Creative writing grad classes tell their stories

During fall finals, UAA visiting professor Nancy Lord took her UAA creative writing graduate students to her favorite Anchorage spot—Cyrano's Bookstore. As part of Lord's non-fiction workshop, each student read stories of their lives for 10 minutes as they stood at a podium before an audience of about 80 people. Their stories varied widely.   

Judith Lindenfelser, who raises chickens, ducks and geese, included a little update about the birds when she sells their eggs. She called this update “Tales From the Coop” and refered to them as breakfast readings.

Lindenfelser began writing the stories when she noticed that people asked after specific birds, such as Elizabeth, the old goose matriarch.

In one of the coop stories, she wrote about hormones and whether geese dream. “I wonder, does she dream? Is she dreaming right now? She's out of the coop, tucked in the back, behind an old screen. She's cuddled into a nest of the softest down. Settling, brooding. Beryl, the African goose, has gone broody. Is she dreaming of births and babies? In her dreams, does she gently pad on her eggs with those wide loving feet, turning eggs…turning eggs…turning eggs?”

Another student, Elizabeth Manning, an Anchorage Daily News reporter taking her second creative writing course, told of having a homeless man move in as a roommate. After praying for a roommate, she said, “I didn't have the heart to make him leave.” She said that with all his bags tied to him as he rode his bicycle, he looked more like a moose than a man. “There's no one quite like Al,” she said.

 The homeless man about whom Manning writes was featured in 1988 in We Alaskans, where Al Atkey is described as a “gardener, snow shoveler, janitor, editor, recycler, typist, idea man.”

This is Matt Childs' first year in the master's program, and for this presentation, he wrote about his painful relationship with his father. In his booming, mellow voice, Childs described his 18 years of growing up on a military base and the truths he has sorted through since starting his own family.

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From “The Floor of the Valley,” Childs read: “Late in the summer, I had come home from my summer job for lunch. I was sitting at the kitchen table flipping through the course schedule, when he came in and sat down. It was the first time I had ever seen him cry. He explained that there just wasn't enough money for the university. He was sorry, but things had not gone the way he planned. He had talked to Chris' parents, and they suggested I go up to Sacramento with Chris and enroll in junior college. He put his hand on my shoulder and told me that he thought that was a good idea and that I should give it some thought. I got up and walked out. I never said a word to him that day. I wanted him to be hurt and I wanted him to be sorry. The following week, I enrolled in Sacramento City College, and Chris and I found an apartment to live in. I was angry and disappointed and, at the time, I didn't even try to understand. It was great irony for a callous 18-year-old. He had pushed and pushed me to be a better student so I could go to the good college that he could never afford to send me to.”

Anna Smith read for Cinthia Ritchie, editorial assistant for 8 Magazine, an Anchorage Daily News weekend feature. Ritchie, a fiction MFA student, wrote of how she suffered with her sister's anorexia.      

She described how she ravenously binge ate to “feed” her sister while describing the “forty-eight cans of Diet Pepsi in her (sister's) refrigerator and nothing else.” Ritchie's writing paints a picture of the anorexic in specific ways: While her sister is too weak to work, she still exercises frequently. “That's one of the lures of her disease,” Ritchie wrote.

Smith said that while reading Ritchie's work, “There were moments when I was almost moved to tears, but I couldn't cry.” Smith's focus in writing is playwriting, and she is also in the Master of Fine Arts program.

The downtown area lent its own aura of authenticity to the first night's readings. Ron Spatz, creative writing professor and chair of the department, told the second night's non-fiction group about a fight that broke out outside the bookstore the first night of readings as the fiction class presented their works, lending an air of downtown authenticity.