Homer News
Story last updated at 3:36 p.m. Thursday, October 9, 2003


Bushell granted Humanities 'Muse' award
by Michael Armstrong

Staff Writer

Homer writer Sharon Bushell will receive the Governor's Alaskan Muse Award at a ceremony this month in Anchorage, the Alaska State Council on the Arts has announced. Bushell is one of 12 individuals or organizations to receive a 2003 Governor's Award for the Arts and Humanities.
Bushell receives the award for her "We Alaskans" collections of life stories told to her by older Alaskans. The second volume of "We Alaskans" was published last month. The Anchorage Daily News has also been publishing the stories each Sunday.
"These are really rich stories about ordinary people doing extraordinary things," said Joy Atrops-Kimura, development director for the Alaska Humanities Forum.
In a letter to Bushell, Ira Perman, president of the Alaska Humanities Forum, wrote, "This award honors individuals who have demonstrably broadened the public's thinking and have helped to advance the humanities through scholarship and the application of visionary ideas in Alaska. With this award, you join a select and committed group of individuals who understand the positive value that the humanities have in our lives."    
The Alaskan Muse Award was formerly known as the Distinguished Humanities Educator Award, said Atrops-Kimura. Stephen Haycox, a history professor at the University of Alaska Anchorage, also received the Alaskan Muse Award. Candidates for the Arts and Humanities Awards were nominated by individuals or organizations from across Alaska. Atrops-Kimura said the review committee received about 10 nominations for the Alaskan Muse Award. Committees from the Alaska Humanities Forum and the Alaska State Council on the Arts reviewed the humanities and arts nominees, and forwarded their recommendations to the governor for his final decision.

Sharon Bushell stands with Frank Reed, one of the subjects
of her ¯We Alaskans ¯ books.

 

Bushell with Midge Andresen, another ¯We Alaskans˜ subject.

Bushell moved to Alaska in 1977 and lives in Homer with her husband John Bushell, a musician and teacher. She began interviewing long-time Alaskans several years ago. The first two volumes of "We Alaskans" include 49 interviews each.
She has taped about 150 interviews so far, and written about 120. An Alaska Humanities Forum grant helped her travel the Alaska road system to seek out and interview interesting Alaskans, she said.   Photo provided
Sharon Bushell.   One of her goals in collecting stories is to visit Southeast Alaska and rural Alaska, Bushell said.
When she heard she received the Alaskan Muse Award, Bushell said at first she didn't appreciate the award's importance.
"Within a couple of days it sank in," she said. Bushell realized the award "should make it easier to get grant money and help me accomplish my goal of four books."
Having interviewed so many pioneer Alaskans, Bushell said that it's become easier to find good people to interview. She reads anniversary announcements and obituaries ‹ for the spouses or survivors of recently deceased people ‹ to look for potential subjects.

 

Her best stories come from the people she interviews. When she interviewed Lyle West, a Homer man who lived in Fairbanks for 40 years, she asked him, "Who's the most interesting old guy in Fairbanks?" West mentioned Bill Stroeker, and she's been trying to set up an interview with him. Bushell said a lot of her interviewees have lived all over the state, so it's not uncommon for her interviewees to know people in other communities. Her column in the Anchorage Daily News also brings her interview ideas. People write Bushell and suggest a relative or friend."There's no lack of good subjects," Bushell said. "There aren't any really boring people."
The stories come from long interviews Bushell does with her subjects. Typically she talks with them for about two hours and can get 20 minutes of good material to make into a good story. Her work doesn't just involve an interview, she said. She has to shape words into paragraphs ‹ write a good short article on the person.
Bushell's books and column have led to another role beyond oral historian and writer.
"People are realizing I'm a clearinghouse," she said. "I'm a lost and found for longtime Alaskans."
Bushell said one woman recently wrote her looking for the address of a man she had interviewed. The man seemed happy to get the woman's letter. While she didn't ask, Bushell suspected the woman might have been trying to rekindle an old romance.
The Alaska Humanities Forum will pay travel and other expenses for Bushell and her husband to attend the banquet and awards ceremony at the 4th Avenue Theater in Anchorage on Oct. 30.
Other humanities honorees include Daniel Henry, a teacher in Haines; Sylvia Kobayashi, an author and historian in Anchorage; Jo Ann McDowell of the Edward Albee Last Frontier Theatre Conference in Valdez and James Barker, a Fairbanks photographer.

Michael Armstrong can be reached at michaela@homernews.com