Alaskans honored for work in literature, literacy and storytelling

by Michelle Saport  |   

20160628-ak-center-for-the-bookThree Alaskans with a passion for the spoken and written word are the winners of the 2016 Contributions to Literacy in Alaska (CLIA) Awards. Regan Brooks, Kathryn Ohle and Don Rearden will be recognized in a July 12 presentation at the University of Alaska Anchorage.

Alaska Center for the Book, Alaska's liaison with the U.S. Library of Congress Center for the Book, has presented the awards annually since 1993. More than 75 previous winners from across the state include librarians, teachers, writers, tutors, learning programs and others who foster literacy, the literary arts and preservation of language.

Regan Brooks is the founder of Story Works Alaska, an all-volunteer organization that provides storytelling workshops to several Anchorage-area high schools. Storytellers and coaches work with students on skills that transfer to reading, writing and public speaking. Story Works Alaska also encourages connections among students and their communities. A former high school science teacher, Brooks began the program in 2014 with support from Vik Patel of Arctic Entries and teachers Temperance Tinker and Rachel Kittoe of West Anchorage High School; more than 1,000 students have taken part since then.

Kathryn Ohle, Ph.D., is the recipient of CLIA's Sue Sherif Literacy Award, named for a longtime Alaska librarian pivotal in supporting literacy efforts through the state library system. Ohle, assistant professor of Early Childhood Education at UAA, spearheaded "Supporting the Preservation of Native Languages and Encouraging Early Literacy with Children's Books." The collaborative project works with United for Literacy students and families to provide free children's books in Alaska Native languages via a free digital library with translated texts. Read more about the project: "Professor helps Cup'ik children discover a passion for books."

Don Rearden was raised in Southwest Alaska, which is the setting for much of his writing. He is the author of the award-winning novel The Raven's Gift, which was chosen as book of the year for the Anchorage Reads program in 2015. He describes himself as "a screenwriter, a novelist, and when the mood hits, a poet and tundra philosopher." He is also a well-regarded associate professor at UAA and was founding board president of 49 Writers. A former Native Youth Olympics coach, he continues to work with rural Alaska youngsters in video and other writing and suicide prevention programs. His debut work of nonfiction, Never Quit, will be published by St. Martins in March 2017. Read more about Rearden in his "I Am UAA" profile.

The CLIA Awards will be presented Tuesday, July 12 in conjunction with UAA's MFA program in Creative Writing. The event is free and open to the public. A dessert reception will be held at 7:30 p.m. in Room 150 of the UAA Fine Arts Building, followed by a brief award presentation at 8 p.m. The audience will then hear readings from two of the MFA program's visiting faculty members, Valerie Minor and Jan DeBlieu.

Minor, a novelist and essayist, is an artist-in-residence and professor at Stanford University and the award-winning author of 14 books. Her latest novel, Traveling with Spirits, was published by Livingston Press in 2013. Her international collaborative work includes books, museum exhibits, theater and radio.

DeBlieu is the author of four books and many articles and essays. Her third book, Wind: How the Flow of Air Has Shaped Life, Myth, and the Land, received the John Burroughs Medal for Natural History Writing, the highest national honor in the genre. She is also known for her work in environmental conservation and social justice.

Alaska Center for the Book is a non-profit, all-volunteer board that helps sponsor events across the state, including Reading Rendezvous, Alaska Reads, Poems in Place, Letters About Literature and more. For more information, please visit the Alaska Center for the Book website at

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