American Conversations: Celebrating Poems in Rural Communities


Freya Anderson

Freya Anderson

Alaska State Library

Tell us a bit about yourself, the organization you represent, and the work you do.

My name is Freya Anderson and I've worked at the Alaska State Library in several capacities since 2000. Currently, I’m the Head of Information Services, which is the section most like a public library and which also serves employees of the State of Alaska; Acting Head of Historical Collections, which is a special collection of Alaskana, with published and archival materials in a variety of formats; and Regional Librarian for the Alaska Talking Book Center. Whew! It’s a lot of work, but I love it and I love Alaska, so it’s a real treat.

Tell us about your community/the communities you serve, and your part of the country.

We serve the whole state of Alaska, supporting Alaskan readers with visual or physical disabilities that prevent them from reading traditional books; helping Alaskan libraries; getting information for employees of the State of Alaska, and connecting researchers of Alaskan topics to primary and secondary materials. There are challenges from the incredibly vast geography and relatively sparse population, but on the bright side, because our population is smaller, we really get a chance to know our users, and it’s a real joy to know when you’ve made a difference. While we serve all of Alaska, we’re located in Juneau, and having moved into a beautiful new building with a connection to our local public broadcasting station, we’ve been able to attract some amazing speakers and share those statewide through the At the APK program at 360 North. We were fortunately able to record Tracy K. Smith’s program, so that should be broadcast before too long!

What did it mean to you and your community to host the U.S. Poet Laureate?

I was personally tickled pink, but I was amazed and gratified at how excited the community was. We had one of our biggest events in this building, despite a sunny day in our rainforest location. I heard of people flying from Anchorage and Sitka. We had unsolicited requests to expand Ms. Smith’s tour, as well as invitations to bring her back.

Shortly after moving into this building, we were able to host a copy of Shakespeare’s First Folio. That was a month-long event, but although this visit was shorter, I would put it on par with the First Folio visit in terms of excitement. Both were once-in-a-lifetime events.

Can you share any feedback you received from event attendees/participants?

Everyone I’ve heard from who was able to attend was very pleased. They were particularly impressed by Ms. Smith’s warmth, understanding, humor, and skill in sharing. The only complaints I heard was that they wished the program were longer and there had been more time to hear and discuss poetry from the anthology. Several people expressed disappointment that they missed the program, having heard about it from friends afterwards, but they’re looking forward to the television program.

What, if any, type of literary programming do you present in your community? How did this program fit in?

We usually focus on Alaskana or topics related to temporary exhibits at the Alaska State Museum. Often the authors and artists are Alaskan as well. So, this was a bit different. However, we don’t have strict boundaries and have taken advantage of special opportunities to host library, literacy, or literature-related speakers, so Ms. Smith fit right in to our “specials”!