The University of Alaska Fairbanks is accustomed to attracting non-traditional students – folks who return to higher education after trying their hand at mining or construction or trapping. As it happens, a celebrated Danish scientist also took a non-direct educational path. Not long ago, the UAF’s Alaska Quaternary Center invited evolutionary geneticist Eske Willerslev to talk on campus. Willerslev got a late start in the sciences after he and his twin brother mounted several expeditions to Siberia. They were looking for adventure and also exploring for keys to the peopling of the new world. But as you’ll hear, when Willerslev took up his career in biology he made astounding progress. He helped pioneer a novel technique for analyzing ancient DNA, and also became the youngest full professor in Denmark at that time.
And speaking of the past, reviewer Frank Soos examines two recent volumes looking at ancient mysteries that lie below: Julia Blackburn’s Time Songand Robert Macfarlane’s Underland.
Climate change is a growing concern, sparking different responses. Noted portraitist and multimedia artist Brenda Zlamany is documenting its impact by capturing the likenesses and stories of residents in key communities. This summer she visited Utqiagvik and was the artist in residence at Denali National Park. She reveals the sometimes emotional bonds linking the artist and subject
And Political Geographer Elizabeth Alexander is also responding to Alaska’s troubled economic landscape through stories. But sound is her medium. She discusses why she’s starting a podcast on the effort to recall Governor Dunleavy.
This week, Fairbanks’ human dynamo of community theatre Peggy MacDonald Ferguson is on the show. I’ve been trying to sit down with Peggy for several years. Peggy, besides serving as executive director of Fairbanks Drama Association, is also on the Alaska State Council on the Arts and so her schedule is one darned thing after another.
Also on the show is a reprise of a discussion I had two years ago with former Alaska Writer Laureate Anne Hanley.
And Chris Lott is in with an appropriately dramatic list of terms on Katexic Clippings.
Sometimes on Northern Soundings, I can’t air an entire discussion with a guest. This was the case last episode when the artist Karen Stomberg shared about the inspiration for her exhibit at the University of Alaska Museum of the North. I found Karen’s remarks about the power of engaging in creative activity so inspiring I thought I’d publish the addendum to the last episode. I hope you enjoy it.
One of the major fall social events in Fairbanks is HIPOW, the fundraising dinner and auction for the Catholic Schools of Fairbanks. This year marks the effort’s 50th anniversary. My guest this week is Nancy Cook Hanson, who recently stepped down as director of the school and Monroe Foundation. I took the opportunity of her retirement to ask about her background and how she came to join the school. When she was young, she says, she yearned to discover the meaning of life. While she says she didn’t discover it, friends and colleagues know she remains a thoughtful, curious and compassionate person.
Last week millions of young people and supporters around the globe gathered to protest inaction by world leaders on climate change. This week some of those leaders are gathered at the U.N. to discuss the matter, but the United States is absent from any leadership role. Despite that my first guest says a majority of Americans polled identify climate change as an important issue. Katharine Hayhoe is not only a respected atmospheric scientist but also an evangelical Christian who has emerged as an important voice for bridging the divide between religion and science.
Also on the show: Dysfunctional leadership goes way back. Shakespeare scholar and dramaturge Janis Lull says in Macbeth it isn’t clear opposing tyranny is enough.
I believe the physical book can sometimes be a work of art. Think of illuminated manuscripts or the works of local artist Margo Klass. As with any art object, age and usage can take their toll. How to preserve a well-loved volume can be a challenge. Enter Juliayn Coleman. As you’ll hear, the San Francisco based book conservator and binder has learned the venerable art of restoring books. The Literacy Council invited her to Fairbanks this summer to teach classes on restoration techniques. I sat down with her just before one of her classes at the Northwoods Book Arts Guild studios to learn about her art.
Also on the show: earlier in the summer I spoke with Rebecca George about the challenges of mounting Shakespeare’s Macbeth. George directed the play for the Fairbanks Shakespeare Theatre. She is also slated to direct an adaptation of Pride and Prejudice for Theatre UAF this spring. We also discuss the curse associated with the play.
Poet Linda Schandelmeier has deep roots in Fairbanks and the University of Alaska Fairbanks, but her links to Alaska extend farther back still. She was born and raised on a 160-acre homestead outside of Anchorage, and her memories and impressions of the homestead and coming to university are captured in a recent book of verse published by the University of Alaska Press, Coming out of Nowhere: Alaska Homestead Poems. The poems combine elements of memoir and history with literary techniques of multiple voices and personae. The mixture attracted the attention of Women Writing the West judges. The organization annually hands out Willa Awards in various literary genres to works that explore the contributions made by women to the history, culture and growth of the American West. Schandelmeier’s collection took top honours for poetry.
I had to name this show after Ron Smith’s provocative book title. Ron has authored three books since he retired as zoology professor emeritus from the University of Alaska Fairbanks. One is a no-fooling-around natural history of Interior and Northern Alaska; another is a thinly veiled autobiographical novel about coming of age in the SW, United States; and the last volume is a whimsical but very practical work devoted preventing some of the memorable mishaps Ron and his hunting buddies have met in the wild. As you’ll hear, Ron is a passionate storyteller who takes his science seriously.