Art Beat: State's top teen poetry reader hails from Palmer

Mike Dunham

Tong Thao, from Colony High School in Palmer, is the winner of the 2013 Poetry Out Loud Alaska State Championship. The finals took place in Juneau on March 19.

Some 4,000 Alaska students participated in the run-up to the finals, selecting their readings from an anthology of more than 650 classic and contemporary poems (found at In the finals, students declaimed their chosen poems and were judged for diction, physical presentation and other aspects of the bardic art. Thao's final recitation in his winning bout was of Thomas Hood's "I remember, I remember."

Thao receives an award of $200 and an all-expenses-paid trip to Washington, D.C., to compete for the national championship. Colony High will get a $500 stipend to purchase poetry books.

First runner-up Brittni Tully, of Revilla Alternative High School in Ketchikan, received $100, with $200 for her school's library.

If Thao prevails at the nationals on April 29-30 he will receive an award of $20,000.

The eight other Alaska state finalists who competed in Juneau were: Natalia Spengler from Juneau Douglas High School; Samantha Saige Thomas from Chugiak High School; Sarina Montgomery from Lathrop High School, Fairbanks; Hazel Underwood from Kenny Lake School; Mark Sawyer Gillilan from IDEA - Region K, Kenai; Thaddeus Steve from Tukurngailnguq School, Stebbins; Annemarie Pike from Sitka High School; and Andrea Irrigoo from Nome, representing Kodiak High School.

Guest judges included Kim Heacox, Dave Hunsaker and Lynn Schooler of Juneau.

Meanwhile, in Anchorage two students have won "Sitka Scholarships," which come with airfare and two weeks at the Sitka Fine Arts Camp this summer. Hannah Brown, an eighth-grader at Goldenview Middle School, won the writing category and Madison Chan, a senior at Dimond High, won in the art category. The Statewide Youth Art and Writing Awards were sponsored by F Magazine, which will publish winning writing and art in an upcoming issue.

Short stories in spotlight

Author Nancy Zafris, series editor of the Flannery O'Connor Award for Short Fiction, will present a talk and workshop in Anchorage this coming weekend. The award, now in its 30th year, is one of the top literary honors in the U.S.

Zafris will be joined by Alaska writer Frank Soos, who won the prize in 1997 for his collection "Unified Field Theory," in a moderated discussion at 7 p.m. Friday at the Anchorage Museum. The two will discuss the fate of the short story in the era of hyper-connectivity, with a question and answer session and book signing to follow. Zafris' latest book, "The Home Jar," is just being released.

Admission to the talk is free, though a $5 donation is requested by the sponsoring group, 49 Writers. Use the doors on the Seventh Avenue side of the museum.

49 Writers is also hosting a workshop taught by Zafris on April 6 and 7. The topic is "`Short Story Structure and Brainstorming" and the workshop is open to fiction writers of all levels, ages 18 or older. The cost is $120 for 49 Writers members and $130 for nonmembers. For details and registration go to:


Best of the fest

Ron Pullins, the founder and owner of Focus Publishing, a Massachusetts firm specializing in academic texts, arts, classics and language books, attended the Last Frontier Theatre Conference in Valdez last year and was inspired to create a book from the material he saw there.

A major component of the conference has long been the play readings and workshops in which aspiring -- and sometimes well-established -- playwrights can hear their work presented.

The book, "Monologues from the Last Frontier Theatre Conference: The Best of the 2009-2012 Monologue Workshop" has just been released. It contains 64 monologues suitable for use in the audition process and includes tips on creating a monologue by conference director Dawson Moore and on presenting them by actor Laura Gardner. The two were primarily responsible for selecting and editing the selections, which are organized by gender and age of the speaker.

More about the publisher can be found at For information about this year's conference, go to or call 907-834-1614.


Perseverance's Anchorage season announced

Perseverance Theatre has announced the lineup of plays it will present in Anchorage next season. The season will open with "God of Carnage," the 2009 winner of the Tony Award for Best Play by Yasmina Reza.

It's described as "a side-splitting free-for-all about two married couples meeting to sort out a playground fight between their sons ... a painfully funny look at parents whose behavior might just be worse than their kids'." The New York Times called it "A study in the tension between civilized surface and savage instinct." It will run Nov. 1-10.

Wrapping up the Anchorage lineup will be Tennessee Williams' classic "Cat on a Hot Tin Roof," April 11-20.

In between, Feb. 14-22, the company will present the world premiere of "Rush at Evening," by Arlitia Jones of Anchorage. The synopsis reads: "Against the backdrop of the 1930s, two women fallen on hard times make plans to rob a bank. While newsreels of the time tell of economic disaster and larger than life outlaws, the women dream about what money will buy and what stories they will tell."

Perseverance's final Anchorage production for this season, Harold Pinter's "Betrayal," will open April 12 in Sydney Laurence Theatre.


Oops, wrong Jolly

Arlitia Jones, by the way, is presently directing TossPot Productions' "A Gulag Mouse" at Out North by Arthur M. Jolly. For an article last week, Jolly told us, "There's an Arthur Jolly who is a Green Bay linebacker serving time on drug charges." That drew an angry note from a Green Bay fan declaring, "Johnny Jolly is a defensive lineman that has been cleared by the NFL to return to play."

On Feb. 28 ESPN reported that Johnny Jolly had returned to the Packers' roster after being sentenced to six years in prison for violating terms of his probation connected to prior drug convictions. He applied for and received so-called "shock probation," the sports network reported, which allows convicts to ask to be released early on probation after experiencing the trauma of being in jail.

Jolly, the playwright, tells us he got the information in an Internet search on his name and observed, "There is apparently no Green Bay player by that name (Arthur Jolly), in spite of what Google returns."

All of which supports my long-term suspicion that the Internet is the single greatest repository of misinformation in the history of humankind.

Jolly -- the one not on shock probation -- was in Anchorage to see his show. He said, "I was truly amazed at the astounding quality of this production." It's inappropriate for a playwright to laugh or cry at his own play, he noted, since he already knows how it's going to end. But he admitted that he did so at the TossPot staging, as did people on all sides of him. He credited the actors and also had high praise for Jones and set designer Carrie Yanagawa.

"A Gulag Mouse" continues at 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays and 3 p.m. Sundays through April 7.


Lusting for stability

LUST, a multidisciplinary graphic design group based in The Hague, Netherlands is the next presenter in the Design Forum lecture series.

Working in everything from traditional print to new media, interactive installations and something called architectural graphics, the team "is deeply interested in exploring new pathways for design at the cutting edge where new media and information technologies, architecture and urban systems and graphic design overlap ... humanizing the unhuman (i.e. the Internet)" and strives to "make unstable media stable again."

They will present their talk at 7 p.m. Monday at the Anchorage Museum (use the Seventh Avenue entrance), at 6 p.m. Tuesday at The Blue Loon in Fairbanks and at 6 p.m. Wednesday at The Gold Town Nickelodeon in Juneau.


Coming up Friday

Among the upcoming First Friday openings in April, we see that Sitka artist Nicholas Galanin will be showing recent prints at the Alaska Native Arts Foundation Gallery, 500 W. Sixth Ave.

Galanin was recently selected for two major national art awards, as USA Artist fellow and Eiteljorg prize winner.

Angela Ramirez will have about 30 more of her Life in Spenard pieces at the Alaska Humanities Forum, 161 E. First Ave., Door 15 (the old Alaska Railroad freight building on Ship Creek).

Ramirez's work appeared in the fall 2012 issue of the forum's journal Forum, but we're told that she finished most of the work in the show in a creative spurt over the past few weeks.


Selling well

Two books by Alaska authors continue to do well on the Pacific Northwest Independent Bookseller's best-seller lists.

According to the report of last Sunday, newly released "Bad Blood," the latest mystery from Dana Stabenow, ranked No. 9 on the hardcover fiction list and Eowyn Ivey's "The Snow Child" was No. 2 on the paperback fiction list.

Reach Mike Dunham at or 257-4332.