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reading and writing

Home  >  Reading and Writing  >  Pass the Word
Tending a Tribal Fire
By Eileen Canning Campbell

In July of 2000, the Anchorage Daily News announced its decision to discontinue its 21-year old feature magazine We Alaskans, choosing instead to move its content to other sections of the Sunday paper. However, LitSite Alaska recognizes the significant contribution made by We Alaskans to Alaska.

The following article focuses on George Bryson, long-term editor of We Alaskans. It is based on an interview with Bryson, held during the summer of 1999.

George Bryson

Alaska is a great place to be a writer, says George Bryson, editor of We Alaskans, the magazine for the Anchorage Daily News. "It is such a unique place, with so much great material -- in the land, the wildlife and the people -- and there are so many strong voices. Alaska is wide open for finding stories."

Bryson has a favorite metaphor, which he learned from former Anchorage Daily News editor Howard Weaver. Weaver once said, "A newspaper should be like a tribal fire which people can gather around to tell stories."

For the past 10 years, Bryson has tended this fire by encouraging writers from all over the state to come and tell their stories. Bryson is proud of the fact that people from all walks of life, with different points of view have a venue in We Alaskans.

"I love to read stories," Bryson says, "I want to read people's most important stories, the ones that are closest to the heart. I want them to tell the stories that really matter."

In his role as editor of We Alaskans and as an adjunct faculty member in the Department of Creative Writing and Literary Arts at the University of Alaska Anchorage, Bryson teaches new writers how to do this. He says one of the greatest rewards of teaching is to watch someone discovering the power of their stories and of their writing voice.

"It is especially fun to see someone who is trying this for the first time," he says, "someone who doesn't really think of himself as a writer, but finds out he is good at it. I have seen how life-changing that can be."

That is one of the reasons he is so committed to the Anchorage Daily News' annual Creative Writing Contest, a popular statewide contest which the ADN co-sponsors with UAA's Department of Creative Writing and Literary Arts. The contest was founded 18 years ago by CWLA department chair Ronald Spatz.

"We received about 2,500 entries last year, so it is a huge effort," says Bryson. "It takes about 50 judges from around the state, and I put as much work into this one issue (the issue in which the winning stories are published) as I would four regular issues." But it is worth the effort, he believes, because it is a way to "encourage writers, especially young people, to try and write as well as they can."

Winning even an honorable mention will often encourage people to keep writing, to keep developing their voices. "It can be such a boost for them," Bryson says.

And there is nothing to compare with the experience of calling people to tell them they have won, he says. "I love to hear the tremendous pride in their voices."

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