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Alaska writer laureate to speak at 2008 commencement

Submitted by Marmian Grimes
Phone: 907-474-7902


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John Straley

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Larry Aumiller

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Bill Holm

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Richard Wien

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Alaska writer laureate and mystery author John Straley will give the keynote address at the University of Alaska Fairbanks commencement ceremony May 11, 2008 at the Carlson Center in Fairbanks.

Straley is the author of six mystery novels set in Alaska. His inaugural work in his Cecil Younger series, 1992's "The Woman Who Married a Bear," won the Private Eye Writers of America's Shamus Award for best first private investigator novel. He has also penned several short stories and essays. In 2006, he was named to a two-year term as Alaska's writer laureate. His seventh novel, "The Big Both Ways," is slated for release on May 1 and the University of Alaska Press will publish his first book of poetry, "The Rising and the Rain," in August.

Straley has been lauded for his contributions to literature and for his gift of accurately capturing the Alaska way of life without resorting to stereotypes or clichés. He is also praised for his commitment to the arts in Alaska, having led the board of the Alaska State Council on the Arts and served on the Greater Sitka Arts Council.

Straley was born in California and holds a bachelor's degree in writing from University of Washington. He moved to Sitka in 1977, where he has held a variety of jobs, from trail foreman for the U.S. Forest Service to staff investigator for the Public Defender Agency. He and his wife, Jan, have a grown son, Finn.

Straley is one of four people who will receive honorary doctoral degrees during UAF's 86th commencement ceremony. Others include Larry Aumiller, longtime manager of the McNeil River State Game Sanctuary; Native art expert Bill Holm and Alaska aviator and businessman Richard Wien.

Aumiller managed the McNeil River State Game Sanctuary in Southwest Alaska for 30 years. In his years at the sanctuary, home to the world's largest concentration of wild brown bears, Aumiller developed a world-renowned bear and wildlife-viewing program that increased safety for visitors and bears. His knowledge of bear behavior is highly regarded by bear biologists, in spite of the fact that he has no formal training in biology. He was honored for his contributions to bear conservation with the Alaska Conservation Foundation Olaus Murie Award in 1999 and the Wildlife Society Special Recognition Service Award in 2006.

Holm's career in art and art history spans nearly a half-century, beginning with a 15-year stint as an art teacher in the Seattle Public Schools. Since then, he has devoted his career to the study, preservation and advancement of public understanding of Northwest Coast Native art. In 1965, Holm published his first book, "Northwest Coast Indian Art: An Analysis of Form," a work that has served as a foundation for the study of Native art in the region. He is often credited as among those who played an integral role in awakening a renaissance of Northwest Coast Native art. Holm holds a bachelor's degree in art and a master's degree in painting from the University of Washington. He is professor emeritus of art history and anthropology at the University of Washington and curator emeritus at the Burke Museum of Natural History and Culture. The Bill Holm Center for the Study of Northwest Coast Art at the Burke Museum is named in his honor.

Wien is a lifelong Fairbanksan whose contributions as a businessman, volunteer and aviator date back to the early 1950's when he made his first solo flight at the age of 16. Four years later, he started working as a professional pilot, flying out of Bettles for Wien Alaska Airlines, the company founded by his father, legendary Alaska aviator Noel Wien. In 1969, he and his brother, Merrill, formed Merric, Inc., a helicopter charter and contract carrier. Wien has served on the board of directors for Alaska Airlines since 1982 and has been a leader in the airline's continued safety efforts. He also sits on several other business and nonprofit boards and had an integral role in efforts to raise money for the expansion of the University of Alaska Museum of the North. He also lent his expertise to the development of the Morris Thompson Cultural and Visitors Center in downtown Fairbanks. Honorary degree recipients are chosen for their lasting contributions to the state and nation and for significant achievements in their respective disciplines.

CONTACT: Marmian Grimes, UAF public information officer, at 907-474-7902 or via e-mail at marmian.grimes@uaf.edu.

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