By Melinda Munson

Jeff Brady, a founding member of Skagway’s annual writer’s symposium, North Words, is “elated” that best-selling author Tommy Orange will headline the 2021 three-day event.

“We knew we were a long shot because Tommy is in great demand, but we felt that the lure of Alaska and involving him in a conference that would have racial injustice as part of its focus would be a good draw,” Brady said. 

Orange’s 2018 novel, “There, There,” was one of The New York Times Book Review 10 Best Books of the Year, won The Center for Fiction’s First Novel Prize and the PEN/Hemingway Award, along with being a finalist for the 2019 Pulitzer Prize.

Orange, born and raised in Oakland California, is a member of the Cheyenne and Arapaho tribes of Oklahoma. 

His debut novel, “There, There” tells the story of urban Native Americans. The Guardian describes it as both “angry and demanding” and “moving and powerful.”

This spring, North Words will also welcome Laureli Ivanoff to its 2021 faculty. A former news director of KNOM radio in Nome, Ivanoff is the author of young adult fiction. Hailing from Unalakleet, Alaska, Ivanoff is Unupiaq and Yupik. Her essays about native life appear in the Anchorage Daily News.

In a new partnership with North Words, Skagway Traditional Council (STC) will help sponsor a native Alaskan writer each year. 

“We’ve been aware for some time that we need to be more diverse. A couple years ago we invited a representative from STC to start opening our conference attendees 

to the traditional territory of the Skagway Tlingit,” Brady said.

With last year’s event completely virtual due to COVID-19, North Words will have to be flexible with this year’s format.

“We hope that by spring this will all be behind us, but we will have time to make plans for a number of scenarios, from restricting numbers in our event venues, adding a virtual component, or going all virtual,” Brady said.

More details for the 2021 symposium will be available soon at