In the Spotlight
Vivian Faith Prescott
Facilitator and Mentor at Blue Canoe Writers, Matki Writers, and Flying Island Writers; Publisher/Editor at Petroglyph Press
Wrangell, Alaska Member Since: 2013
About: Vivian Faith Prescott is a fifth-generation Alaskan who lives at her family’s fish camp on the small island of Wrangell in Southeast Alaska. She holds an MFA from the University of Alaska, and is the founder of several writers’ groups: Blue Canoe Writers (Sitka); Matki Writers (Facebook); and Flying Island Writers & Artist (Wrangell). She is the author of a full-length poetry collection, The Hide of My Tongue, and two chapbooks, Slick and Sludge.
Photo credit: Howie Martindale
Who encouraged you to be a writer?
I've been writing since I was eleven years old. After experiencing grief, and being very conscious of grief, my instinct was to write my first poem. It was my friends who encouraged me, who knew me as a "poet," even at a young middle-school age. My high school English teacher recognized my young passion and created a special poetry class for me. On the small Alaskan island where I was born and raised I was known for being a poet. But after that, in what should've been productive young writerly years, I was busy raising children and surviving, having been married at fifteen years old. I hid my poems from my then-husband but shared them with a young couple I was friends with.
If you could meet any writer, who would it be? What would you say to him or her?
If I could meet any writer, I'd meet Sherman Alexie. I'd probably try to say something clever, but I'd probably just embarrass myself. Both my daughters have met Mr. Alexie at two different events for Native writers. I'd probably just ask him to tell me a story and then I'd tell him one and then we'd just sit around telling stories. Talking story is the best way to connect.
When do you find time to write?
I write in the early morning, and I usually stop by noonish to take a break. The afternoon is typically time for sending out my work. But all that changes in the summer when I'm fishing and harvesting and berry picking because that's how we survive, how we eat. I live at a fish camp on a small island in Alaska, so we get most of our family's food from the land and sea. I have to bring a notebook with me when I'm out fishing or berry picking in case the muse visits.
Describe your writing process.
I try to write every day. First, I begin the day by reading a literary journal or a few poems in a poetry collection. I write longhand with blue ink in small notebooks. But I've adapted to technology and sometimes I use the note app on my iPhone. I actually don't like noise, except nature's noise, so music is distracting unless for some reason I need a specific type of music to enlist the muse. Living on the oceanfront, with the sea only a few steps from my home, I live with the tidal fluxes; I think I write differently at high tide than at low tide.
Do you feel influenced by your peers to produce a certain type of work?
I am influenced by my peers. I often see the structure or theme of a poem or story and say to myself, "Hey, look what they've done with that." Sometimes it's a form I've already done but wasn't brave enough to send out, and sometimes it's a new discovery. For example, Peggy Shumaker's small memoir vignettes in Just Breathe Normally. I had written vignettes but didn't know what to do with them or didn't realize that I was doing anything interesting. But I follow my own interests, mostly. I create poetry videos, poetry collages, and I'm experimenting with comic-strip type poem collages.
What do your books look like once you’ve finished reading them?
My books have dog-eared pages, blue ink in the margins, even salmon blood and scales on them, and occasionally, a squashed mosquito. I write in blue ink on my fiction reads. My books of poetry have a sacred sense, so I don't write in them, but I can't help the dog-eared pages.
Which book should be required reading for young people?
Poetry by Indigenous peoples around the world and anything by Sherman Alexie.
What is your favorite thing to do when you should be writing, but just can’t find the motivation?
My favorite thing to do when not writing is to make art. I go out to my outdoor shed and sculpt with old pottery shards, glass, sea planks, and parts from old fishing boats; basically, antique garbage. I find these treasures on the beach at a local de-commissioned garbage dump at the north end of our island. As I construct something physically, I'm often building a story or a poem in my mind. Also, when I'm not writing, I'm usually catching fish, picking berries, or harvesting beach greens, or whatever is ripening in the forest. My life is about food and words. And garbage.
Would you like to share a project you are currently working on?
I'm documenting climate change through poetry and prose. Obviously, living in Alaska, we see it all around us. The island I live on is located in the Alexander Archipelago in Tlingit country, at the mouth of the fastest flowing navigable river in the US, the Stikine River. Shakes Glacier and LeConte Glacier and all the island landscapes surrounding us are a part of me. My food security, my family's wellbeing, my family's heritage, everything is affected by changes in climate. I'm a fifth-generation Alaskan, having married into the Tlingit nation. I live with and take care of my father, an elder with a tremendous amount of traditional knowledge about fishing and hunting. I've been documenting his knowledge and writing poetry and prose about those connections. I'm also working on a collection of poems that deals with Sami-American heritage and identity and what that means in the context of our disapora.
Who do you follow online?
I mostly follow Facebook blogs and writers on Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook. My favorite is Athabaskan Woman, though I follow my friend Ishmael Hope on Alaska Native Storyteller. I'm also a member of Baiki and other Sami groups on Facebook. I keep in touch with many indigenous writers through the Indigenous-Aboriginal American Writers Caucus, and my Facebook acquaintances. Through these connections I've discovered some great writers and literary journals.
What would be your advice to new AWP members on how to make the most of their membership?
New members should connect with one another on Facebook. Find one or two caucuses that have your common interests and passions and join them. You can find job and publishing opportunities, writerly support and encouragement.
What is your favorite line from a book?
"We are all given one thing by which our lives are measured...Mine are the stories which can change or not change the world. It doesn't matter as long as I continue to tell the stories." —Thomas Builds-the-Fire/Sherman Alexie