Leavetakings

Corinna Cook’s Leavetakings brings to mind the sharpness of line drawings so extraordinarily crafted that we reach for the page to feel the fineness of feather. From Alaskan landscapes to human relationships, Cook tests the edges where exterior becomes interior.

—Karen Babine, author of All the Wild Hungers

“…a truly original voice.”

—Sherry Simpson, author of Dominion of Bears

Leavetakings collects nine essays set in Alaska. They ask, what can coming and going reveal about place? Might wandering serve not only to map new regions but also to map the most familiar ones, like home? As the book travels to and from people, memories, beaches, and forests, it also studies the ebb and flow of empathy and alienation that makes friendship, like place, a complex of closeness and distance.

“A stunning debut.”

—Jericho Parms, author of Lost Wax

To order a signed copy / purchase a book from me directly, email corinna.cook@gmail.com

Send me:
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Price options:
$16.95 book + safely distanced in-person pickup (no postage)
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*Happy to make special arrangements one-on-one for multi-book orders, non-Venmo users, or shipping to Canada.

Breathtaking….  Every chiseled, staggeringly focused experience becomes a window into history or myth or science… This incantatory, elegant book broke my heart in the best possible way.

—Michael White, author of Travels in Vermeer
Here you can access a live recording of my book launch, a digital event with reading, conversation, and Q&A. Bonus: see a Visual Scribe’s take on the event.

This lovely book teaches us how to examine and cherish the places where we find ourselves, no matter what rivers carried us here.

—Joni Tevis, author of The World Is On Fire

Advance Praise for Leavetakings

What does it mean to love a place? In Leavetakings, Corinna Cook explores this question via her own unique alloy “of humor and holiness.” Salmon otoliths whisper secrets; teenagers at calculus camp joke “Kiss My Asymptote”; a winged outhouse rises into the air. This lovely book teaches us how to examine and cherish the places where we find ourselves, no matter what rivers carried us here.

—Joni Tevis, author of The World Is On Fire

In this, her first essay collection, Corinna Cook draws for her reader an x-y axis and invites us to journey alongside her—on and off grid—as she plots stasis and change, leaving and returning, meditates on salmon bones and sourdough, friendship and solitude, and the ever-present landscape of Alaska. More than a collection, Leavetakings is a book of curated findings, evidence of a vast and changing northern terrain and the intimacy and wonder it engenders. With clarity, whimsy, and wisdom, Cook speaks to the body, charts under-explored regions of the heart, and presents a unique topography of human experience. A stunning debut.

—Jericho Parms, author of Lost Wax

Again and again I found myself astonished by the incandescence of Corinna Cook’s essays. Her accounts of people and place are thoughtful without pretension, witty without affectation, and poignant without sentimentality because she doesn’t write about Alaska so much as she is inhabited by it. I emerged from the intimate dreaminess of Leavetakings grateful to have encountered a truly original voice.

—Sherry Simpson, author of Dominion of Bears

Corinna Cook’s Leavetakings brings to mind the sharpness of line drawings so extraordinarily crafted that we reach for the page to feel the fineness of feather. From Alaskan landscapes to human relationships, Cook tests the edges where exterior becomes interior.

—Karen Babine, author of All the Wild Hungers

Corinna Cook’s breathtaking Leavetakings is an unclassifiable hybrid of environmental writing and personal memoir—set mostly in the author’s native Alaska—that reads, on the sentence level, as pure poetry. Cook doesn’t write of or at a subject, she writes through it. Every chiseled, staggeringly focused experience becomes a window into history or myth or science . . . This incantatory, elegant book broke my heart in the best possible way.”  

—Michael White, author of Travels in Vermeer

More takes on Leavetakings here.

Excerpt from “Traverses,” the collection’s first essay:

It is this simple. I am crossing the continent to look at its shape.

Of the continent: it’s unbelievable that road infrastructure overlays so much of it. Unbelievable that a whole plate of the earth’s crust has a net of asphalt threads laid atop it. Unbelievable, the nonchalance this creates. Crossing the continent to see its shape is less an expedition and more a comfortable contemplation. I will ford no rivers. I will search for passage through the mountains not for survival, but simply to walk my dog, Pep, study the game trails, and enjoy wayfinding on unfamiliar ground. 

I will watch the continent change as I go north in early spring. Then in late summer, I will watch it change in reverse. It is important to go both directions. It takes repetitions to see where you’ve been. And things look different when you’re leaving: even the air is different. Often, what I’m leaving is Alaska, though in my heart I am never absent from the place and my departures probably reflect more obscure schisms. At least the place is a marker, clear enough that I can count the days until I return. When the number is small, I announce it: Dog! I say. We’re going back! She knows exactly where.

[…] It’s mid-May. It’s spring in a place where the land’s memory of winter is strong. I’ll be driving out well before breakfast, well before anyone else awakens. Eventually the day will open behind me; the sky will go from rose to blue. Later, summer will come. People—southerners—will begin trickling through; I’m ahead of the RV roadtripping curve, but it’ll follow soon enough. Visitors will come, then they’ll go, and then the days will zip up tight into fall. That’s when the swampy land all around will blush once, hard, a quick bright red before the snow. I don’t even know if you like winter. I do. It’s very quiet. That’s what will come next.

Species, Families + Faultlines – a review of Marie Tozier’s new poetry collection for Terrain.org

Marie Tozier’s new poetry collection Open the Dark (Boreal Books/Red Hen Press 2020) gave me an occasion to think and write about North American history, how time moves/freezes via language, aesthetics of resistance, and acts of generosity. My review essay is live at Terrain.org. Full text here.

Excerpt:

Alaskan Inupiaq poet Marie Tozier’s new collection Open the Dark challenges—but also aligns with—western notions of linear time. Early on, the collection announces a cyclic, wheeling view of time as it unfolds in successive waves across the land. In one poem “An abandoned snowmachine / Sunk last spring, sits exposed near the far shore,” while another asks, “What’s inside / The space / Between laughter / And the memory / Of those you laughed with?”

Returns like these complicate the idea that continuity denotes simple abundance, suggesting instead that a sense of loss can persist even within a larger understanding of repetitions and returns. Indeed, the collection is full of the rhythms of seasons and family and ancient narratives, but it is also about the open wound of residential school history.

Lyric Histories

Date(s): Wednesdays, February 24, 2021 – March 10, 2021, 5:30 p.m. to 7:00 p.m. Phoenix MST
Location: Zoom
Type(s): 
Craft Class, Workshop
Genre and Form(s): Creative Nonfiction, Memoir, Poetry, Research
Cost: $109 Regular, $98 Student
Discount code: friends10
Register here.

About the Class 

Our origin stories and histories, often among our most cherished narratives, help us look back in time in order to understand the present. They wrestle with two questions in particular: “where did we come from?” and “how did this come to be?” In essayist Esmé Weijung Wang’s eyes, these lead to the most urgent question of all: “what do we do now? What on earth do we do now?” This is both the mindset and the starting premise of this course on using poetics in community history writing. Participants will learn to engage in creative exploration of a local past of their choice; they will read widely in the field of the literary essay, contrasting lyrical tellings of local histories written by Joni Tevis, William Least Heat-Moon, Sarah de Leeuw, Sonya Bilocerkowycz, and José Orduña; and they will practice leveraging literary precision and intent in writing about their own chosen facets of a local or community history. As a foundation, participants will experiment with an array of research methods designed to bring minute clues from the past into surprising focus. Participants will then explore their findings’ literary dimensions with guided writing prompts and collaborative workshopping sessions.

Other workshops and events here.

A Clockwork for the Land in Beth Peterson’s “Cairns” – Essay Daily

In celebration of Beth Peterson‘s gorgeous essay collection, Dispatches From the End of Ice, I wrote an essay about one of her essays. My piece appears as the December 7 installment of the 2020 Essay Advent Calendar published by Essay Daily.

Excerpt:

One day, a Norwegian glacier museum burns to the ground. The glacier beyond it continues its incremental melting. “That’s the thing about a world on fire,” writes Beth Peterson. “You wonder if when the match was first struck, what would have happened if you had known to look.”

Strange losses abound in Peterson’s essay collection, Dispatches From the End of Ice. A theory of the universe is advanced, then dismissed. Peterson herself falls into a crevasse. A literature professor disappears while hiking on a Japanese volcano. And a friend is gone forever when he takes a deadly plunge off a mountainside. Even the coroner cannot initially identify him, for every single one of his teeth is broken from the fall.      

“Apocalypse literature,” Beth Peterson reminds us, “pulls back the veil on reality.”      

If Dispatches From the End of Ice pulls back a veil, here’s what I see behind it: the paradox that loss magnifies more than it erases.

Full piece available here.

Creative Nonfiction and Lived Experiences of Power – a talk for the 2020 UAS Power and Privilege Symposium

I recorded this talk as part of the 2020 Power and Privilege Symposium organized and hosted by the University of Alaska Southeast. See the full 2020 Symposium program here.

Description:
Writing from life is at once personal and communal. The literary essay, defined first by searching and second by strange discoveries uncovered by the solitary mind, is often surprisingly invested in social participation and in illuminating the wider collective. This talk prepares participants to create their own writing from life by introducing the nuts and bolts—and the simplest but most powerful poetics—of the contemporary protest essay. This talk will draw on short examples from the field’s trend toward local political involvement, searing community insight, and historic recovery by writers like Aisha Sabatini Sloan, Siku Allooloo, José Orduña, Sarah de Leeuw, and Zadie Smith. It will outline and present a literary toolkit accessible to anyone inclined to explore their own lived experiences of power and privilege on the page, a practice participants may engage for reflection, exploration, healing, and teaching.

Fluid Places – a Leavetakings excerpt published in Anchorage Museum’s Chatter Marks

One day I went to the museum and stood a while in front of a photograph by Anna Hoover and later on I thought about swans and squid and high school calculus camp and wrote an essay about the beginning of the universe, “Fluid Places.” It’s in my book, Leavetakings. And here it is published as a book excerpt in Chatter Marks.

The Shadow of Pandemic in Alaska Literature – Denali Sunrise Publications

I wrote a review of Mia C. Heavener’s new novel with Red Hen Press, Under Nushagak Bluff. This is an important new addition to the field of contemporary Indigenous novel because it is gorgeously conceived and written, its historic setting bucks an established trend in Indigenous literature, and it cracks open Bristol Bay’s history of epidemics—a history of eerie relevance to today’s coronavirus pandemic.

A couple short excerpts from my review:

My take: Heavener’s novel asks, precisely how does historic understanding erode? Where does the past, personal and collective, get mis-placed, mis-taken, coded, and ultimately concealed?

Seagulls swoop and dive, crying in the salty air. The waves of Nushagak Bay crash on sandbars and rocky shores. Machines rattle the warehouses on the cannery side of the village “where the beach flattened and the boardwalks grew tall.”

So many sounds; so many stories. Yet as I page through Mia Heavener’s new novel Under Nushagak Bluff under the long shadow of the COVID-19 pandemic, it is the novel’s subtle and steady investigation of silence that most captivates me. 

Denali Sunrise Publications arranged my review alongside a beautiful array of historic photos, maps, and contextual historic commentary. Full review essay available here.

A Fabric’s Entirety – Artists of Alaska: Through the Eyes of 49 Writers

The Artists of Alaska series is an ambitious, statewide project curated and coordinated by the Rasmson Foundation and 49 Writers. The project pairs Alaskan writers with Rasmuson Foundation grant awardees. The result: a growing compilation of narrative-driven artist profiles of and by Alaskans. 

Here’s an excerpt from my profile on Chilkat weaver Ricky Tagaban:

Ricky Tagaban kneels on his studio floor and reaches under the table, ripped jeans making it easy to maneuver. He hauls out a gray tote bin and plunges his hand into the coarse white fur that fills it: unprocessed mountain goat wool.

Strong, long guard hairs are integrated in tufts and clumps of undercoat, and a few bits of bark and dirt fleck the richly off-white wool with dark specs of forest and mountain. Tagaban rests his forearms on the edge of the bin, letting his hands land on a clump of wool. “If you have this mountain goat wool, you’ve got to pull all the guard hairs out,” he explains, reflexively beginning to do just that. “And if there’s poop, or slugs, or sticks, or moss, or grass — that all gets thrown away too,” says Tagaban. “The undercoat is the really wooly part. That’s what you want.”

Full profile here.

Background photo credit: Jeremy Pataky.Fonts: Canada 1500 by Ray Larabie and Adobe Jenson Pro by Robert Slimbach.
This was a Hiya, Scout! design.