Are you ready for a unique lesson on famous poets from Alaska? Alaskan poetry has been shaped by the great outdoors, a deep reverence for nature and wildlife, Tlingit traditions, and much more.
In this blog post, we’ll explore some of the most famous poets hailing from our 49th state – including works of historical significance and contemporary voices that are making waves in literary circles.
If you’re looking to provide your students with new perspectives into Alaskan culture through literature, you’ll find inspiration and ideas here!
Related: For more, check out our article on Famous Poets From South Dakota here.
Olena Kalytiak Davis
Olena Kalytiak Davis is a celebrated poet from Detroit, Michigan, who has lived in Alaska for many years. Her poetry collection “And Her Soul Out Of Nothing” won the Brittingham Prize in Poetry. Davis’s work often explores themes of identity, love, and loss, and she is known for her raw, emotive style.
John Straley is a renowned poet and novelist based in Sitka, Alaska. His poetry often reflects on nature, the passing of time, and life in Alaska. One of his most famous works is “The Rising and the Rain”, a collection of ekphrastic poems inspired by the art of his wife, Jan Straley.
Sheila Nickerson, a former poet laureate of Alaska, is best known for her vivid descriptions of the Alaskan landscape and its wildlife. Her collection “How Things Are” provides a keen insight into life in the North. Nickerson’s work is deeply influenced by her immersion in the natural world of Alaska.
Joan Kane is an esteemed Inupiaq poet and scholar from Anchorage, Alaska. Her collection “Hyperboreal” won the American Book Award. Kane’s work often explores themes of cultural heritage, displacement, and identity, and she draws heavily on her Inupiaq ancestry for inspiration.
John Haines (1924–2011) was a respected poet and essayist from Norfolk, Virginia, who lived in Alaska for many years. His poetry, including works like “Winter News,” is known for its stark, evocative depictions of the Alaskan wilderness. Haines drew inspiration from his homesteading experience in the Alaskan wilderness.
Tom Sexton, a former Alaska State Writer Laureate, is a poet known for his keen observations of nature and humanity. His work, including his collection “A Ladder of Cranes,” often reflects his deep connection to the Alaskan landscape and its diverse inhabitants.
Nora Marks Dauenhauer
Nora Marks Dauenhauer (1927–2017) was a Tlingit poet, linguist, and scholar from Juneau, Alaska. Her bilingual collection “Life Woven with Song” includes traditional Tlingit songs alongside her work. Dauenhauer’s poetry was deeply influenced by Tlingit oral tradition and her dedication to preserving her cultural heritage.
Linda McCarriston is a respected poet who resides in Palmer, Alaska. Her collection “Eva-Mary” was a finalist for the National Book Award. McCarriston’s work often explores themes of family, trauma, and healing, and she is known for her powerful and poignant verse.
Richard Dauenhauer (1942–2014) was a poet, translator, and scholar who spent much of his life in Juneau, Alaska. His work often focused on the Tlingit language and culture. Together with his wife, Nora Marks Dauenhauer, he worked on several volumes of Tlingit oral literature.
Dauenhauer’s poetry was deeply influenced by his scholarly pursuits and his passion for linguistic and cultural preservation.
Derick Burleson (1963–2016) was a celebrated poet and professor who lived in Fairbanks, Alaska. His collection “Never Night” is known for its exploration of the Alaskan wilderness and its inhabitants. Burleson’s work often drew inspiration from his surroundings and the intricate relationship between humans and nature.
Juliana Pegues is an esteemed poet based in Anchorage, Alaska. Her poetry often explores themes of identity, culture, and displacement, with a focus on her Asian American heritage. One of her most notable works is “Spaces Like This,” which provides a poignant look at the immigrant experience.
Ann Fox Chandonnet
Ann Fox Chandonnet is a respected poet from Juneau, Alaska. Her collection “Canoeing in the Rain: Poems for My Aleut-Athabascan Son” reflects her deep connection to Alaska and its Indigenous cultures. Chandonnet’s work is inspired by the Alaskan landscape, its history, and its people.
dg nanouk okpik
dg nanouk okpik is an Inupiaq-Inuit poet based in Anchorage, Alaska. Her collection “Corpse Whale” is revered for its innovative blending of traditional Inuit storytelling with contemporary poetic forms. okpik’s work draws inspiration from her cultural heritage and the Arctic environment.
Charles Keeler (1871–1937) was a noted poet and ornithologist who lived in Alaska during the Klondike Gold Rush. His poetry, including the collection “The Simple Home,” often focuses on nature and the beauty of the Alaskan wilderness. Keeler’s work reflects his keen eye for detail and his deep appreciation for the natural world.
Laird Barron, originally from Alaska, is a poet and horror fiction author now residing in Washington. His work, including his collection “The Imago Sequence and Other Stories,” often explores the intersection of horror and the sublime, with the Alaskan wilderness often serving as a haunting backdrop.
Mary TallMountain (1918–1994) was a renowned Native American poet from Nulato, Alaska. Her work, including the collection “The Light on the Tent Wall,” often explores cultural identity, displacement, and spiritual connection themes. TallMountain’s poetry was deeply influenced by her Koyukon Athabascan heritage.
Jerah Chadwick (1956–2016) was a celebrated poet from Unalaska, Alaska. His “Story Hunger” collection reflects his deep love for Alaska and its rich cultural history. Chadwick’s work often delves into the human relationship with the natural world and the stories that shape our understanding of it.
All in all, Alaskan poets have been able to find poetic expression despite the extreme conditions the state provides. These poets have created works of art that delight and inspire readers and continue to do so today.
Not only are these poets incredibly talented, but they remind us to look for poetry in unexpected places. Alaska could be a fruitful place of inspiration to any aspiring poet looking to explore new ideas and tell stories not yet heard.
So if you ever find something different from everyday poetry, be sure to seek works from some of Alaska’s most impressive poetic minds. We hope this article has inspired you to learn about more famous Alaskan poets or inspired you to create your own poems – either way don’t forget to read our other articles!