We believe that language and story are essential tools for understanding the world and telling each other about it. We work to pursue essential questions about our human experience through exploring the relationship between story, place, and community.
Through the literary arts, we see an opportunity to challenge and reconsider assumptions, examine values, and renew our spirit.
The Symposium the founders created achieved national distinction in its quarter-century lifetime. Its themes worked to foster, through story, a language of community and place. The roster of more than ninety guest faculty included some of the country's finest writers on environmental and community issues as well as important emerging, Native American and international voices. Poets, fiction and nonfiction writers, folklorists, anthropologists, scientists, teachers, and politicians were all part of the mix—a deliberate variety to approach each year’s theme from diverse perspectives. Symposium participants—people of varied ages, experiences, and backgrounds—came from more than thirty states and as many Alaska communities. Robert Hass, a two-term U.S. Poet Laureate and twice a faculty member, said of the Sitka Symposium:
The Institute’s Resident Fellows Program, unique to Alaska, was initiated in 1989 to demonstrate the links between language, story, and place—between the literary arts and the community of Sitka. Residencies have been offered to seventy published and aspiring writers to develop their work against the backdrop of the diverse beliefs, experiences, and cultural traditions that make up the community of Sitka. They have shared their work with the community through readings, writing workshops, class visits from the elementary level through college, community discussions, and sessions with groups as diverse as the women's shelter, conservation groups, and Sitka’s Rotary Club.
In 1993 we launched our literary journal, Connotations, as a means of sharing the substance of the Symposium and Resident Fellows Program with a wider audience. Published twice a year, Connotations features prose and poetry by participants in our programs. It inspired our award-winning anthology From the Island’s Edge: A Sitka Reader, commemorating the first decade of the Symposium. A second anthology, The Book of the Tongass, followed.
Through our literary programs, we became recognized as one of Alaska’s leading literary organizations. We have frequently cooperated with the Creative Writing Programs at the University of Alaska campuses in Anchorage and Fairbanks to bring noted writers to Alaska communities. These cooperative efforts included a 1998-2000 National Endowment for the Arts project that involved tours of seven writers to 23 Alaska communities; the development of LitSite Alaska; and production of Northern Letters, a 13-part radio series of interviews with writers made available to public radio stations throughout the state and around the country.