If you teach reading or writing, or you're just looking for a good Alaska story, you should point your browser to LitSite Alaska (http://litsite.alaska.edu/uaa), the latest piece of cultural infrastructure cobbled together by the relentless Ron Spatz.
Spatz, 51, is originally from New York, and even after 21 years he's never really slowed to Alaska speed. When he gets rolling, he can talk faster than most people can listen, but his energy really shows up in how much he does.
In addition to being the project director and founding editor of LitSite, Spatz is the executive and founding editor of Alaska Quarterly Review, a literary magazine that has achieved national renown. He is the chairman of the University of Alaska Anchorage's Department of Creative Writing and Literary Arts, in which he teaches fiction and drama writing. Through the department, he brings nationally known writers to Anchorage each year, and cosponsors, with the Anchorage Daily News, the annual creative writing contest, which he founded. He is director of the university Honors Program and the Office of Undergraduate Research and Scholarship.
The list is longer, but why go on? Suffice it to say that any list of the 10 most important people in cultural affairs in Alaska would have Spatz's name on it.
'"I've devoted a lot of my career to Alaska, and it's an incredible place," Spatz said, "and I'm trying very hard to give something back, and something that's lasting."
LitSite is the intersection of two ideas Spatz is interested in. The first is narrative; that is, telling stories. One way and another, Spatz has been involved with narrative since he went to graduate school at the University of Iowa. The second idea is information technology. Spatz got into that when he was setting up the honors program. He went 'from not having Voicemail and not using e-mail' to designing and teaching, with another professor, a six-credit honors course on "the importance and relevance of information technology to all disciplines."
At about the same time -- this was three years ago -- Alaskans who had been applying for National Endowment for the Arts grants decided to make a group proposal. Spatz had gotten grants in the past for AQR, but he had something different in mind.
"If there's a divide up here, we've got it," he said. "We've got geographic, we've got cultural ... Information technology provides us a venue where we can actually put things together where people can see things they wouldn't otherwise see."
Most of the work setting up LitSite, Spatz said, was volunteer. "Marco Radonich, at the time he was with BP," Spatz said. "He pulled together a team of people, professionals, and they helped design the page."
As a result, for his $13,000 grant, Spatz got a million-dollar Web site. LitSite has been running for slightly more than a month. What you see on it is what people all over Alaska are doing with reading and writing. There are stories about families reading and writing together, about the storytelling traditions of Alaska Natives, about what is going on in schools and at libraries. There are workbooks for reading and writing at all levels, a list of booksellers statewide, and a lot more.
The effort is not limited to online users, Spatz said. Because online technology is expensive and uncertain and not available everywhere, the LitSite team is producing a CD of the site and a booklet on how to use it, with the goal of "getting this thing integrated into the curriculum K-12 in every school, public and private."
If that sounds ambitious, that's OK. The way Spatz sees it, one of the important things about Alaska is that it allows people to realize their ambitions.
"This is a place that puts into practice the American Dream,' he said. 'If you work hard you have a chance to make a difference."
Reproduced with permission