Stories are just as important to the people who read them as the people who write them, said Homer writer Joy Griffin. That is why Joy and her husband, Norman, started a project in their city called "Top Drawer." The project's name arose naturally, right alongside its conception.
"It all got started about fifteen years ago when my husband was editing some stories for members of our local writers' group," said Joy.
The Griffins thought it a shame that many of the stories were read once or twice by the authors' friends and spouses then put away in top desk drawers, and often forgotten.
So they talked to the local Homer chapter of the national organization Friends of the Library, and with its help the Griffins, once a year, started printing and binding works written by local folks, then shelving them at the tiny library in Homer. Thus Top Drawer was born.
|Homer writer Joy Griffin
Now, each year a separate volume is printed for each author who submits a work or a series of works. There are books of fiction and nonfiction. There are short stories, poems, autobiographies, essays, and even a collection of letters to the editor. There are 70 volumes in all, and no one's work is ever turned away.
But the quality of the writing is not really the point. The point, Joy said, is that they are providing a way to circulate people's stories.
"The value is that people who write something have a place to put their work," Joy said, "and others can learn from it."
Joy said one thing people can learn by reading the Top Drawer collection is local history. For instance, Carolyn Coon has a collection of poetry that poignantly addresses life on tiny St. Paul Island and what it was like getting to know the Eskimo people from a white woman's perspective. Diana Tillion writes about the small oceanside community of Halibut Cove and how it got started. And Margaret Pate tells of life in the Army during World War II.
"There's so much history that we don't know because it isn't written down," Joy said. "It's amazing how little of it is actually documented."
The Top Drawer collection is important because it serves to makes a dent, however small, in some of that missing history, she said.
For years the Griffins did much of the work on Top Drawer themselves. Each year they spent days making copies of the submitted writings on the copy machine.
"Every spring we would go down to the library. He would punch the holes and I would do the nameplates," Joy said.
The covers of the books were soft, like school folders. But now Friends of the Library is beginning to produce the books with hard covers, sending them out to be professionally bound. Plans are to redo all the back issues too.
The collection is currently available on the Western Library Network, which means it can be obtained throughout the northwest United States via interlibrary loan. Workers at the Homer Library are in the process of making it available nationwide by the end of the year.
A few Top Drawer authors have gone on to be more widely published. Joy herself has a book titled Home Sweet Homestead about her homesteading days north of Fairbanks that is available at several retail outlets. Mike McCann's Give Me The Hudson or The Yukon, Richard Robinson's The Sun Dogs, and Bill Fry's Witcher are all popular books that started out in the Top Drawer collection.
However, many of the works by Top Drawer authors will remain only in the small Homer Library, and many will be read mainly by their neighbors and their children, and their children's children, who may read the stories and, some day, decide to become Top Drawer authors themselves.
Joy Griffin, an Alaska resident since 1967 when she homesteaded with her family north of Fairbanks, died Feb. 5, 2002, at her home in Homer. The community where she homesteaded, Joy, was named for her.
Photo of Joy Griffin is by Kathleen Tessaro