Writing on the River: RiverSong

July 26-31, 2017 with David Grimes, Brad Warren, and Nancy Cook


The Wrangell Mountains Center is pleased to partner with McCarthy River Tours & Outfitters to host a six-day, five-night adventure in the fabulous Wrangell-St. Elias National Park.

This year’s workshop will feature river sprite and musical poet David Grimes, songwriter and journalist Brad Warren, and workshop director Nancy Cook. Together we will explore the ways wilderness can help inspire songs, stories, poems, and essays. Activities include an opening reading/performance and craft sessions in the comfort of the Wrangell Mountains Center’s facility in McCarthy, followed by three nights and four days of creative inquiry along the Kennicott, Nizina, Chitina, and Copper Rivers. Space is limited to nine student writers/ songwriters.

Participants Can Expect:

  • Craft talks
  • Structured field writing exercises
  • Campfire song circles
  • Ample opportunities to explore and enjoy the surrounding wilderness
  • Public performance from workshop staff and the opportunity for students to share written and musical work at a final participant performance
  • Feedback from groups and one-on-one conversations with instructors/practice in the arts of improvement
  • An intimate community of caring and purpose/ the pleasures of shared meals and shared commitment

An accidental shaman and bardic fool who has “howled with wolves, run from bears and cavorted with killer whales”, activist, poet, songwriter David Lynn Grimes was born in the Ozarks and grew up near the mighty Missouri, “River of the Big Canoe.” Now periodically headquartered in the Alaskan fishing village of Cordova, for decades David has migrated throughout the Pacific Northwest coastal temperate rainforest, the bioregion that exists in a great arc from Kodiak to California, from Prince William Sound and the Copper River in the north to Monterey Bay and the redwoods of Big Sur in the south. A former commercial fisherman and ongoing whale researcher and environmental activist following the 1989 Exxon oil spill, David has been a musician all his life and has three albums along with published essays and poetry. Rumor holds he has floated the Copper River more times than any other living guide. Read more about David and explore his music at http://www.davidlynngrimes.com

David Grimes

David Grimes

Nancy Cook

Nancy Cook

Nancy Cook, Workshop Director, has led field programs for the Wrangell Mountains Center since 1991. A former fisheries biologist and National Park Service interpretive ranger, she received her MFA in Creative Nonfiction from the University of Alaska Fairbanks. Her poems and prose appear in the Riverteeth Journal of Nonfiction Narrative, Mountain Gazette, Hipfish, Xtra Tuff, Ice Box, and the Seal Press anthology Going Alone: Women's Adventures in the Wild. She has taught writing at Prince William Sound Community College, University of Alaska Fairbanks, and currently serves on the full time faculty at Clatsop Community College in Astoria, Oregon, home of the annual Fisher Poets Gathering. The mother of one daughter, she continues to spend summers at her cabin in an aspen grove near McCarthy.

Brad Warren

Brad Warren

Brad Warren is a songwriter, journalist, and conservation leader well known in Northwest acoustic music circles. His song, “The House the Jack Built,” (recorded on the top-selling folk album of 2013, “Some Part of the Truth,” by the trio Brother Sun) recounts the tale of the Everett Massacre as told to Brad by its last living survivor, Jack Miller, in 1979. Critics and producers describe Brad as “one of Seattle’s master songwriting craftsmen” (Stanley Fisher, Portland Songwriters Association); “one of the Northwest’s finest independent contemporary singer-songwriters, a crack guitarist with a unique, soulful voice” (Bill Pritchard, Madison’s Cafe and Music House). For the last decade, Brad has run Global Ocean Health, a nonprofit program that helps fishermen, tribes, and other fishery-dependent communities to protect oceans and fisheries from pollution. Brad’s work as a writer, civic leader, and songwriting instructor are animated by one vital belief: that all people have great stories, but few today have the chance to discover them. In his workshops on songwriting and ocean health, Brad strives to help participants cultivate the power of witness, find their powerful stories, and learn how to deliver them.

Photos by Nancy Cook (left and middle) and Nathaniel Wilder (right)

Location and Venue:

This course will begin with two nights at the Wrangell Mountains Center (WMC). The WMC is a private nonprofit institute whose mission is connecting people with wildlands through art, science and education in the Wrangell Mountains. The WMC's headquarters in the Old Hardware Store are located McCarthy, Alaska, in the heart of the Wrangell-St. Elias National Park and Preserve. From there students will travel deeper in the wilderness and raft down the Kennicott, Nizina, and Chitina Rivers to pull out in the town of Chitina, Alaska. This is a unique opportunity to experience and explore the largest national park in the U.S. Over 23% larger than Switzerland, Wrangell-St. Elias is world renowned for its wild landscapes, high peaks, massive glaciers and rivers, healthy ecosystems, and dramatic scenery as well as its unique cultural history.

McCarthy is approximately a seven hour drive from either Anchorage or Fairbanks (plus time for sightseeing, et cetera). It is possible to fly or arrange shuttles from Anchorage to McCarthy, and occasionally we can help arrange carpools for students, though we make no promises.

The Wrangell Mountains Center is pleased to contract with the locally experienced guiding company McCarthy River Tours and Outfitters to offer a safe, reasonably priced river adventure which includes all meals, safety equipment and dry suits for a maximum of nine student writers. Participants will need to bring their own tents, sleeping gear, and quality rain gear (just in case). A detailed packing list will be provided upon registration.

Heading out for a walk from the Old Hardware Store

Heading out for a walk from the Old Hardware Store

Schedule:  Participants should plan to arrive in McCarthy in time to get settled in (at the lodge, at the campground, etc) in time for a 6:00 pm kickoff dinner on July 26th. The workshop ends mid-day July 31st after getting off the river. 

Optional morning writing circles will be offered daily before breakfast and all meals will be taken together. A more detailed schedule will be provided with a welcome packet upon registration.

Cost: $845/person if you pay by June 1st. $895/person after June 1st. Current WMC Members receive a 10% discount (not applicable to the early bird price). The workshop price includes all meals, optional camping while in McCarthy, complete rafting services, and a shuttle from Chitina back to McCarthy. A deposit of $200 is due with registration. All fees paid, minus your deposit, will be refundable until June 1st; your deposit will be refunded only if we are able to fill your slot. The balance of fees is due 30 days before the workshop start date.

Register To apply for this workshop, complete the attached form.  Since space is limited, we are offering rolling admissions to assure a good mix of writers and musicians who share a passion for wilderness and creative collaboration. No wilderness nor musical experience is necessary, but applicants should embrace the potential discomforts of outdoor adventure and welcome the creative cross-pollination approach which serves as a foundation for this experimental workshop. If you prefer to register by phone or on paper please call Nate Anderson at 907-554-4464 or send us a message here.