Leigh Newman was having a bad week.
The author, born in Anchorage and now based out of New York City, thought a trip to the stylist might lift her spirits.
As she sat in the chair with hair foils covering half of her head, her cellphone started a steady drumbeat.
“I (was) getting my highlights done, but you know how when you silence your phone but then it buzzes?” she said. “It was buzzing and buzzing and buzzing. And finally it was like, ‘OK, someone died.’ ”
Newman checked her messages, and not only was the news not dire — it was thrilling.
Her book of Alaska-based short stories, “Nobody Gets Out Alive,” had made the long list in fiction for the National Book Awards.
The award is among the top honors in the literary world, with just five books named to the long list along with five finalists.
“I was sobbing and crying, and they were like, ‘Please don’t leave because your hair is only half done,’ ” Newman said.
Not only did the news last month boost her spirits, it pushed Newman’s career from a self-described obscurity into the national limelight.
“It was great,” she said. “Besides having children, it was the highlight of my adult life.”
“Nobody Gets Out Alive” follows women through stories as they struggle to make their way in Alaska, from the early tent city days of Anchorage through the late 20th century into modern times.
“I was just trying to illustrate (those eras) throughout time with a female focus,” she said.
Although she no longer lives in the state, Newman has found that her fondness for Alaska continually provides her with inspiration.
“Part of like this collection was like a reckoning for myself, artistically and otherwise,” she said. “But I just like, really quickly figured out that I can’t write about anything I’m not in love with.”
Having already penned a memoir, “All Points North,” about growing up in Alaska, Newman’s next book will be a novel. Set in Anchorage in 1933, the book is tentatively titled “Alpenglow” and takes nuggets from the Prohibition era. It also includes a joint based on Anchorage’s Club 25, which for some time was an all-women’s social club with a legendary $1,000 cocktail.
“It’s loosely based on this moonshining business and this woman who moves up there and runs it with all these different people,” Newman said.
Tom Kizzia honored as Historian of the Year
Tom Kizzia, a longtime Alaska journalist and the author of “Pilgrim’s Wilderness,” was named Historian of the Year by the Alaska Historical Society.
Kizzia, a former Anchorage Daily News reporter who now lives in Homer, recently authored “Cold Mountain Path.” The book investigates McCarthy as it grew in the early 20th century with the development of the Kennecott Mine.
“Through lyrical writing and solid historical research, the book tells the story of McCarthy, one of Alaska’s boom towns gone bust in the mid-20th century,” the society said in a statement announcing the award.
Other awards from the Alaska Historical Society went to Anchorage attorney Donald Craig Mitchell, who received the Evangeline Atwood Award for Excellence for long-term contributions to Alaska history, and Fairbanks historian Karen Brewster, who received the Barbara Sweetland Smith Pathfinder Award for her work editing “Guide to Sources for the Study of the 1971 Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act.”
The Anchorage Museum and the Gastineau Channel Historical Society of Juneau also both received Alaska Historical Society awards.
Eagle River historian Katherine J. Ringsmuth, Hope’s Diane Olthuis and Anchorage archivist R. Bruce Parham all received Contributions to Alaska History awards.
UAA student Ava Martin and retired UAF professor William Schneider both received awards as well as Patience Frederiksen, Gary C. Stein and Fairbanks’ William Schneider. Stein was recognized posthumously for his work.