On Topic with Jim Johnsen explores Alaska literature and homestead life

Leona Long

This week’s On Topic with Jim Johnsen features a discussion between Johnsen and Linda Schandelmeier, a lifelong Alaska teacher, gardener and poet. “On Topic” is a 10-part broadcast and podcast series featuring conversations with experts and authors on important issues that face Alaska. The series is produced in collaboration with the University of Alaska Press and hosted by President Jim Johnsen.

In this episode, Johnsen and Schandelmeier explore Alaska literature and homestead life. Watch a segment from the episode here and listen to the podcast here.


“The fiction writer Anthony Doerr said the reason people should read fiction is because it builds empathy,” Schandelmeier told Johnsen. “I hadn’t really thought of it that way, but I think that’s one of the things that creative writing of all types does and why it’s so important at this time in the United States, where we have so much division, because if you try to convince someone using facts, how far do you get?”


Schandelmeier grew up on a family homestead six miles south of Anchorage in the 1950s and 60s. She moved north in 1967 to attend the University of Alaska. Her poems have been set to music in three song cycles, one of which, Poem Against the Cold, by British composer Corey Field, was performed at Carnegie Hall. A retired biologist and elementary school teacher, and an active master gardener and political activist, Schandelmeier lives near Fairbanks.


Her collection of poems, Coming Out of Nowhere is part memoir and part historical document. The poems celebrate the unique and nurturing aspects of homestead life, but do not shy away from unpleasant family details. Her book is available for purchase at UA Press’s website or by visiting the UA Press Book Shop, which is located at 1760 Westwood Way in Fairbanks.