This is the first of three Door 15 profiles of University of Alaska scholars recognized for their distinguished service to the humanities at the 2010 Governor’s Awards for the Arts & Humanities, held October 21 in Fairbanks.
University of Alaska Anchorage Creative Writing and Literature professor Ronald Spatz is best known as the executive editor of the preeminent literary journal Alaska Quarterly Review. Yet during his acceptance speech at the 2010 Governor’s Awards for the Arts & Humanities, the founder and dean of the University Honors College made clear his passion for excellence in higher education as well.
“Alaska like the rest of the nation is now at a critical juncture,” he said. “We absolutely have to get it right on education. Alaska’s students must not only graduate, but they must be able to compete nationally and internationally if they... are going to help our nation maintain its leadership in the world.”
“Alaska is missing key funding for honors education, the undergraduate research and scholarship training students need to get to the next level. We have to be able to provide more access to excellence. We must find a way to fund opportunities for our next generation of leaders.”
Spatz, a 1973 graduate of the University of Iowa Writers Workshop, joined the UAA faculty in 1980 and assumed increasingly responsible roles as director of the university’s M.F.A. and B.A. Programs in Creative Writing and as department chair. Also, in 1980, Spatz and another new facuJty member, James Liszka (now UAA Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences and Professor of Philosophy), co-founded Alaska Quarterly Review, which has since become “one of the nation’s best literary magazines,” according to The Washington Post Book World.
Accolades garnered by the journal are legion. Most recently, The Best American Essays 2010, published in September, honored three essays that originally appeared in AQR. The collection, edited by renowned author Christopher Hitchens, includes “The Elegant Eyeball,” a piece by ophthalmologist John Gamel that was published in the Spring & Summer 2009 issue of the biannual journal. The Best American Essays 2010 also lauds two other works that were first published in AQR – “In a Moment” by Nancy Lord and “Memento Metro” by Priscilla Long – as Notable Essays of the year.
The Best American Mystery Stories 2010, edited by top-selling thriller novelist Lee Child and likewise released in September, includes “Maynard,” a short story by Mary Stewart Atwell from the Fall & Winter 2009 issue of AQR.
Last month, The New York Times Book Review raved about You Don’t Look Like Anyone I Know, a memoir published by AQR author Heather Sellers. Her book had its genesis in “Tell Me Again Who You Are,” a work of creative nonfiction by Sellers that first appeared in the Fall & Winter 2006 issue of AQR.
The latest double issue of AQR, its fifty-third, came out in early October. It features “Storm Pattern,” a 42-page essay by science writer Don Lago that, according to an online review from the 49 Alaska Writing Center, “weaves together multiple narratives to explore the idea of the beginning of the universe.”
One storyline tells of the astronomer Edwin Hubbell visiting the Grand Canyon in 1928 to check out the site for an observatory; because little is known of this visit Lago creatively recreates it. Another thread tells of the Navajo “storm pattern” rug design, which is said to represent the Navajo creation story. A third part of the weave is Lago’s own story of visiting the same places, researching the origin of the rug design and eventually purchasing one of the rugs.
Not particularly interested in astronomy or Navajo rugs? I guarantee you will be after reading this essay—or that you will at least experience your mind expanding outward, like the universe, when you follow Lago’s exploration into ways of thinking about the beginning of the world—and to connecting principles and images across time and cultures. “The universe’s long quest for patterns became brains searching for patterns in events, patterns on the earth, patterns in the sky. The master weaving that began with the creation of the universe became the weaving of a rug symbolizing the creation of the universe."
Earlier this year, the 49 Writers blog posted a lengthy interview with Spatz in which Alaskan writer Deb Vanasse asked him what distinguishes AQR from other literary journals. “Alaska Quarterly Review’s character and national/international focus separate it from the pack,” Spatz replied. “AQR is Alaska’s flagship literary magazine. It is informed by Alaska – the place and people and cultural traditions. It has connected Alaska to the larger literary world for 28 years.”
Spatz is also the founder of LitSite Alaska, UAA’s innovative online learning community that, along with its companion website for children, Alaska Kids, promotes “literacy, cultural diversity, and well-being throughout Alaska.”
The 2010 Governor’s Awards for the Arts & Humanities represented a partnership of the Alaska State Council on the Arts, the Alaska Humanities Forum, the Fairbanks Arts Association and the Alaska Arts and Culture Foundation.