Writer Ernestine Shaankaláx̱t’ Hayes awarded $50K from United States Artists fellowship

Ernestine Hayes
Ernestine Hayes is seen in Juneau, Alaska, this winter. (Photo courtesy of Pat Race)

In 2018, Ernestine Shaankaláx̱t’ Hayes’s house caught fire. Her writing was on hold while she spent countless hours negotiating with contractors and insurance. She lived in hotels and apartments, using her life savings to fix the house.

The $50,000 United States Artists fellowship she was awarded last week will allow her to recover from her loss and get back to writing.

“I was here and there throughout and didn’t have any time to set up a computer and have a writing space at all,” Hayes said. “But I was writing on my iPad and writing notes to myself and doing a lot of texting to myself when things would occur.”

Now, the house is nearly finished, and she’s rebuilding her life. 

“This fellowship allows me to catch up with what I owe the IRS on all this, all these expenses for rehabbing the house and has allowed me to be able to afford to rent my own little apartment,” Hayes said. “I’m in a better place now. And it’s going to allow me to devote more of my time and attention and energy on writing and to my next book.”

This is exactly the sort of thing the fellowship was made for. It’s awarded to artists in many fields, from architecture to theater to writing, at any stage of their careers. 

Getting fellowships and awards like this has given Hayes more than funding, she said. It has made her feel valued.

“When I received the Rasmuson distinguished artist (award), I realized that I was part of a community, which is something that I never fully felt throughout my life,” Hayes said. “And it made me feel valued.” 

Her next book, she said, is about what she calls the “spoken forest.”

“This thought came to me that there are beings in the spoken forest that are relatives and they are holding for us everything that we think that we have lost,” Hayes said. “People we don’t find, people who are missing, people who run away from boarding schools and are never found. And maybe even everyone who walks into the forest, I think they are all still there. And I believe that when it’s time and we enter the forest, they will be there to greet us.”

She kept track of these ideas through the chaos of losing her home. Now, with this award, she’s closer to putting them to paper. 

KTOO is our partner public media station in Juneau. Alaska Public Media collaborates with partners statewide to cover Alaska news.

Previous articleNikiski legislator hires former Alaska budget director Donna Arduin as policy advisor
Next articleRaymond Alexie’s perfect season continues with 2023 Akiak Dash victory