CIRI descendant, finalist in young writers contest
REFRESH. REFRESH. REFRESH.
Early in January, CIRI descendant Abigail “Abby” Slater, 19, sat in front of her computer, watching her email reload.
She’d entered the Hot Key Books Young Writers Prize contest on a whim, submitting her unpublished young adult novel, The Lucky Bones, just an hour before the deadline. After that, she’d forgotten all about the competition until an October email let her know that her book had made it onto the list of 20 semifinalists, out of a hundred entries from all over the world. “Then I got nervous,” Abby recalled. “Waiting for the announcement about the shortlist was torture.”
There it was! A final email check before she rushed to her job as an office assistant at The CIRI Foundation (TCF) revealed she’d made it. Her book was now one of only four finalists to be considered for publication and a prize of ?10,000 (about $13,500).
“I danced around the living room,” admitted Abby, who wrote her book over the course of a year, while also working at TCF, where she started as an intern, and attending classes at the University of Alaska Anchorage, with funding support from TCF.
Written for a preteen audience, The Lucky Bones is set near the turn of the century, with a Native American protagonist named Sara, who discovers that her sister’s bones have been stolen from her grave and made part of a museum attraction. Determined to reclaim her sister’s remains, Sara tracks the exhibit all the way to Europe in an adventure that finds its roots in Abby’s own cultural history.
“Being Aleut, specifically with the Aleutian Island evacuations, a lot of family regalia is gone,” Abby explained. “Seeing a lot of our things in museums, not all of it is necessarily there legally. Some if it’s there when it should be home. I really related to that part of Sara’s story.”
Unfamiliar with how museums operate behind the scenes, Abby found herself doing a lot of research, much of it from books funded by TCF and CIRI. “TCF and CIRI also helped my research by funding the Anchorage Museum Dena’inaq’ Huch’ulyeshi exhibit, which taught me plenty of facts about museums and Native art exhibits that found their way into the story, and made me feel much more confident in what I was writing about.”
Her grandmother, Helen Slater, an original CIRI enrollee, also inspired parts of the story. “I never got to meet her,” Abby said. “But the mystery of her, getting to know what it was like in the boarding schools for her and people of that generation, is kind of the crux of where the story came from.”
The winner of the competition will be announced in April at the London Book Fair. In the meantime, Abby is thinking about other stories she wants to tell, including the adventures of the first Alaska Native female superhero.
“I’ve always been a comic book nerd,” she explained. “As an Alaska Native woman, I’ve never seen myself or my heritage represented in comics. And all the superheroes are in New York City. I always thought it would be nice to have a superhero here in Anchorage, saving Anchorage from all kinds of perils.”