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UAS Professor Ernestine Hayes Named Alaska State Writer Laureate

On January 26, Hayes will be introduced as the Alaska State Writer Laureate at the Governor’s Awards for the Arts and Humanities in Juneau.

Juneau, Alaska

Date of Press Release: January 12, 2017

Ernestine Hayes, MFA, Professor of English Emerita
Ernestine Hayes, MFA, Professor of English Emerita

University of Alaska Southeast assistant professor Ernestine Hayes has been chosen as Alaska State Writer Laureate for 2016-2018 by the Alaska State Council on the Arts (ASCA) and the Alaska Humanities Forum.  Hayes teaches English at the UAS Juneau Campus. She succeeds Dr. Frank Soos of Fairbanks in this honored position.  Dr. Soos said, “Ernestine Hayes brings passion and intellect to everything she says and writes.”  Benjamin Brown, chair of the ASCA, noted in a press release, “We are very excited to have Ernestine accede to the position of State Writer Laureate, given her tremendous literary talents and enthusiasm for encouraging all Alaskans to read, write, and enjoy the wonders of the literary arts.” On January 26, Hayes will be introduced as the Alaska State Writer Laureate at the Governor’s Awards for the Arts and Humanities in Juneau.

UAS Chancellor Rick Caulfield praised Hayes for her award. “Ernestine has a deep connection to her homeland and to the indigenous peoples of Southeast Alaska. Her writing illuminates a life of challenges and overcoming adversity. Ultimately her story is one of vision and hope. We are truly fortunate to have her on our faculty.”

Ernestine Hayes is the author of two novels.  Blonde Indian, published in 2006, was named a Native America Calling Book of the Month, received an American Book Award, as well as an Honoring Alaska Indigenous Literature Award.  The book was a finalist for the 2007 Kiriyama Prize, and the 2007 PEN Nonfiction Award.  In 2016, Blonde Indian was selected as the first book for the Alaska Reads project, a series of readings that connect Alaskans through the work of a living Alaskan writer.  Her most recent work, published in October 2016, is The Tao of Raven: an Alaskan Native Memoir.  Her work on the book was supported by an Artist in Residence award from the Rasmuson Foundation.

Hayes was born in Juneau, a member of the Kaagwaantaan clan. At the age of 15 she moved to California and returned to Alaska at the age of 40.  After struggling through a period of homelessness, Hayes began her connection with the University of Alaska Southeast at the age of 50 when she enrolled as a student with a GED.  She graduated magna cum laude at the age of 55 from UAS with a Bachelor of Liberal Arts degree in 2001, and went on to earn her Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing at the University of Alaska Anchorage in 2003.  Hayes has been teaching English at UAS since 2004.  She has been featured as a keynote during the popular Evening at Egan lecture series. Along with others at UAS, she has also been involved with Tlingit language revitalization. 

On January 9, Senator Dan Sullivan recognized Ernestine Hayes as his inaugural Alaskan of the Week, in which he plans to recognize Alaska’s citizens and tell the stories of their special contributions to the state and to the nation.  Giving a brief overview of Hayes’ connections to community, and her efforts to keep history and culture alive, Sen. Sullivan thanked her for sharing her “blinding brilliance” with Alaska, and for giving back to her community.  

Additional Resources

Press Release Contact

Keni Campbell
University of Alaska Southeast
(907) 796-6509