Ernestine Hayes
2016-18 State Writer Laureate

Ernestine Hayes was born and raised in Juneau when Alaska was still a territory. When she was fifteen years old, she and her mother moved to California. When Hayes turned forty, she resolved to come home or die with her thoughts facing north. It took her eight months to get from San Francisco to Ketchikan. She finally made it back to Juneau two years later. 

After returning home, Hayes enrolled at the University of Alaska Southeast, eventually receiving an MFA in creative writing and literary arts. She currently teaches creative writing at the university.

Among other well-known works, Hayes is the author of Blonde Indian, An Alaska Native Memoir. Published in 2004, Blonde Indian received an American Book Award, was named a Native America Calling Book of the Month, and was a finalist for the Kiriyama Prize and the PEN Nonfiction Award. It was also the first book selected for Alaska Reads, a program launched by her immediate predecessor as Writer Laureate, Frank Soos.  

Hayes’s latest book, The Tao of Raven, places fiction and nonfiction narratives in the context of Raven and the Box of Daylight and Sun Tzu’s Art of War. Hayes belongs to the Kaagwaantaan clan of the Eagle side of the Tlingit nation. She has four grandchildren and three great-grandchildren.

For her Writer Laureate project, Hayes launched a series of writing workshops, Container of Stories, in communities across the state.  In these workshops, participants were encouraged to tell the story of someone whose voice would not otherwise be heard, along with their own stories. The two-day workshops invite participants at every level of writing experience.

The State Writer Laureate began in the early 1960s when the Juneau Poetry Society created the Poet Laureate Program and the position of Poet Laureate was officially confirmed by the Legislature in 1963.  The program transitioned to the Literary Advisory Committee in 1987 with the assistance of past poet laureates; then in1996, the Alaska State Council on the Arts (ASCA) broadened the position to State Writer Laureate to recognize and honor all genres of writing.

The State Writer Laureate Program is now a partnership between ASCA and the Alaska Humanities Forum.  The Writer Laureate designation recognizes the contributions of an Alaskan writer and includes funds to support a unique project of the Laureate’s design during her/her two-year term.  

Nominations are now open for the 2019-2020
Alaska State Writer Laureate! 

Click here for information about eligibility,
nomination, and selection 

The Alaska State Writer Laureate is a two-year honorary appointment recognizing the selected writer’s contribution to the quality of life in Alaska through their written work and other literary endeavors. The role of the Laureate is to promote the literary arts and artists of Alaska. In fulfilling this purpose, each Laureate determines, in consultation with ASCA and AKHF, a project to complete over the course of their appointment.


Nominations are solicited by the Alaska State Council on the Arts and the Alaska Humanities Forum on a biennial basis. The Alaska State Writer Laureate is selected by the Literary Arts Advisory Committee and approved by both ASCA’s and AKHF’s boards. The Alaska State Writer Laureate is recognized through a proclamation by the Legislature.

2014 Frank Soos

2012 Nora Marks Dauenhauer

2010 Peggy Shumaker

2008 Nancy Lord

2006 John Straley

2004 Jerah Chadwick

2002 Anne Hanley

2000 Richard Nelson

1995 Tom Sexton

1988 Joanne Townsend

1981 Richard Dauenhauer

1977 Sheila Nickerson

1973 Ruben Gaines

1965 Oliver Everette

1969 John Haines

1963 Margaret Mielke

Alaska State Writer Laureates