A Successful Life: Shirley Gordon

On this show I talk with Shirley Gordon; at nearly 100, she has seen much of Alaska’s recent history, and even participated in it as the wife of William Gordon, the state’s flying Episcopal bishop. A replica of his plane hangs on permanent display in the Morris Thompson Cultural and Visitor Center. This episode is drawn from a recording of a public conversation with Shirley this summer as part of UAF Summer Sessions‘ Tall Timbers series. As you’ll hear, she concludes our discussion by declaring, with a twinkle in her eye, that she is a very great success.

Gerri Brightwell: Emigree and Writer

University of Alaska Fairbanks Director of Creative Writing Gerri Brightwell has been on my Northern Soundings wishlist for years. The publication this month of her latest novel Turnback Ridge seemed like the perfect occasion for discussing her life, her work, and her marriage to fellow author Ian C. Esstlemont. Brightwell has penned four novels, three of them set in Alaska. As you’ll hear, Turnback Ridge forecasts troubled times, especially for those unlucky enough to be immigrants.

She has two events in November. A book signing at Forget-Me-Not Books on Gaffney Road. 11am -3pm on Saturday November 12th. And later that evening at 6 PM she’ll read with other UAF creative writing faculty: Daryl Farmer, Sara Johnson, & Joe Holt at the Bear Gallery, Civic Centre, Pioneer Park, in an event sponsored by the Fairbanks Arts Association

Mary Shields: Musher, Author, Wilderness Advocate

Mary Shields Project Jukebox, University of Alaska Fairbanks

This is another conversation sprung from UAF’s Summer Sessions‘ Tall Timbers series that saluted individuals who’ve made a difference in our community. Mary Shields was a natural for the list. She was the first woman to finish the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race. She’s also penned books for adults and kids and served as an ambassador of sorts to thousands of visitors to our state.

From Green Beret to Cabaret

Paul Taylor

Well, okay, Paul Taylor says he’s an entertainer not a crooner. But the former Green Beret, forensic economist, and dog musher also admits he’s most at home with a microphone in hand and in front of an audience.

And I talk to the husband and wife team of DeCruit who recently visited Fairbanks giving workshops for veterans. Stephan Wolfert and Dawn Stern use the poetry and drama of William Shakespeare to help address the trauma of combat and domestic violence.

Laboring for a Future

Jim Sampson
During the summers, when the show is on hiatus, I have the privilege of talking with folks in our community who have made a difference. This year the series of conversations hosted by UAF’s Summer Sessions was called Tall Timbers. My guest tonight fits that title in several ways. First he’s tall. Also, Jim Sampson has enjoyed a long career representing union workers, and serving the state as Alaska’s Labor Commissioner under Governor Steve Cowper. He also helmed the Fairbanks North Star Borough as Mayor. After that he spearheaded a pipeline training center that invited workers across the state to train for jobs in the oil industry. And along the way he also served as a Permanent Fund Trustee.

Sally Smith: Permanently Engaged

This spring, I happened to run into Sally Smith.  Smith has a long track-record of public service. Not only did she represent Fairbanks in the Alaska House of Representatives from 1977 through 1983, when the Permanent Fund was established. She also served as Juneau’s mayor. Additionally, she held posts in both and the Eagan and Sheffield administrations.

Also, speaking of permanent, there are several constants at the Tanana Valley State Fair. The rides, livestock, and exhibits, of course, but don’t forget the straw poll organized and run by the local League of Women Voters. The league is non-partisan, and empowering democracy and educating voters are chief concerns for the group. I spoke with Janna Miller, co-president of the local league about how the straw polling went this summer, especially with ranked choice voting to consider

Return and Revisit

Lydia Violet Hartoonian

Lydia Violet Harutoonian returns to Fairbanks. That’s a first for this musician and activist who often tours, but hasn’t before returned to deepen the link between her and visited communities. She draws inspiration from the teachings of ecologist and Buddhist scholar Joanna Macy. She will lead a pair of engagements on Friday and Sunday in town, teaming up with local musicians Susan Grace and Aurora Bowers. You can find out more about her work and the events by visiting Harutoonian’s website. Harutoonian was in Fairbanks last year and I had a chance to talk with her. This episode, we revisit that conversation.

Geophysical Tales

Carl Benson has a long track record with the University of Alaska Fairbanks’ Geophysical Institute. He first visited it in 1950, and joining its faculty a decade later. Matthew Sturm came up as a grad student to study with Carl in the 1980s, and is now part of the G.I. During the pandemic, I recorded four wide-ranging, online conversations between these two friends and colleagues. In this final discussion, Benson reflects on his time at the institute and what may be challenges going forward.

Also on the show, Matthew has written about snow in several books, but last week saw the opening of a museum exhibit dedicated to his favorite subject.

Northern Bones

Pat Druckenmiller

Last week, the PBS series Nova highlighted University of Alaska Museum of the North Director and paleontologist Pat Druckenmiller’s work on Alaskan dinosaurs. Like most kids, I entered a dinosaur phase where I poured over books and collected toy dinosaurs. Unlike most kids, I never really emerged. In fact, one of my joys as a parent was reliving that fascination with my kids. So, I was in geek heaven when I talked with Pat about his research and what discoveries lie ahead.