Alaska is the 49th and largest state in the union. It was derided as Seward’s Folly when the US Secretary of State bought the territory from Russia in 1867. But the joke was on critics: Decades later, both gold and oil were discovered in Alaska’s pristine wilderness. The call of adventure was too much for pioneering Americans to resist, and hardy men and women with an independent streak flocked north to settle the wild frontier.
When they arrived, they met the original hardy inhabitants: native peoples who’d been hunting, fishing, and gathering there since 10,000 BCE. Native tribes like the Athabaskans, Aleuts, Inuit, Yup’ik, Tlingit, and Haida had followed migrating animal herds across the land bridge that once connected Russia to Alaska.
But the most noteworthy residents might be the bears, wolves, moose, eagles, whales, otters, sea lions, puffins, seals, and more that populate the state parks and — in some cases — roam city streets, reminding everyone that Alaska is equal parts danger and beauty.
In this episode, we discuss the surprises of life in Alaska, then recommend books that transported us there, including a vivid memoir, two novels in which snow plays a starring role, a coming-of-age story set in the world of commercial fishing, and two books that showcase Alaskan cuisine.
Read the full transcript of Episode 14: Alaska.
Sir Francis Beaufort: The namesake of the Beaufort Sea, his life was pretty amazing and scandalous!
Xootsnoowú, a.k.a., Fortress of the Bears (Admiralty Island): David told us about this magical place during Two Truths and a Lie. This article from Alaska Life has great photos and info — and we love this first-person account of visiting.
Don Rearden, author of The Raven’s Gift: The author’s personal blog shares stories of his daily life in Alaska.
Eowyn Ivey, author of The Snow Child: talks about her novel and her life in Alaska:
Julia O’Malley, author of The Whale and the Cupcake: The author’s blog is a treasure trove of recipes and food writing; she also teaches occasional classes on the craft of writing, memoir, and recipes.
‘What Why How We Eat’ at the Anchorage Museum: The exhibit that inspired the book The Whale and the Cupcake is now closed, but you can learn more about it, and watch a short video, in this report from KTUU in Anchorage.
Muktuk: We were fortunate to try muktuk at our friends’ house in Alaska. Here’s more detail about its nutritional benefits.
Heather Lende, author of If You Lived Here, I’d Know Your Name: The author’s blog is a peek inside her life in Alaska. She’s shared a series of videos of herself reading from her book Take Good Care of the Garden and the Dogs. Very charming.
Brendan Jones, author of The Alaskan Laundry: His essay about home for Read It Forward addresses some of the themes of his novel, and in this short audio interview, you can hear him talk about his inspiration for his heroine Tara. At his personal website, you can follow his real-life adventures in Sitka, Alaska, with his family.
Indie Alaska: We didn’t talk about this in our show, but if you want to fall down the rabbit hole of some great Alaska video content, visit the Indie Alaska YouTube page.
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