The Next Big Thing – Peggy Shumaker and Eva Saulitis

Tonight, I am featuring two amazing authors on The Next Big Thing. I can’t even begin to express what an honor it is to have their words here on Being Poetry. I hope you will look further into their work. I guarantee you will not be disappointed.

peggybioFirst up is Peggy Shumaker. Peggy has seven books of poetry, and a wonderful memoir from University of Nebraska Press entitled Just Breathe Normally.  In 2008, Peggy founded Boreal Books, an imprint of Red Hen Press, to publish literature and fine art from Alaska.

As part of her service as Alaska State Writer Laureate, Peggy began editing the Alaska Literary Series.  The first three titles were published in spring 2012.   Three more titles have been released in 2013.

Shumaker was awarded a National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship in Poetry. She has served as poet-in residence at the Stadler Center for Poetry at Bucknell and as the president of the board of directors of AWP. Professor emerita from University of Alaska Fairbanks, Shumaker teaches in the low-residency MFA Rainier Writing Workshop and at many writing conferences and festivals.

What is the working title of the book?
Toucan Nest

Where did the idea come from for the book?
I led an Eco-Arts writing workshop in Costa Rica, along with poet Eloise Klein Healy and naturalist Colleen Rooney.

What genre does your book fall under?
poetry

What actors would you choose to play the part of your characters in a movie rendition?
Hmmm.  Who should play the sloth?  The hummingbird?  The bulldog fishing bat?  The crocodile?  The fer de lance?  The howler monkey?  The quetzal?  The scarlet macaw?  The blue morpho? The agouti?  The chachalaca?

What is the one sentence synopsis of your book?
When we pay mindful attention, the world amazes.

How long did it take you to write the first draft of the manuscript?
Three years.

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What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?

Who or what inspired you to write this book?
Hiking every day in a completely unfamiliar landscape.  Learning from a naturalist and a local guide about the birds and animals and ecosystems we were seeing.  Writing every day with a dozen other writers.

The animals, birds, and forests wet and dry of Costa Rica lead us to interesting places in internal landscapes.

Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?
It’s just about to come out from Red Hen Press.  You can order it easily on my web site www.peggyshumaker.com/books

 

eva-200Next up, Eva Saulitis. Trained initially as a marine biologist, she received her M.S. from the University of Alaska Fairbanks in 1993.  Since 1986, she has studied the killer whales of Prince William Sound, Kenai Fjords and the Aleutian Islands and is the author and co-author of numerous scientific publications. Dissatisfied with the objective language and rigid methodology of science, she turned to creative writing – poetry and the essay – to develop another language with which to address the natural world, receiving her MFA from the University of Alaska Fairbanks in 1996.

Her essay collection, Leaving Resurrection, was a finalist for the Tupelo Press Non-Fiction Prize and the Foreword Book Award, and was published by Boreal Books/Red Hen Press in 2008.  A poetry collection, Many Ways To Say It, will be published by Red Hen Press in September 2012, and a memoir, Into Great Silence:  Discovery and Loss Among Vanishing Orcas was published by Beacon Press in January 2013.

What is the working title of the book?
Into Great Silence:  A Memoir of Discovery and Loss Among Vanishing Orcas

Where did the idea come from for the book?
For a long time, I’ve known that this book had to get written.  I was privileged to study and come to know a small population of orcas intimately, to follow their lives over two decades, and I believe sharing the narratives of our work is part of the responsibility of being a biologist.  After my breast cancer diagnosis, in 2010, I asked myself “What are the things you would regret not doing if you had only a year to live?”  And writing this book was the number one thing.  It was unequivocally clear.  Also, a couple years before that, my agent, Jeff Kleinman, heard me speak about the orcas at the Kachemak Bay Writers’ Conference, and he urged me to write the book.  He believed it was a story that had to be told.  He helped me to finish the book proposal and manage the interviews with potential editors while I was undergoing chemo.  That’s how strongly he believed.  So many things supported that sense inside me that writing this book was my highest priority (other than getting well, which I did).

What genre does your book fall under?
Memoir/creative non-fiction

What actors would you choose to play the part of your characters in a movie rendition?
I don’t know any actors good enough to play the Chugach transient orcas.

What is the one sentence synopsis of your book?
This is an intimate story of one endangered orca population struggling to survive after the Exxon Valdez oil spill, and a coming of age story of the biologist who studies them over two decades time.

How long did it take you to write the first draft of the manuscript?
Something like two years, all told.  I started it before the breast cancer diagnosis, and couldn’t really write much for several months during treatment.  It was full-time writing for about a year to get it done once I recovered.

Who or what inspired you to write this book?
So many people.  The writer Richard Nelson, who spoke at UAF when I was a graduate student.  A trained anthropologist turned creative writer, he said that everyone who researches and writes a graduate thesis has the material to write a book.  His ability to write about the natural world factually and spiritually at the same time inspired me.  Nancy Lord, who encouraged me.  Jeff Kleinman, who detected an important story in my words.  The whales themselves, who live largely in silence, and whose obscure lives might have vanished without anyone realizing.silence-200

What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?
It entwines the biological and the personal.  It tries to come to terms with great loss.  It’s a love story.  It places a reader in one of the most powerful and fragile places on earth.  It describes the day to day gritty realities of working as a field biologist in a remote place with elusive animals.

Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?
It was represented by an agent, and published by Beacon Press.

2 Replies to “The Next Big Thing – Peggy Shumaker and Eva Saulitis”

  1. I’m so pleased that two of my favorite writing teachers have new books out! I have Eva’s book and will find Peggy’s asap. Congratulations to you both! And thank you Erin for bringing these to my attention. When will your book be available?

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