Remember the mid-1990s? Cell phones really were the size of bricks, and selfies required a tripod and a timer. My first personal email address was newly minted, and I was trying to conceive just how the Worldwide Web might be useful to me. But travel in Alaska was essentially the same: by air, ferry, or a handful of highways.
From early 1995 to May 1996, photographer Roy Corral and I crisscrossed Alaska for thousands of miles to interview and photograph eight kids for our book titled Children of the Midnight Sun. It was the first and only overview of Alaska’s diverse Native peoples, written just for kids. In 1998, the 48-page book introduced young readers to eight remarkable boys and girls, all between eight and twelve years old, each representing a unique Alaska Native heritage.
To choose the kids, we relied on the help of culture camp leaders, village mayors, principals, and parents. Our subjects had to be bold enough to speak freely with a stranger and discerning enough to share cultural knowledge. We wanted a mix of genders, seasons, and traditions. What had they learned from their elders? Their favorite time of year and why? Their favorite foods and places? What did they want to be someday? The result was an intimate portrait of each child against the larger backdrop of ancient culture and place. It beautifully captured Alaska of the times.
As the book’s twentieth anniversary approached, we began work on a new edition of Children of the Midnight Sun with a new generation, choosing ten kids who face entirely different challenges while staying grounded by the best of their traditions. We’ve added in three smaller, often overlooked Alaska Native groups this time.
Twenty years ago, Roy and I used our Alaska Permanent Fund Dividends to buy MarkAir coupons (anybody remember them?!), enabling us to fly into remote villages. We were both employed full-time, and we spread out the trips over two years, investing our dollars and vacation time to get around. Today, the air and ferry expenses were ours to figure out—while we’re both freelancers, and the PFD has become a pale version of its old self. But the hospitality we’ve experienced has not changed.
Since January 2017, we’ve interviewed and photographed children in Chenega Bay, Hydaburg, Metlakatla, Kotzebue, Bethel, Hoonah, Fort Yukon, and Unalaska. There’s still one last trip to go: We’ll meet a child from the Siberian Yupik culture, either on St. Lawrence Island or in Nome.
I’ve written nine of the ten profiles and the Graphic Arts Books editor is already at work on my manuscript. Roy’s sneak peek photos are sensational (I do take a few snapshots for my own memories, as I did twenty-three years ago). We’ll be sharing more soon, including answers to questions about the kids in the first edition–where are they now? Watch for the new edition in early 2019!