Kaylene Johnson: Writer and Photojournalist

Our Perfect Wild

An unlikely couple—a wild boy and a good girl—Ray and Barbara Bane, both teachers, set off from the sooty landscape of West Virginia into the snowy panoramas of Alaska. There they make another unlikely commitment: to learn the Old Ways of the land they come to adopt—and defend. With her characteristic poise and bravery, distinguished Alaskan journalist Kaylene Johnson-Sullivan chronicles the Banes’ story of environmental gumption in the wilderness.

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--Molly Peacock, The Paper Garden: Mrs. Delany Begins Her Life’s Work at 72 and Paradise, Piece By Piece.

A Tender Distance
Adventures Raising My Sons in Alaska

Awards and Other News

June 25th, 2020 by

While our world has changed in big ways and small through the 2020 pandemic, the wheels have still been turning in my writing life. The review I wrote of Katy Yocum’s novel Three Ways to Disappear, published in the North American Review, won FIRST PLACE in the National Federation of Press Women’s 2020 awards in the category of “Specialty Articles – Reviews.” 

There were 1,800 entrants in the nation-wide NFPW contest.  The award for this book review was especially gratifying since Katy and I graduated from the same Spalding MFA in Writing class of October ‘03.

I earned another FIRST PLACE in “Specialty Articles – Agriculture” for the article published in Alaska magazine “Sweet Cherry Rumors.” I also earned two second-place awards and an honorable mention for other articles in various publications. The combined awards in the NFPW contest earned THIRD PLACE in the national sweepstakes.

In other news, the documentary Canyons and Ice: The Last Run of Dick Griffith, that I co-produced with Andy Trimlett, is airing on 39 PBS stations around the country this summer. The film is a companion to the book and chronicles Griffith’s last, historic run through the Grand Canyon on the Colorado River.

As for what I’m doing now? I have been writing to my one-year-old granddaughter (and all my grandchildren) about these days of quarantine, pandemic, and civil unrest. Eva will not remember these unprecedented historic events, so I am writing these letters to her future self. Included with the news are stories about the rhythm of daily life on our little farm – the arrival of cranes in springtime, the planting of our garden, the antics of dogs and horses. I’m throwing in a bit of advice here and there from her “Oma.” Writing is cathartic in these strange times, and Eva is the unwitting receptacle for my musings. This entry was recently published by 49 Writers.

One-Year-Old in Quarantine

Since we cannot see you in person,

The video shows your arms out,

your face frozen in startled wonder,

as if you had been transported to another universe,

which of course you had. There is an entire world

Outside your little house in the big woods.

You slowly, carefully squatted

Orienting yourself closer to the safety of earth.

Closer to the ground, your

Tiny fingers picked up a rock.

It was as if holding something in your grasp

Brought you back to yourself.

The “wow” of something you can carry is

Less overwhelming than the “whoa” of the cosmos,

We are all, little Eva, grasping at pebbles.

A person wearing a hat

Description automatically generated
Eva’s first steps outdoors.
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  • About Kaylene

    Kaylene Johnson-Sullivan is a long-time Alaskan who makes her home in Palmer. She has found adventure on Denali, the Chugach Mountains, and as a wrangler and cook in the Brooks Range. Her award-winning articles have appeared in Alaska magazine, the Los Angeles Times, the Louisville Review and other publications. Her books include Our Perfect Wild: Ray and Barbara Bane's Journeys and the Fate of the Far North; Canyons and Ice: The Wilderness Travels of Dick Griffith; A Tender Distance: Adventures Raising My Sons in Alaska; Trails Across Time: History of An Alaska Mountain Corridor; and Portrait of the Alaska Railroad.

    She holds a BA from Vermont College and an MFA in Writing from Spalding University in Louisville, Kentucky.