Iñupiaq poet Joan Naviyuk Kane's second book, Hyerboreal, won the 2012 Donald Hall Prize in Poetry and will be released later this month from University of Pittsburgh Press. Kane is Iñupiaq with family from King Island and Mary's Igloo, Alaska. She received the prestigious Whiting Writers' Award for her first poetry collection, "The Cormorant Hunter's Wife." Kane is an alum of Harvard College and earned her Master of Fine Arts degree from Columbia University. She lives in Anchorage with her two sons and husband.
Her first book "engages the role of displacement and landscape, through poems that speak to loss and recovery of identity," she says. The upcoming second book lyrically addresses "the threat of Inuit cultural and biological extinction." "Hyperboreal" contains poems written in both English and Iñupiaq.
The book focuses on King Island, Kane's remote ancestral home in the Bering Sea, where in 1959 the federal Bureau of Indian Affairs forcibly and permanently relocated the people whose ancestors had called it home for thousands of years. Kane has never been to the island, and her mother's last visit was in 1974, before Kane was born.
Through the poems, Kane tries to cope with cultural, climatological, and political changes still playing out. The book is a product of her investigation of personal and communal identity in light of a geographical severance from tradition. Despite the deep sense of loss inherent in the poems, the collection comprises a hopeful reclamation of place and selfhood. Language, story, and the imagination are all essential links to a past that frames the present.
Kane, who serves on the board of King Island Native Corporation and works for Sitnasuak Native Corporation, received a 2013 Native Arts and Cultures Foundation Literature Fellowship and a Rasmuson Foundation Artist Fellowship. She is also on the faculty of the MFA program at the Institute of American Indian Arts and received the 2014 Indigenous Writer in Residence fellowship at the School for Advanced Research.
Kane also received a Creative Vision Award from United States Artists in connection with her crowd sourced project called "Ugiuva?miuguru?a/I am from King Island." The project raised almost $50,000 online through USA Projects, now called Hatchfund, to send Kane, her mother and mother's siblings, and other King Islanders back to the island to "ensure that King Islanders remain connected to [their] ancestors, culture, and place of origin." Only one King Islander remains living who was a part of the generation that was born and raised on the island in a complete subsistence lifestyle.
Kane plans to document this journey, and to write a book of poems based on the experience. She also is writing her fi rst novel, which examines issues raised by the 1971 Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act (ANCSA). Kane has already demonstrated her ability to create fi ne literature out of an authentic engagement with culture, place, and experience.
Kane says, "Traveling to King Island will surely inform my sense of self, place, and relationship to my family and my corporations. It will look closely at the implications of ANCSA on a policy as well as a personal level. Four decades after ANCSA, my generation is poised to reassess and reaffi rm our rights and responsibilities to each other as Native people. The symbolic undertaking of the trip as well as the concrete experiences derived from it can only inform future expressions of solidarity, hope, and reaffi rmation of our traditions as we continue to adapt to continuous change."
The last poem in Hyperboreal is called "Ugiuvak/King Island" and succinctly conjures themes of landscape, ancestry, and exile.
The preceding review was first published in The Arctic Sounder and is republished here with permission.
Alaska Dispatch Publishing