MFA Flashback: Why Alaska?

The dry cabin I lived in my last year in Alaska

I get asked about Alaska pretty often, usually at least once a week. I still have my Alaska driver’s license, so the tellers at the bank are always curious why I would move from Alaska to Alabama. And at interviews, Alaska features prominently on my resume. It makes for a fun introduction.

In high school I knew several people who had never left Alabama, never gone to the Gulf of Mexico to see the ocean, never even taken a trip up to Tennessee. And since I’ve been back I’ve met a few people who have their limits – they won’t cross the Mississippi River or go up higher than the Carolinas. Not everyone in Alabama feels this way about travel, but it is pervasive enough that I get asked weekly, “Alaska! What made you leave Alabama to go all the way to Alaska?”

The simple answer is that I applied to a school in Alaska, and they accepted me and gave me a Teaching Assistantship.

The more complicated answer is that Alaska was as far away as I could get from Alabama and still be in the United States. It’s not that I hate Alabama, it’s just that there’s so much world out there – and a great way to learn about a new place is to go to school there. This gives you a built-in community, something to do, and a source of income.

It might have been easier if I had gone to graduate school within the contiguous states, or as they say in Alaska, the Lower 48. I would have had a car to take with me, I could have visited my family more often, and I might have been able to attend the AWP conference while still in grad school, which would have been a great source of motivation.

But I would have missed out on birch trees, snow, outhouses, giant ravens, the enormous mechanical beasts that scrape the roads late at night, moose in my backyard, blueberries beside the cabin, driving through the Yukon on a spare tire while being chased by bears –

and meeting the kindest, most inclusive bunch of people I’ve ever known. Fairbanks was the first place that ever felt like home. Alaska has a way of trapping people’s hearts, of pulling them back long after they’ve left. It’s kind of a joke among people in Fairbanks. “We’ll see you again,” instead of good-bye.

Once you’ve been to Alaska, it’s easy to understand how people can move there from far away and never leave. And how the people who do leave always carry Alaska with them, a string pulling them home.

Here’s a short video I made of my first winter in Alaska for my family, way back in 2007. It isn’t fancy, the video quality isn’t HD, but I think it captures some of the feeling of being in Alaska for the first time, so I wanted to share.


First Winter in Alaska movie from Jenni Moody on Vimeo.

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2 thoughts on “MFA Flashback: Why Alaska?

  1. Greg Lyons says:

    Thanks Jenni. My reasons for going to UAF were as simple and as complicated as your own. That video was a bittersweet reminder of that place. I'm not one to take pictures, but sometimes I wish I was.

  2. Jenni Moody says:

    Thanks Greg. 🙂

    I wish I had taken more photographs of people – of our whole desk cube gang, of the grad student readings, the end of the semester parties. It's only been a few years, but it already feels like a different time.

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