Recognition of Alaska Quarterly Review

— (Senate – September 24, 1999)

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Mr. MURKOWSKI. Mr. President, two years ago I rose to highlight a publication of the University of Alaska, Anchorage when it was honored as “one of the nation’s best literary magazines.” Today, I rise to again call the Senate’s attention to the continuing praise for the Alaska Quarterly Review. Specifically, I rise to praise its latest issue, Alaska Native Writers, Storytellers & Orators, The Expanded Edition.

The literary journal, now in its 18th year, for its summer-fall issue has published a 400-page volume including more than 80 original works, many by Alaska Natives. The volume could win my praise simply for taking the step of publishing 15 classic Native stories in both English and in traditional Alaska Native languages. You see, in June 1991, I introduced the Alaska Native Languages Preservation Act (S. 1595). The bill, which became law in 1992 and was implemented in 1994, was designed to provide grants to Alaska Native groups and media for language preservation projects, including research, preservation and instruction to teach Alaska’s traditional languages to younger Natives.

There are 20 original Native languages spoken in Alaska–more than 155 nationwide–but only two of them, Siberian Yup’ik and Central Yup’ik are healthy.” That means they continue to be spoken by Native children. Thus 18 of the Alaska Native languages face extinction by 2055, unless more is done to preserve them. For example, only a single speaker of Eyak, a language spoken only in the Copper River Delta in Alaska, is still alive to pass the unique sounds of the language on to new speakers.

Thus the new effort by the review’s Executive Editor and Founding Editor Ronald Spatz of Anchorage would win my praise simply because it has published stories in Eyak, Haida, Tlingit, Tsimshian, Ugangan, Alutiiq, Central Yup’ik, St. Lawrence Island Yup’ik, Inupiaq and Dena’ina. But the issue has done much more for classic and modern literature and for the preservation of Alaska’s Native history and traditions.

Through its stories, short stories, oral histories, folk tales and poems, the literary magazine has taken a giant step to convey Alaska’s rich and diverse Native cultures. It pays tribute to the Native language speakers and tradition bearers that keep their cultures alive through their stories and through their words. And over the years Alaskans have learned that one of the best ways to protect the social fabric of Native Alaskans is to protect their culture, thus maintaining Native residents’ pride in their history and their heritage.

Kirkus Reviews, in its Aug. 1, 1999 review of the journal called it, “quite a tidy little omnibus of poems, oral histories, folk tales and stories by Native Alaskans……..Sociologists and folklorists will be particularly grateful for the bibliography and source notations, and those unfamiliar with Alaskan culture, will find in the very extensive commentaries a useful orientation to what remains a largely unknown world……..offering as they do a glimpse into the history of our Last Frontier.”

This is certainly not the first time that the review has won literary praise. Since its inception at the Anchorage campus of the University of Alaska in 1982, the Alaska Quarterly Review (AQR) has served as an instrument to give voice to Alaska writers and poets, while also publishing the best of material from non-Alaskan authors. While the AQR is firmly rooted in Alaska, it maintains a national perspective–bridging the distance between the literary centers and Alaska, while also sharing an Alaskan perspective. This balanced presentation of views has earned AQR local, regional and national/international recognition over the years.

In June 1997 the Washington Post book review section, Book World, called it “one of the nation’s best literary magazines.” Bill Katz in the Library Journal said “AQR is highly recommended and deserves applause.” While Patrick Parks in the Literary Magazine Review said, “It is an impressive publication, comprising as diverse and rewarding an aggregation of work as a reader is likely to find in any literary journal.”

The review has won a host of national awards including a 1999 Beacon Best award, a 1997 O. Henry Award, a 1996 award from Scribner for Best

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American Poetry, and the 1995 Andres Berger Award from Northwest Writers Inc., plus literally a dozen other awards and mentions.

I rise today to honor the publication, not just because of its many awards, but because many Alaskans still do not understand or appreciate the breadth and scope of the publication and how important it has become as a gateway for Alaskan authors to win recognition from a wider literary audience.

I want to thank the University of Alaska Board of Regents and the leadership of the University of Alaska Anchorage for supporting the publication. Alaska’s university system continues to face difficult economic times because of falling Alaska State revenues. It has taken a tremendous commitment to academic excellence to continue the funding necessary to permit the review to be a quality publication and artistic success. The University deserves great credit for its efforts at promoting the publication in these difficult financial times. It is because of the need for more revenues for the University to permit it to reach the highest level of greatness that I continue to press for the University to finally gain its full land-grant entitlement that it should have received at its founding. The University of Alaska Land Grant Bill, still pending full Senate consideration, would greatly help the University gain the economic means to support such important endeavors. But more on that at another time.

I also want to thank and again publicly recognize the work of Mr. Spatz. A recent recipient of the 1999 Edith R. Bullock Award for Excellence–the most prestigious award bestowed by the University of Alaska Foundation, Mr. Spatz is a professor and chair of the University of Alaska Anchorage’s Department of Creative Writing and Literary Arts and has been involved with the UAA’s honors program. A film maker and writer, besides editor, Mr. Spatz wrote a series of illuminating notes in the current volume. He was joined in shaping it by Contributing Editors Jeane Breinig, assistant professor of English at the University of Alaska Anchorage, and by Patricia Partnow, vice president of Education at the Alaska Native Heritage Center. A final thank you must be provided to the National Endowment for the Arts, which provided a Heritage and Preservation Grant that helped pay the costs of publication of the expanded edition.

Mr. President, Alaska, in fact all of America, is far richer artistically because of the review’s presence. It truly is a window for Americans to view society in Alaska at the close of the 20th Century, and a worthy stage for the serious works of all writers as we enter the 21th Century. That is particularly the case with this edition. I commend it and its contributors for its many achievements, and I know all members of the U.S. Senate join me in wishing it continued success.