The M.J. Murdock Trust, a great Friend of Storyknife, sent a film crew up to Alaska last year (2021) to talk to the people involved in projects they have funded here.
An aside on the Murdock Trust–it was started by a guy who sold Piper airplanes, and the Trust donates to projects in the states where he sold them, of course including Alaska, as the Super Cub is pretty much the Alaska State Plane. Storyknife is one of their beneficiaries. I only wish my father was still alive to see this. He was a bush pilot and for years he owned a Piper Super Cub he called “the Hemorrhoid,” because he said those were what long hours in a Cub gave him. He was 6’4″ tall and as you can plainly see from the photograph below it was more a matter of him putting the Cub on than of him climbing into it.
Back to the Murdock Trust–the film crew’s producer submitted a list of questions in advance so I’d have a chance to think about what to say when on camera. (Yes, of course I filled it out. It’s like you don’t even know me.)
Murdock’s list of questions
My name is Dana Stabenow, I’m the founder of Storyknife, and I’m currently the president of its board of directors.
Tell us about your experience as a writer. How did you get into this space as a career?
Writing is my only marketable skill. It was either write or starve in a ditch.
What is the Storyknife Writers Retreat?
Bottom line: It provides time, space, peace, inspiration, and validation for women’s voices. Each and every writer in residence wrote their way here one word at a time. They earned this experience, they are worth every uninterrupted day at work in their cabins and every delicious morsel of food cooked for them by Maura.
Why did you decide to start the Storyknife Writers Retreat?
I’m a 1989 alumna of Hedgebrook, the first and only other retreat for women writers in the world, on which Storyknife is modeled. Hedgebrook was the first time anyone ever acted around me like writing was a real job.
Waterfall, my cottage at Hedgebrook.
Hedgebrook invited me back for their 25th reunion, at which time they told me they could have 1,400 applications for 40 spaces every semester. That meant that they were saying no to 1,360 women every six months. Six cabins isn’t that many more, but it’s six more than there were before.
What makes the art form of writing so special?
Littera scripta manet. The written word survives. There is a reason that we’re still force marching high school students through The Iliad and The Odyssey. It’s because Homer wrote down his words, and because he did we have some small idea of what life was like halfway around the world three thousand years ago. Maybe, three thousand years from now, high school students will be reading something that was written here at Storyknife, and they’ll know who we were and what our lives were like.
What makes this organization/opportunity for female writers unique compared to other writers retreats?
For starters, it’s in Alaska, in one of the most beautiful natural settings in the world. Just looking out the window nourishes the spirit and inspires creativity.
As for the focus on women writers…Sad to say, but women writers are still devalued in comparison with men writers. They are underpublished, underprinted, underreviewed, underpromoted, and undersold. Further, women are still by the far the majority of primary caregivers for their families, and too many of them are the sole breadwinners, too. Storyknife is validation, that their voice is important, that their work is worth this kind of support. Every woman who resides at Storyknife wrote her way here one word at a time. It’s proof to them that they chose the right path. It’s encouragement to stay on that path, to persevere, to persist, and eventually to publish or keep publishing.
Why do you think the Murdock Trust gives to organizations like Storyknife?
They recognize the worth of the idea, the necessity of the vision, and they are willing to back that belief with hard cash.
Answer a question of my own:
What does the Murdock Trust give to the organizations they fund in addition to the check?
Legitimacy. Confidence. Surety of purpose.
The application process is lengthy, exacting, and onerous. The process demands that applicants dig down to articulate precisely what they are doing and why. It’s a crucible, and while it may not feel like it at the time that rendering of your vision into its essential parts is a gift that will inform your mission down through the years.
Author and founder of Storyknife.org.