For several months each year, Leslie Leyland Fields leans out of small skiffs to pull salmon out of the icy waters of Alaska with her own two hands. Salmon fishing is the family business, but writing is her personal vocation. When you read her creative nonfiction or poetry, the experience is not unlike being in that skiff: you lean in to the language, landing metaphors that have the same freshness and invigorating shock of the big fish in cold water. Take Surviving the Island of Grace , her most recent book, which is a personal narrative threading the topics of faith, family, nature, and writing itself. (What could be more biblical that the trope of fishing!) At a time when many Americans were shunning or delaying marriage and seeking careers in the big cities, Leslie and Duncan get married young, establish a home in Alaska , raise six children, and keep the family business going. Surviving makes this radically countercultural lifestyle believeable—far from eccentric, it has the feeling of rightness, something that many more of us might embrace. After reading a few pages of this book, most of us will conclude that we are quite content to experience the rigors of our northern frontier vicariously. But thank goodness that this woman seizes truths out of the deep so that we can savor them amidst the comforts of home.
To read Leslie's contribution to Image #38, "A Voice in the Wilderness," click here.
To visit her website, click here.
To hear Leslie's interview with Dick Staub, click here.
My current projects will keep me immersed primarily in creative nonfiction and memoir. One book continues the narrative begun in Surviving the Island of Grace, and chronicles my and my family's life in commercial fishing, exploring the larger themes of living in wilderness: the role of community in isolation, the challenges of parenting in a dangerous occupation, the strain between faith, risk, and fear. The other book shifts away from landscape and opens a long silence on a particular physical and spiritual aspect of motherhood that challenges millions of women each year. I am excited to move in this new direction, where geography is irrelevant.
Though Alaska is my home, as a writer, the territory I claim and know reaches well beyond these borders. The common thread is my certainty that the difficult work of committing memory and experience to word-upon-word, chapter and book, can begin to rescue us from the glossolalia and chaos of our lives: such work, the composing of our life's narratives, locates and roots us in all the worlds, seen and unseen, that we daily inhabit.
I write out of the maelstrom of my life, a life poised on the far north edge of America, surrounded by wilderness and ocean. The island geography that defines much of my life imposes harsh limits at times: extreme isolation, violent weather, long winters, arduous fishing seasons, but the struggle both grounds me in the physicality of this world and, equally, sends me seeking the transcendent and unchanging. Whether I am wrestling a fish from the ocean into the skiff, building a house, or changing a diaper, my charge as a writer and as a human being is the same: to transform all thought and experience through the clarifying and redeeming hand of language and Word.
Leslie Leyland Fields lives in Kodiak Alaska, overlooking the waters of the Gulf of Alaska. Winters she lives in the town of Kodiak where she writes, teaches and runs an editing business, The Northern Pen. Summers she and her husband pack up their house and six children, ages 1 - 15, and move out to a remote wilderness island, population eight, to work in their family-owned commercial salmon fishing operation. Leslie has fished there for 26 seasons. She holds a B.A. from Cedarville University, and three graduate degrees from the University of Oregon, and Goddard College. For fifteen years she taught as an adjunct and later as an assistant professor of English at the University of Alaska. She is the author of Surviving the Island of Grace, (St. Martins), Out on the Deep Blue (St. Martins), The Entangling Net (U. of Ill Press), and The Water Under Fish (poetry, Trout Creek Press). Her essays have appeared in The Atlantic, Orion, Image, Best Essays NW, On Nature: Great Writers on the Great Outdoors, and many others. She received the Virginia Faulkner Award for Excellence in Writing and nominations for the Pushcart Prize.
When not writing, fishing, and mothering, she travels widely, speaking at colleges and conferences on matters of faith, literature, and wilderness.