On Friday, Quentin Simeon will read, recite and reenact some of his writings and share a pair of traditional stories from his Yup’ik culture at Bunnell Street Arts Center.
Simeon is a Yup’ik storyteller from Bethel and Aniak on the Kuskokwim River who now lives on Kachemak Bay with his partner, who is originally from Anchor Point. He’s been in Homer since the start of COVID, from about March of 2020. Since graduating with a bachelor’s in English from University of Alaska Anchorage in 2006, he has been working in higher education and cultural education while serving as an Alaska Native cultural liaison and intercultural communication specialist.
His interest in storytelling and oral history began after he moved down to Anchorage after one semester on the University of Alaska Fairbanks campus in 2002.
“I took a communications class that semester and in that class, somebody put out a pamphlet for an oratory competition with the Alaska Native Oratory Society. My professor was very persistent that I participate in the competition and she convinced me that I should try it.”
On the program this weekend is a piece he wrote in Fairbanks for the competition, ‘Tannish Brown Soul.”
“It’s really the piece that started all of this,” he said.
Since then, Simeon has collected traditional stories and learned how to tell them in various ways.
“I turned one of the stories into a play. I recently turned one of them into a rap; that’s ‘Ocular Conflict’, and will be performed at Bunnell also.”
His work has also taken advantage of structured academics to find ways to merge community memories and share them in new ways.
“Some of the war stories were things I had always heard about but I’d never seen them in writing,” he said.
With the help of a professor in a Yupik class, he was able to get a copy of some of the actual compositions.
“I studied the heck out of them and now I’m able to share them with my people, our community, with everyone because these are important parts of our history,” he said.
Simeon’s work sharing the living tradition of contemporary Yup’ik storytelling includes “Tannish Brown Soul: 2002,” an exploration into being bicultural in Alaska; “Mother Hugger: 2003,” an observation of energy, population, capitalism and entertainment of the time in rhyme; “Martuli: Recent History, a traditional Yup’ik War Story from the middle Kuskokwim”; “Ocular Conflict: 2022,” a traditional Yup’ik War Story about the origins of war in the YK Delta, recited in rhyme, and “Humble Inferno: 2016,” poetic imagery and the process of recovery and rejuvenation.
“The opportunity to give a breath to these stories and to give them the life that they were meant to live is crucial and they should live on more than just paper. The oral and performance component is really important,” he said.
Tickets for Simeon’s March 31 show are from $10-$30 on a sliding scale available on the Bunnell website or in the gallery.
Emilie Springer with the Bunnell Arts Press Release.