boreal Books, an imprint of Red Hen Press. For that book, she wrote poems about her journey from New York City to Alaska, including poems about roadside attractions like a corn palace and a prairie dog town.

She writes other forms, as well, but poetry “is the thing that speaks to me, and has since I was a little girl,” she said. “It’s my way of processing the world.”

Her second manuscript, “Every Atom,” helped her do just that when, last year, both her parents — and her dog — passed away.

“It’s about my mother’s descent into dementia, and her passing,” she said.

Each poem’s title is a line from Walt Whitman’s “Song of Myself;” she’s sending the book to publishers now.

Writers don’t necessarily have an easy time touring, reading, and promoting their books once they’re published, however; one of Hollowell’s goals as executive director of 49 Writers is to help guide the organization’s expansion in ways that will improve writers’ post-publication experience, giving touring authors a community to help, host, welcome, workshop and listen, she said.

“I think we’re going to try to take maybe two communities a year, and just kind of slowly move out,” she said. Some of those might first be on the interior’s highway system, but she expects to expand into other Southeast communities in the coming years.

In September, 49 Writers will host a workshop, reading and panel discussion in Juneau, as well as a workshop, reading and online book discussion in Haines, with visiting author Melinda Moustakis.

“The more good writers there are in Alaska, the more people pay attention to Alaska writers,” Hollowell said.


Disclosure: Mary Catharine Martin has been a member of 49 Writers since 2014.

More in Life

Virginia Walters (Courtesy photo)
Life in the Pedestrian Lane: ‘Tis the Season

The Kenai Community Library has always been one of the stars in the crown of the community.

Homer News Ben Mitchell, left, serves spaghetti to helper Pat Wells in the kitchen at a past Share the Spirit spaghetti feed. (Michael Armstrong/Homer News file)
Looking to share some holiday spirit? Here’s how

Share the Spirit serves the Homer community by donating food, essential needs and Christmas presents.

Appease your child’s picky palate with these tasty Tater Tots. (Photo by Tressa Dale/Peninsula Clarion)
On the strawberry patch: Tots to be thankful for

Two years ago, I spent the entirety of Thanksgiving Day in my green rocking chair, cradling my newborn son.

Minister’s Message: Keep in step

Sometimes it takes going half way around the world to learn how to “keep in step” as I journey.

Shelli and Mike Gordon pose in October 2011 at their Halibut Cove, Alaska, home in an Alaska Gothic version of Grant Wood’s “American Gothic” painting. (Photo courtesy of Mike Gordon)
‘Dagnabit’ features tales of ’80s wild Alaska

Gordon’s second book also tells of Ruben Gaines, creator of Chilkoot Charlie.

Before boiling, this handmade pasta is rolled, cut and tossed in flour to keep from sticking. (Photo by Tressa Dale/Peninsula Clarion)
On the strawberry patch: Pasta by hand

Learning one of the most important task of the Italian kitchen: making the pasta.

Will Morrow (courtesy)
The Great Thanksgiving dessert debate

Our holiday gathering is going to be smaller than it sometimes is, and it was argued that we didn’t need two desserts.

Dianne Spence-Chorman’s “Fig Study” is one of the works showing in the Homer Council on the Arts “Fun wtih 5x7” show through Dec. 22, 2021, at the gallery in Homer, Alaska. (Photo by Michael Armstrong/Homer News)
‘Fun with 5×7’ offers affordable art

HCOA annual art show presents art in a variety of media, all in 5x7 format.

Make pumpkin chocolate chip with cinnamon buttercream cupcakes for a decadent fall treat. (Photo by Tressa Dale/Peninsula Clarion)
On the strawberry patch: In honor of ‘Cupcake Mondays’

Pumpkin chocolate chip with cinnamon buttercream cupcakes brighten up the dreariest of work.

Nick Varney
Nick Varney
Unhinged Alaska: Back off, Zeus

If this wet-n-warm, freeze, then start again, continues much longer, Kachemak Drive will need a complete redo.

The cover of Tom Kizzia’s book, “Cold Mountain Path,” published by Porphyry Press in October 2021. (Photo provided)
‘Cold Mountain Path’ explores ghost town history of McCarthy

Kizzia’s book looks at McCarthy history from 1938 to the town’s revival as a tourist destination.

Melinda Hershberger works on her installation for the Kenai Art Center’s collaborative mural project on Wednesday, Nov. 3, 2021. (Camille Botello/Peninsula Clarion)
Wall-to-wall creativity

Artists collaborate on a single mural at the Kenai Art Center this month.