Editor's Choice and Winner, Nonfiction Grades 4-6
Anchorage Daily News
Fallon Fairbanks finds she can get a lot of writing done on long plane or car rides.
The 11-year-old Kotzebue writer recently traveled to Disney World with
her mother, her twin brothers and her best friend, Roz Nelson. By the
time they returned to Alaska, she had completed 10 short stories.
Fairbanks said writing comes easily to her. Along with reading and math, it is her favorite subject in school.
"I just start writing, and it gets longer and longer," she said.
Most of the stories Fairbanks wrote during her Florida vacation were
fictional accounts of a small-town girl visiting a big city. But it was
her own true account of growing up in Kotzebue, population 3,000, that
earned her first place in her age group and editor's choice in this
year's University of Alaska/Anchorage Daily News Creative Writing Contest.
The story, "My Alaska," chronicles a year in Fairbanks' life as a young Eskimo growing up in Kotzebue.
The writing is simple but sweet: Her story starts in June and July,
"when the sun never sets" and her family hunts ugruk, or bearded seal.
It continues through summer with fishing and berry picking, on through
fall with hunting and then to winter and school activities.
Coming full circle to June again, it is time once more for herring fishing "when the ice starts moving out."
"So you see," Fairbanks concludes, people have plenty to do in
Kotzebue "even without shopping malls, movie theaters or McDonald's."
Fairbanks said she wrote the story for a class assignment. The teacher
gave students a choice between writing a poem or an essay, and
Fairbanks thought she could best express herself through prose.
"Writing is a way to get my feelings out," she said.
Fairbanks said she chose the topic because she wanted urban residents
to know that Bush Alaskans "don't just sit around with nothing to do."
Fairbanks' life is busy year-round. Besides all the subsistence
activities mentioned in her story, Fairbanks is also studying her
native Inupiaq language from a "goofy, spunky" elder, Sue Norton.
Norton is also teaching her to sew a traditional kind of dress called
utiklooks. Fairbanks said the language classes last two hours a day,
five days a week.
Besides all that, she plays volleyball and goes sledding and
snowmachining while her brothers wrestle and play basketball. Her
uncle, John Baker, is a top Iditarod musher from Kotzebue. Fairbanks
sometimes also joins local sled dog races and borrows dogs from her
Fairbanks is the youngest in her family and the only girl. She has four
older brothers: 16-year-old twins, Robert and Donald, and two adult
"It's torturing" to have only brothers, she said.
In summer, when the weather is warm enough, she and her friends swim in the lagoon next to their house.
"Our house is three-quarters in the water," she explained. "But we're up on stilts."
Fairbanks said her mom is an Eskimo from Kotzebue. Her father is white
and originally from Iowa. Together they run a cargo-handling business.
"Mom is the big office lady, and dad is the hangar guy," she said.
Writing is one of Fairbanks' favorite hobbies. But she also enjoys reading Nancy Drew mysteries and stories about horses.
Writing nonfiction was a bit of a departure for Fairbanks. She said
she usually writes fiction. In one of her favorite stories so far, a
girl is dreading spending Christmas at her grandma's house in the
fictional town of Scampy, Maine. The girl thinks she will be bored and
hates her grandma's evil cat and horrible cooking. As the story
unfolds, the family is traveling by tractor to Scampy. The ending
leaves you hanging, she said.
Fairbanks said she hopes to become a professional writer when she grows up, or maybe a lawyer.
"I like the fact that lawyers get to argue a lot," she said. "Having four brothers, I do a lot of that already."
After going to college somewhere outside Alaska for a couple of years, Fairbanks said, she plans to return to Kotzebue.
"This is where I want to live the rest of my life," she said. "I'm a
Native here, and a lot of people who are Native leave. But if everyone
leaves, there will be no more Alaska."