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Home  >  Reading and Writing  >  Creative Contests  >  Creative Writing Contest
24th Annual Creative Writing Contest, 2005  -  Bonnie-Sue Hitchcock - 2005 Grand Prize winner
By George Bryson « Prev   Page 2 of 4   Next »

In Life and Writing, Persistence Pays Off

Anchorage Daily News

If you don't win a writing contest, try, try again -- for a good portion of your life, if necessary. That's what Bonnie-Sue Hitchcock did.

Growing up in Anchorage, she entered, she thinks, the very first University of Alaska/Anchorage Daily News Creative Writing Contest when the statewide competition was launched 24 years ago.

She can't recall exactly what she sent in -- religious poetry, possibly (her family was raised Catholic) -- but she does remember her disappointment at failing to win a prize. As a ninth-grader then attending Mears- Dimond Junior High, she wouldn't have saved the poems.

"I'm sure I ripped them up and cried," says Hitchcock -- now a 40-year-old Alaskan who produces the nationally syndicated Independent Native News radio program -- laughing at the memory.

Which she can afford to do, having just won a prize in the UAA/ADN writing contest for the second year in a row.

Last year, her short story "Chicken Dreams" (which grew out of Hitchcock's long relationship with chickens) won first prize in the Open to the Public Fiction category. This year, her personal essay "Sylvie, on Love and Mallards" (about her far more complex relationship with her children) won first prize for Open to the Public Nonfiction -- as well as the contest's Grand Prize.

"Let me just say it takes a long time to win the Anchorage Daily News writing contest," Hitchcock said, speaking by telephone during a trip to Seattle. "I've been sending stories in since junior high."

Living in Fairbanks now with her 14-year-old son Dylan and her 8-year-old daughter Sylvie, Hitchcock also shares her stories occasionally with the weekly radio magazine show "AK," produced by the Alaska Public Radio Network and heard locally on KSKA.

As part of an April "AK" show that focused on the theme of "Loss," Hitchcock and her son talked to each other on tape about missing Sylvie whenever she travels away to live with her dad, who fishes commercially in Sitka. It was the sort of honest, personal storytelling that "AK" frequently excels in. But lately her children are growing wary of their mother as public-essayist, Hitchcock confides. Especially Sylvie.

"When she calls (from Sitka) now, the first thing she'll say is, 'Are you recording?' "

Dylan expresses similar reservations, she says -- ever since she described him in "Love and Mallards" (which also aired on "AK") as the sensitive one in the family who sometimes "carries his heart on his sleeve."

"He jokes about it now," she says. "He'll do something and I'll say, 'Dylan, tone it down.' And he'll go, 'But I carry my heart on my sleeve -- I can't help it. ...' I was saying, 'This is kind of a personal story. I'm really embarrassed I even sent it in.' And he's like: 'I'm the one who should be embarrassed ...' "

Telling tales on herself (and occasionally her children) is a Hitchcock tendency that dates back at least six years to her earliest days as a volunteer journalist at Radio Raven News (KCAW-FM) in Sitka -- where she once proposed devoting an entire show to chickens.

"It was kind of the epitome of community radio," she says now. "You could walk in the door with a chicken and say, 'I know a little bit about chickens. Would you like to have a live call-in show (on the subject)? People might have questions about chickens.' "

And the program director would go for it -- and the listeners, too, Hitchcock says. Ultimately she hosted three chicken shows, which for a while capped her career. Though certainly not her life.

That began in Fairbanks -- where Bonnie- Sue Hitchcock was born in 1965 as one of Larry and Joanne Hitchcock's five children.

When she was 5, her parents moved the family to Anchorage, where her dad took a job at the Hotel Captain Cook (later becoming a manager for Westmark Hotels Inc.). The children all graduated from Dimond-Mears High School, where several excelled in sports.

After graduation, Hitchcock began attending Lewis & Clark College in Portland, Ore., but kept dropping out to work and travel. During her sophomore year she studied German in Austria. During her junior year she took up rock-climbing. For a spell she worked at mountaineering stores in Anchorage and Washington, D.C., then resumed her college education in Nepal. But a diploma remained elusive.

Finally, nine years out of high school and living as a single mom with a 1-year-old child and seemingly nothing in the plus column but "these really bizarre college credits" -- like Health Care Systems of Nepal -- Hitchcock decided to give higher education one last try. She enrolled at Sheldon Jackson College in Sitka on a basketball scholarship -- and finally earned her degree, a bachelor's in liberal arts.

"Yeah, and it was great for getting a job on a commercial fishing boat," Hitchcock says dryly. "It was kind of like a springboard."

After college, she'd met a fisherman in Sitka named Greg, and a few years later they were married. Then Sylvie was born. Then the chicken show -- which strangers still remember, Hitchcock says.

"Once I got into doing news, I realized that all that other stuff actually served a purpose," she says. "You kind of know a little bit about a lot of things. ... And that's why I think I stuck with the news. You get to do something new every day."

After 10 years in Sitka, her marriage broke up and Hitchcock and her children moved to Homer, where she landed some contract jobs in public radio, reporting and producing the news.

Then she was hired by public radio station KUAC in Fairbanks to produce and host Independent Native News, a program initially launched by Alaska radio journalist Nellie Moore in Anchorage. For a year she produced the show out of her basement in Homer. Then last August, Hitchcock, Dylan and Sylvie moved to Fairbanks.

"So now I've done a full circle," she says, back to the place she was born.

And back to the creative writing contest, which she's finally learning to master.

Her winning short story last year, "Chicken Dreams" (which can be viewed online by Google-searching for "Hitchcock and Chicken Dreams") wasn't autobiographical, though it did share some of her checkered history with chickens, Hitchcock says. But her winning essay this year, "Love and Mallards," nearly came out of her journal.

It shares her respect for both of her children, as well as for telling true stories.

Sometimes, she says, those two opposing loyalties fall into conflict, as perhaps they did a few months ago when the producers of "AK" were trying to brainstorm stories consistent with the theme of being "lost," and Hitchcock ventured that she and Dylan were really lost in their house just then, because Sylvie had gone to Sitka.

"And they were like, 'Great!'... They thought it was a pitch," she says. "You know: 'Great -- we'll take it.' " So now she's not talking quite so freely in the newsroom.

Still, says Hitchcock, "I really love to write."

About the Author: George Bryson is a reporter for the Anchorage Daily News.
Next page:   Clara Noomah - 2005 Editor's Choice Pages:  1  2  3  4 

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