Thank you to Alaska Quarterly Review for inviting us and hosting a great evening! Recording below.
Retired French scholar-professor and beloved friend Pierre-Louis Gauthier invited my dad and me to contribute writings to his newest book project. My dad sent in his most recent work on medieval French chivalry and westerns (cowboys in cinema). Me, I missed the deadline. But Pierre said: there are no problems, only solutions! THEN HE TRANSLATED my bicycle essay from the original English into French. My lyric essay in translation has a home not only alongside my dad’s gorgeous article on cinematic cowboys, but in a whole book of fellow contributors from across genres+disciplines. Récits, contes et nouvelles, out with Combes Éditions, available here.
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.
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.
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.
Edible Alaska‘s beautiful summertime issue is out. It includes as amuse bouche my flash essay, a salsa-based theory life called “The Far Places.” See magazine spreads below, and enjoy online access here.
“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
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“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
“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
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.
Circumpolar Duet is a Yukon collaboration between ten word artists and ten visual artists. The process: we made our first round of arts independently, engaging the theme of “singular plurality.” Then the twenty of us came together to exchange words for vis and vis for words. In round two, we made our second contribution of word art or visual art in response to the specific piece we received in the exchange.
The result: twenty ekphrastic dialogues.
Thank you to supporters and organizers who arranged our ekphrastic pairings into a book compilation, and into a gallery exhibit hosted by Yukon Artists at Work.
Alaska Magazine’s special issue in creative writing includes my essay about heat, illness, the color red, and black spruce. The essay responds to a painting by Juneau artist Constance Baltuck.
To understand the black spruce, remember it grows from a fist-sized root ball as grey and compact and crucial as a brain. Each black spruce spindles itself straight up into the crack of the cold, stout branches making a skyward scrub from base to apex all winter night. And below that brain of roots lies permafrost, even in summer. This, then, is a tree that keeps ice in mind. Full essay here.
The magazine After the Art asks essayists to blend writing about art – with writing about a text – with writing about personal experience.
In answer to this tri-part prompt, I link a painting by Yukon artist Jane Isakson – to an essay by William Least Heat-Moon – to fragments from childhood in Alaska.
The mountain doesn’t know you’re an expert.
This is how my family reminds each other that life alongside mountains must by necessity be humble. By necessity alert. The tear-shaped island in Alaska on which I grew up has steep, rainforested mountainsides. It has dark, rocky shores. And it has a two-lane bridge to the mainland, where the rest of town is a capital city busy with state politics but rimmed by an icefield so that no road links our community to any other community. Because of this, we have a special responsibility to take care of each other.Continue reading “Points of Reference: I Am Here – After the Art“
I’ve completed a four-part series of “Yukon Dispatches” for Assay. Each dispatch tracks developments in my research during my year as a Fulbright fellow in Whitehorse, Yukon. Full sequence gathered and excerpted here.