In Life and Writing, Persistence Pays Off
Anchorage Daily News
If you don't win a writing contest, try, try again -- for a good
portion of your life, if necessary. That's what Bonnie-Sue Hitchcock
Growing up in Anchorage, she entered, she thinks, the very first
University of Alaska/Anchorage Daily News Creative Writing Contest when
the statewide competition was launched 24 years ago.
She can't recall exactly what she sent in -- religious poetry,
possibly (her family was raised Catholic) -- but she does remember her
disappointment at failing to win a prize. As a ninth-grader then
attending Mears- Dimond Junior High, she wouldn't have saved the poems.
"I'm sure I ripped them up and cried," says Hitchcock -- now a
40-year-old Alaskan who produces the nationally syndicated Independent
Native News radio program -- laughing at the memory.
Which she can afford to do, having just won a prize in the UAA/ADN writing contest for the second year in a row.
Last year, her short story "Chicken Dreams" (which grew out of
Hitchcock's long relationship with chickens) won first prize in the
Open to the Public Fiction category. This year, her personal essay
"Sylvie, on Love and Mallards" (about her far more complex relationship
with her children) won first prize for Open to the Public Nonfiction --
as well as the contest's Grand Prize.
"Let me just say it takes a long time to win the Anchorage Daily
News writing contest," Hitchcock said, speaking by telephone during a
trip to Seattle. "I've been sending stories in since junior high."
Living in Fairbanks now with her 14-year-old son Dylan and her
8-year-old daughter Sylvie, Hitchcock also shares her stories
occasionally with the weekly radio magazine show "AK," produced by the
Alaska Public Radio Network and heard locally on KSKA.
As part of an April "AK" show that focused on the theme of "Loss,"
Hitchcock and her son talked to each other on tape about missing Sylvie
whenever she travels away to live with her dad, who fishes commercially
in Sitka. It was the sort of honest, personal storytelling that "AK"
frequently excels in. But lately her children are growing wary of their
mother as public-essayist, Hitchcock confides. Especially Sylvie.
"When she calls (from Sitka) now, the first thing she'll say is, 'Are you recording?' "
Dylan expresses similar reservations, she says -- ever since she
described him in "Love and Mallards" (which also aired on "AK") as the
sensitive one in the family who sometimes "carries his heart on his
"He jokes about it now," she says. "He'll do something and I'll say,
'Dylan, tone it down.' And he'll go, 'But I carry my heart on my sleeve
-- I can't help it. ...' I was saying, 'This is kind of a personal
story. I'm really embarrassed I even sent it in.' And he's like: 'I'm
the one who should be embarrassed ...' "
Telling tales on herself (and occasionally her children) is a
Hitchcock tendency that dates back at least six years to her earliest
days as a volunteer journalist at Radio Raven News (KCAW-FM) in Sitka
-- where she once proposed devoting an entire show to chickens.
"It was kind of the epitome of community radio," she says now. "You
could walk in the door with a chicken and say, 'I know a little bit
about chickens. Would you like to have a live call-in show (on the
subject)? People might have questions about chickens.' "
And the program director would go for it -- and the listeners, too,
Hitchcock says. Ultimately she hosted three chicken shows, which for a
while capped her career. Though certainly not her life.
That began in Fairbanks -- where Bonnie- Sue Hitchcock was born in 1965 as one of Larry and Joanne Hitchcock's five children.
When she was 5, her parents moved the family to Anchorage, where her
dad took a job at the Hotel Captain Cook (later becoming a manager for
Westmark Hotels Inc.). The children all graduated from Dimond-Mears
High School, where several excelled in sports.
After graduation, Hitchcock began attending Lewis & Clark
College in Portland, Ore., but kept dropping out to work and travel.
During her sophomore year she studied German in Austria. During her
junior year she took up rock-climbing. For a spell she worked at
mountaineering stores in Anchorage and Washington, D.C., then resumed
her college education in Nepal. But a diploma remained elusive.
Finally, nine years out of high school and living as a single mom with
a 1-year-old child and seemingly nothing in the plus column but "these
really bizarre college credits" -- like Health Care Systems of Nepal --
Hitchcock decided to give higher education one last try. She enrolled
at Sheldon Jackson College in Sitka on a basketball scholarship -- and
finally earned her degree, a bachelor's in liberal arts.
"Yeah, and it was great for getting a job on a commercial fishing
boat," Hitchcock says dryly. "It was kind of like a springboard."
After college, she'd met a fisherman in Sitka named Greg, and a few
years later they were married. Then Sylvie was born. Then the chicken
show -- which strangers still remember, Hitchcock says.
"Once I got into doing news, I realized that all that other stuff
actually served a purpose," she says. "You kind of know a little bit
about a lot of things. ... And that's why I think I stuck with the
news. You get to do something new every day."
After 10 years in Sitka, her marriage broke up and Hitchcock and her
children moved to Homer, where she landed some contract jobs in public
radio, reporting and producing the news.
Then she was hired by public radio station KUAC in Fairbanks to produce
and host Independent Native News, a program initially launched by
Alaska radio journalist Nellie Moore in Anchorage. For a year she
produced the show out of her basement in Homer. Then last August,
Hitchcock, Dylan and Sylvie moved to Fairbanks.
"So now I've done a full circle," she says, back to the place she was born.
And back to the creative writing contest, which she's finally learning to master.
Her winning short story last year, "Chicken Dreams" (which can be
viewed online by Google-searching for "Hitchcock and Chicken Dreams")
wasn't autobiographical, though it did share some of her checkered
history with chickens, Hitchcock says. But her winning essay this year,
"Love and Mallards," nearly came out of her journal.
It shares her respect for both of her children, as well as for telling true stories.
Sometimes, she says, those two opposing loyalties fall into
conflict, as perhaps they did a few months ago when the producers of
"AK" were trying to brainstorm stories consistent with the theme of
being "lost," and Hitchcock ventured that she and Dylan were really
lost in their house just then, because Sylvie had gone to Sitka.
"And they were like, 'Great!'... They thought it was a pitch," she
says. "You know: 'Great -- we'll take it.' " So now she's not talking
quite so freely in the newsroom.
Still, says Hitchcock, "I really love to write."