Sitka author Vivian Faith Prescott reads from The Hide of My Tongue, or, in Tlingit, Ax L’óot’ Doogú, a recently published book of her poems. She also publishes books for middle-grade children under the pseudonym L.K. Mitchell. Sitka author Vivian Faith Prescott reads from The Hide of My Tongue, or, in Tlingit, Ax L’óot’ Doogú, a recently published book of her poems. She also publishes books for middle-grade children under the pseudonym L.K. Mitchell.
Story last updated at 11/14/2013 - 6:11 pm
What would it be like to have Asperger’s Syndrome and encounter a conspiracy of shape-shifting ravens in need of your help? What’s it like for someone new to the language to try and pronounce the Tlingit x’aan, or “red?” These are questions that, through her poetry and her fiction, Sitka author Vivian Faith Prescott explores. Prescott is a 5th generation Alaskan who grew up in Wrangell. She quit school at age 15 to start a family. Now, years later, she has a PhD in Cross-Cultural Studies and has published multiple books. When she returned to school, she explored how cultures interact with each other, as well as “the other side of the story” — women’s and indigenous perspectives, especially. Prescott later got an Master of Fine Arts in University of Alaska, Anchorage’s low-residency program. That, she said, was the degree she most wanted. “There’s a poem in everything, somewhere,” she said. Prescott moved to Sitka with her family in 1996. It was there that she began attending UAS and exploring things, “I assumed everyone else knew.” “I’ve always loved Sitka,” Prescott said. “It was just a natural place to be… when they talk about ‘The Paris of the Pacific’ — it’s really a multicultural place. It really lifts people up as far as their talents.” “Lifting people up” is something Prescott is focused on at the moment. She serves as a mentor to other writers and artists, helping to promote them. Prescott and her daughter started “Planet Alaska,” a Facebook page they’re using to help other writers and artist showcase their work. As someone of Sáami ancestry — as well as Irish, Norwegian, Finnish, Germany, and perhaps Dutch — who is an adopted Tlingit (her children are Tlingit) Prescott also focuses on an indigenous perspective. Prescott also started the Blue Canoe Writers Group, a gathering of Sitkan creative writers, and is quite busy working on her own writing. “I need to get busy editing my eight novels,” she said while joking recently. “I’m really good at writing rough drafts, and not going back and editing.” In one novel she’s working on, John Swanton, the writer of “Tlingit Myths and Texts,” (a book published in 1909) is stuck in time and still recording stories. She has it formatted like Swanton’s book, and has published some of its stories — mostly flash fiction, which for her is 800 words or fewer — in different literary journals. “It’s as if you’re opening a new collection of Swanton’s stories that he’s submitting to the Smithsonian,” she said. She finds herself drawn towards the fantastical in fiction, she said — she loves magical realism. “That’s how life is to me anyway,” she said. “It has a fantastical element.” In a young-adult novel she’s already published, “Keeper of Directions,” her main character is a young boy with Asperger’s Syndrome. Some comments beneath the book on Amazon praise it for its realistic depiction of the syndrome, an autism-spectrum disorder. Prescott’s desire to write young adult fiction might spring from a wish that “I had a mentor when I was young that I could have really looked to,” she said. As a high schooler she became known for her poetry, and fellow students sometimes asked her to write love poems for them for $5 or $10. “I don’t think the price has changed that much,” she said, laughing. “Now I write them for nothing.” After she returned to school she studied to be a nurse, but the sudden death of a friend inspired her to think about what she would most regret. “I would regret my entire life if I didn’t see where writing would take me,” she said. So she started taking Alaska Studies, English, Creative Writing, and other classes she was interested in. She petitioned the university to switch her Spanish language requirement for Tlingit. Carol Williams and Hoonah High School teacher Daphne Wright worked to create the individualized course on a Bachelor’s Degree level. Prescott sat in with the high school class, but she also taught. A little boy taught her how to say her first word in Tlingit – x’aan, or “red.” Prescott wrote a poem published along with this article about the experience. The book in which she published that poem, “The Hide of My Tongue,” is about her experiences of learning Tlingit and getting involved with language revitalization, she said. “This is what I wanted to leave my children, is to be able to leave them this story, because it does tell a story,” Prescott said. She recently purchased a fish camp in Wrangell and hopes to use it to teach traditional knowledge — Scandinavian and Tlingit — to youth. Prescott also wants to use the camp as a writers’ retreat, perhaps creating an exchange between Sitka and Wrangell writers. She’s soon taking charge of the teen writer’s group at Sitka’s Mt. Edgecumbe High School. Marjorie Sa’adah, a Rasmuson Foundation visiting writer, started the group, aimed at “introducing teens to the power and practice of creative writing.” “This opportunity is perfect. I love working with teen writers,” Prescott said. Another goal is to explore the world of small chapbook publishing. She’d like to focus on Southeast Alaskan writers, publishing multiple genres of writing and art in the same book. Find out more about Prescott at her website, vivianfaithprescott.com. No Heroes By Vivian Faith Prescott I’m Superman, the child said, looking at me with his narrow wide-set eyes, flashing brown- stained teeth, scraping his chair sideways, then back again, hopping his butt up and down. It was my first day in class and I, too, was learning his language; I was to teach color words and animal nouns, and I tried to pronounce the word for red: x’aan — but he told me, You’re saying it wrong, And I understood that he meant x’aan — color and fire pulsing through half his veins, the metal-scent of his mother, the scuff of amber glass bottles across the kitchen floor, the silk red cape draping the couch, the loaded rifle rusting in the corner.