CIRI Spotlight: Loretta Cox

CIRI shareholder Loretta Outwater Cox began thinking about becoming a writer when she started her teaching career in 1974 in Point Hope, Alaska. Looking for reading materials for her high school students, she realized there was very little information about Inupiaq culture written by Inupiaq authors.

The songs, stories and information Cox was exposed to growing up living a subsistence lifestyle on Alaska’s Seward Peninsula became the central theme of her writing. Her childhood memories of relatives sharing these oral histories and traditions created a strong desire in her to share these stories with others.

Cox was born in 1944 in Nome, Alaska, to Walter and Ruth Outwater. She had five sisters and two brothers and spent her early years in Deering, where her dad was a store manager. She moved to Buckland when she was 11, then Koyuk for two winters before attending high school at Covenant High School in Unalakleet.

Cox has fond memories of a childhood that included salmon seining in summer and ice fishing in winter, picking greens and berries, helping put up oogruk (bearded seal) meat and camping while living in Deering, herring fishing, putting away white muktuk and gathering other food while in Buckland, and moving to Koyuk with the entire family by dog team as her parents started their career as Alaska Native preachers. The subsistence lifestyle Cox’s parents lived gave her a vast resource of information to draw on as a writer.

Cox earned a Bachelor of Arts in Education from the University of Alaska Anchorage and became a high school teacher in Point Hope, a primary grade teacher in Wales and an elementary teacher in Nome. Her teaching career spanned 23 years, all of it in rural Alaska. Cox obtained a Master of Education Administration from the University of Alaska Fairbanks in 1991 and retired from teaching in the spring of

Cox was always acutely aware of the lack of reading material created and produced by Alaska Native authors, especially because she mostly taught Alaska Native students. This fueled her desire to share the stories and traditions she heard as a child and led to her becoming a writer. Her first book, “The Winter Walk: A Century-Old Survival Story from the Arctic,” was a tribute to her mother, Ruth, who shared the story of Qutuuq, Cox’s great-grandmother, while Cox was pregnant with twins. “The Winter Walk” is a true story about Qutuuq who in 1892 traveled with two children while pregnant from winter camp to a village after her husband dies. “The Winter Walk” received the “Alaska Native Literature” award in 2004 and continues to be used as a teaching resource in several classrooms around the state.

“The Storytellers’ Club: The Picture-Writing Women of the Arctic,” Cox’s second book, came from a story remembered by her father from his own childhood in Deering when he was living with his grandmother, Sikkikaoq. The book is centered on her father’s memory of seeing his grandmother’s friends leave her house after an afternoon of storytelling with black stains on their lips from licking indelible pencils to draw pictures as they told their stories.

Cox is working on her third book that tells the story of her mother Ruth’s life, the trials and tribulations of being a subsistence wife and mother and her rich and full life living in two worlds – the village and the city. Cox lives in Fairbanks with her husband, Skip Cox. She enjoys writing, gardening, fishing and berry picking. They have four children and six grandchildren.