Chilkat Valley News - Serving Haines and Klukwan, Alaska since 1966

Fish tales win praise for hometown author


June 22, 2017

Rosemary McGuire, 40, is considering returning to school to study biology. “Forty is probably old enough to get a useful degree,” she joked this week.

Studying, then working and writing, have proved a winning formula for McGuire, a 1994 Haines High School graduate and author of two critically acclaimed books including “Rough Crossing: An Alaska Fisherwoman’s Memoir,” published in May.

“(Writing) is the thing I like most, but it just doesn’t pay. It’s just something I do when I have time between a spell of jobs,” she said in an interview.

In the coming weeks, McGuire will work as expediter for a Dutch researcher in Icy Bay. She’ll join a crew looking for fossil clues that shed light on the development of baleen in whales 36 million years ago, described as one of the great mysteries in marine mammal evolution.

Then it’s off to Tahiti, where McGuire has been hired as a deckhand aboard the 280-foot research vessel Nathanial B. Palmer. She’ll be helping deliver it to Valparaiso, Chile, running deck equipment and doing water sampling along the way.

In the past 17 years, McGuire has held jobs on the water in Gulf of Alaska, the Arctic and Antarctica. Her writing about those experiences has caught the attention of notable authors.

Reviewer Nancy Lord, a former Alaska Writer Laureate who also has worked as a commercial fisherwoman, said of McGuire’s memoir: “The writing is well-crafted and lyrical, a joy to read. She delivers lively scenes in all their beauty and brutality, showing what it is to have a heart for the former and a stomach for the latter.”

Best-selling novelist Andre Dubus III hailed McGuire’s memoir as “stellar prose,” writing, “I felt as immersed in the experience as if I were reading Hemingway.”

If distinguished praise has affected McGuire, it’s not evident. She described herself this week as a taxi driver for scientists. “I just drive them around in the skiff… My dad told me, ‘Get an English degree. That way you’ll have something interesting to think about while you’re shoveling snow.”

McGuire took his advice. Armed with an English degree from tiny Shimer College in Waukegan, Ill., she walked the docks of Homer, finding work fishing for cod on a struggling boat with a sketchy crew. She capped her fishing career in 2011, operating a gillnetter solo out of Cordova.

In years between, McGuire earned a master’s degree in creative writing. But she kept returning to fishing. “I had trouble letting go of fishing until I did it alone. It was important to me to run my own boat. It was a gender thing. I wanted to show myself I could do it, instead of being the cook. But once I did it, I moved on. I wanted some different challenges.”

McGuire has worked various agency jobs as a field technician and crew hand in the past few years. Projects she’s helped on include surveying petrels and tagging humpback and minke whales in Antarctica, counting king eiders on the North Slope, and taking tissue samples from harvested bowhead whales in Barrow.

She learned to run a skiff on the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service vessel Tiglax in 2014, supporting research projects in the Alaska Maritime Wildlife Refuge in the Aleutians.

“I told the skipper I wasn’t a particularly good skiff driver. He said, ‘No problem, I’ll teach you.’ He didn’t tell me his method of teaching was just to throw me out there in the boat,” McGuire said.

She thinks that her next book may be a collection of essays about jobs she has held, and a biology degree could bring her closer to the science that goes on in them.

“I’ve been involved peripherally in some interesting projects. A lot of them revolve around climate change. It’s interesting to see how science is conducted,” she said.

Because her replacement worker suffered a broken arm and her job was extended, McGuire was in Antarctica when her memoir was released last month.

A collection of her fictional short stories, “The Creatures at the Absolute Bottom of the Sea,” was published in 2015. The nonfiction memoir – mostly about her first season fishing – took more than a decade to get together. She described it as a romance with a way of life wrapped around an actual romance that became her marriage, then ended.

“It took me a long time to write it. It’s important to me, not that I worked on it so long, but that it took me so long to figure out how to tell the story. Things that happen to you will resonate through your whole life. Sometimes it takes a while to understand why they were so important,” she said.

McGuire also said she’s more interested in what fishermen think of the book than what literary critics say. “The reviews that matter to me are from people who know the place and know the life saying they liked it and it rang true to their experience.”

McGuire’s books are available at the Babbling Book in Haines.


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