Learning through writing

Local author publishes her own work while encouraging other writers

Author, teacher and former Alaska State Writer Laureate Nancy Lord was recently recognized by the Friends of the Homer Public Library as this year’s adult Lifelong Learner.

The author of short fiction collections as well as literary nonfiction, her books include “The Compass Inside Ourselves”; “Survival: Stories”; “Fishcamp: Life on an Alaskan Shore”; “Green Alaska: Dreams from the Far Coast”; “The Man Who Swam with Beavers: Stories”; “Beluga Days: Tracking a White Whale’s Truths”; “Rock, Water, Wild: An Alaskan Life”; “Early Warming: Crisis and Response in the Climate-changed North”; and “pH: A Novel.”

Lord’s writing has evolved from her earliest publication, a poem she wrote as a child and submitted to a contest in a Boston newspaper. Her work has been published in journals, magazines and anthologies. She has won fellowships from the Alaska State Council on the Arts and the Rasmuson Foundation, a Pushcart Prize and numerous artist residencies. From 2008 to 2010, she served as the Alaska Writer Laureate, traveling around the state to promote writers, writing and libraries.

“Nancy is the epitome of a lifelong learner,” said Rika Mouw, a Homer community member who nominated Lord for the Lifelong Learner award. “I think of every book she’s ever written and the research she had to do and the travel and time spent dedicated to her compositions.”

A retired commercial salmon fisherman, naturalist and historian on adventure cruise ships, Lord, in her writing, is informed by her passion for coastal Alaska and the sustainability of its resources and communities.

Raised in New Hampshire, Lord holds a Bachelor of Arts in Liberal Arts from Hampshire College and a Master of Fine Arts in fiction writing from Vermont College of Fine Art. While attending Hampshire College, Lord met Homer writer Tom Kizzia and Ken Castner, her partner of 52 years. The couple moved to Homer in 1973 and Lord began taking distance classes from the University of Alaska Fairbanks in Alaska History and Alaska Native Studies. Fascinated by the people and places of the North, she began to write stories as a way to learn more about both.

Within months of moving to Homer, Lord wrote a piece about an archaeological dig that was taking place in the Cottonwood Creek area of the community. She camped with the group for three days and wrote about the pre-Dena’ina findings the students were making. This piece was featured in an article and on the cover of an Anchorage magazine.

A few months later, she wrote several pieces about the local history and these were published in a magazine called The Spit, produced by Homer community member Trish Perkins.

“I was literally finding my place here through the geography, history, animals, plants and history of the Homer Spit,” Lord said.

In 1984, at the age of 32, Fireweed Press published Lord’s first book, “The Compass Inside Ourselves,” stories previously published in contests, anthologies and magazines.

“Survival: Stories” was published by Coffee House Press in 1991 and is loosely based on the true story of a young woman who came to Homer, traveled across the bay and disappeared, with her bones later found.

In 1997, Counterpoint published Lord’s “Fishcamp: Life on an Alaskan Shore,” a book of short essays based on events, incidents and activities from her and Castner’s fish camp on the other side of Cook Inlet.

“Green Alaska: Dreams from the Far Coast” was published by Counterpoint two years later on the 100-year anniversary of the Harriman Alaska Expedition, a juxtaposition of stories about that scientific and exploratory expedition and Lord’s own travels around coastal Alaska.

In 2001, Coffee House Press published Lord’s “The Man Who Swam with Beavers: Stories,” stories combining folk tales, traditional stories and modern stories.

“I did a lot of reading about mythology of North America for this book and I read entire books about beavers,” she said.

“Beluga Days: Tracking a White Whale’s Truths” was published in 2007 by Mountaineers Books. Named after the final essay in “Fishcamp: Life on an Alaskan Shore,” Lord wrote this book after she noticed fewer and fewer whales across the Cook Inlet, took a college class about whales, and spent time interviewing hunters and scientists about the whales.

“My goal was to not just tell the story of the Cook Inlet Beluga whales, but to share what I’d learned about marine mammal management, like what it takes to do good management, how it can get waylaid and what the process is. This book gets read by management circles of people working with whales. I’m pleased that it has had an influence,” she said.

“Rock, Water, Wild: An Alaskan Life” was published by the University of Nebraska Press in 2009 and is a compilation of individual essays about wild places and marine life.

In 2012, Lord’s book, “Early Warming: Crisis and Response in the Climate-changed North,” was published by Catapult and includes stories about climate change from Alaskan’s perspectives.

“My agent had been pressing me to write a book about climate change and I told her that I didn’t know what I could add to the books that were already out there,” Lord said. “Then it occurred to me that I could write a book about lessons in adaptation and resilience in the North because we were experiencing climate change earlier and more significantly than other places in the country. The intent of this book was not to write about the fact that it was happening, but how Alaskans were dealing with it.”

For this book, Lord traveled around Alaska and the Canadian North and wrote it divided into geographical parts.

In 2015, Lord was invited to serve as editor of the “Made of Salmon: Alaska Stories From The Salmon Project” anthology, part of an Alaskan Salmon Project. The anthology was published in 2016 and features 24 essays about salmon written by a diverse range of Alaskans, both writers and non-writers, Indigenous and not, all whom Lord had invited to contribute.

In 2017, Graphic Arts Books published Lord’s “pH: A Novel,” about ocean acidification and based on her interviews with scientists and her experience as onboard writer on the Tiglax, a U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service research vessel doing surveys in the Gulf of Alaska.

“While on the boat, I wrote an essay called ‘My Acid Cruise’ and I had the idea to write a short novel based on that cruise and what I learned,” she said. “The first part of the novels starts out on a cruise where university people are doing work similar to what they were doing when I was with them on the Tiglax. Then I invented a villain, corruption and a bit of mystery. I wanted to take a subject that most people might not be interested in and give them something to read in a way that would be maybe more fun for them than reading it as nonfiction.”

Lord shared that writing one book leads to another and is fueled by her curiosity.

“I’ll learn something that propels me into new interests that I want to learn more about, so I’ll learn about it and then I want to write about it,” she said. “I also like to set a challenge to myself each time to use a different form or tackle a different issue. So I’m writing as I’m learning and I’m learning constantly.”

Lord is currently working on her next book, “New and Selected Short Stories,” a compilation of newer, unpublished stories along with stories from her earlier books that she believes remain relevant today.

Committed to helping other writers, she teaches online in the graduate science-writing program at Johns Hopkins University and part-time at the Kachemak Bay Campus branch of Kenai Peninsula College, University of Alaska Anchorage. She also writes twice-monthly book reviews for the Anchorage Daily News and will soon be editing another anthology of others’ writing.

“Trying to encourage newer and younger writers is really, really important to me at this stage of my life,” she said.

Passionate about people, place, history and the natural environment, Lord explores life in the Far North through her fiction and nonfiction work. Though she did not move to Alaska with the intention to write, write she does.

Lord’s books can be found locally at the Homer Bookstore as well as the Homer Public Library. You can follow her book reviews on her personal Facebook page, Nancy Lord and find her online at writernancylord.com.

Nancy Lord, recipient of the 2024 Lifelong Learner award by the Friends of the Homer Public Library, presents her speech, “What I’ve learned about learning and the fight to control it at the library,” at the Lifelong Learning celebration at the Homer Public Library on Saturday, April 20, 2024 in Homer, Alaska. Photo by Ken Castner

Nancy Lord, recipient of the 2024 Lifelong Learner award by the Friends of the Homer Public Library, presents her speech, “What I’ve learned about learning and the fight to control it at the library,” at the Lifelong Learning celebration at the Homer Public Library on Saturday, April 20, 2024 in Homer, Alaska. Photo by Ken Castner

Homer author Nancy Lord explores Kodiak, Alaska in 2023. Photo by Stacy Studebaker

Homer author Nancy Lord explores Kodiak, Alaska in 2023. Photo by Stacy Studebaker