Author of "Fighter in Velvet Gloves" speaks in Dillingham
Annie Boochever will be presenting “Fighter in Velvet Gloves” and signing books at the Curyung Tribal Building Event Hall tonight at 7 p.m.
Annie Boochever resides in Washington now, but she used to live in Juneau. She writes about many facets of Alaskan life. "Fighter in Velvet Gloves" documents the life of Tlingit civil rights activist Elizabeth Peratrovich, who drove passage of Alaska's Anti-Discrimination Act in 1945.
Dillingham is Boochever's sixth stop in a whirlwind book tour of Alaska, which was started by a group of librarians and funded by the host communities. KDLG spoke with the author about her newest book, "Fighter in Velvet Gloves," ahead of her book signing and reading in Dillingham.
We also talked about her first book, “Bristol Bay Summer,” which began as her Masters’ thesis. In it, she explores the struggles of a teenager dealing with her parents’ divorce. And this story is rooted – at least in part – in reality.
Ross: What is it like to be in Dillingham having written that book?
Boochever: It’s like coming home. That book was based on a true story 30 years – more than that – ago, now. I had been divorced, I had two little kids, and I had a bush pilot boyfriend. And in 1980, we were outside of Naknek on the west side, and his job was to haul fish from a set net that wasn’t very far away. Well, when I originally went out there with him, my kids were four and six, which is very young. But in the book I fast-forwarded their ages so they were 12 going on 13 and seven.
We had a lot of adventures, and it had a huge impact on me. I was so impressed with the area, the lifestyle, the people. And I always wanted to make a movie of it, but that ended up not being the business I was in. I ended up writing a book about it instead. And it’s been so fun to come back here. I went to both the high school and the middle school, and I had lunch with a group of fifth graders. And they had all read the book and they were so excited about it. I mean, it’s really their story. It’s about set net fishing and the whole lifestyle, and I think they really appreciated it.
Ross: In the book, it deals with difficult subjects for kids. How did you weave in topics like divorce – that a lot of kids can relate to – with things that are specific to Bristol Bay life?
Boochever: That’s a good question. My goal for writing the book was to tackle the whole issue of divorce from a kid’s point of view. As I said, I was divorced, and I had two kids, and it was not easy. And I have been a teacher for many, many years and I had seen countless families go through that. My idea was to write a story using Bristol Bay as the backdrop – because I told you how impressed I was with all that – and then getting into the feelings of a young kid going through that. And it was kind of therapeutic for me, cause my own kids went through a lot of that. But I also wanted to write a story about Bristol Bay. So I worked really hard to make it accurate, to make all the places accurate, and the whole set net fishing scenes. You know, many of the things happened when I was here, so it was real adventures, so I didn’t really have to make a lot of it up. Some of it I did, and that’s why it’s a book of fiction and not a memoir. But it’s still partly a memoir.
Ross: Did you get any feedback from people in Bristol Bay, or from your kids?
Boochever: Yes I did. I got really positive feedback. I had friends who are very involved in the Bristol Bay fishery, and had been for a long time, and I asked them to read the different drafts and comment so that I could get it right. Mostly, they were just so excited to have a book about them, and I got a lot of support and a lot of positive back from that book.
Ross: Your new book came out quite recently – “Fighter in Velvet Gloves.” Can you talk a little bit about that?
Boochever: After “Bristol Bay Summer” I wanted to write a sequel, and I somehow got really sidetracked, and that’s how “Fighter in Velvet Gloves” came out, instead of a sequel to “Bristol Bay Summer.” But I still plan on doing the sequel! I just haven’t gotten to it yet.
“Fighter in Velvet Gloves” was released on Feb. 16, which if you know about Elizabeth Peratrovich Day in Alaska, that’s the date that we all celebrate to honor the day that the first comprehensive anti-discrimination bill in the nation went into law, right in Juneau, when Alaska was still a territory.
The final testimony at the hearings was by Elizabeth Peratrovich, and she blew everybody out of the water. And the bill passed. And it’s still very exciting – it was 20 years before the United States Civil Rights Act, so way before Martin Luther King. So Alaska, as usual, was at the cutting edge here.
Ross: She’s such a large figure in the state, but it does feel like in the national dialogue, you really don’t hear much about her. How did you decide to write about Elizabeth Peratrovich, and what did you hope to do with the book?
Boochever: In 1988, when then-governor Steve Cowper declared Feb. 16 as Elizabeth Peratrovich Day, there were no materials about her – very few. And other teachers felt the same way, and we were all kind of struggling ‘cause we wanted to share her story. But it was really hard to find out anything about her. I knew that eventually I would retire from teaching, and I wanted to become a writer. I’d been writing all these plays, but I’d never taken any formal instruction in it. So I went back to school and got an MFA in creative writing for children and young adults. [After “Bristol Bay Summer”] other teachers saw I had a book out, and they said, ‘Now you have to write a book about Elizabeth Peratrovich.’ But I had no culture bearer. I didn’t know any immediate member of her family.
It turned out that at that time my niece, Hilary Lindh, was working for the Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities. And one of her jobs was to oversee the unveiling of a new replacement bridge, the Brotherhood Bridge, which spanned the Mendenhall River. She called me to tell me she’d been in touch with Elizabeth’s only living son, Roy Peratrovich, Jr. He was the first Alaska Native civil engineer in the state, and he had designed the previous bridge.
So I contacted him, I wrote him, told him of my interest in his mother. I didn’t know if I’d ever hear back from him, but very soon I did, and he said he would be thrilled to help me document his mother’s life. So my husband and I went to Gig Harbor, where he was living, met him, and talked about ways that we would develop the book. It took four years or so later, but we were able to have a book published about his mother – the first book. And now people have information about her life.
Ross: What are you hoping to get from your final few days in Dillingham?
Boochever: Well I have to tell you, I had a secret motivation for coming here this time. My son just recently moved to Dillingham. He has a new job, he’s a school administrator. So it was an opportunity for me to see my grandkids, and I’m looking forward to spending a little more time with him.
I keep wanting to kind of revisit my old haunts from all those years ago. But it’s kind of a big deal, to get back to Halfmoon Bay, which is where we were, so I probably won’t get to do that. But it’s still just such a treat to be here. I love Dillingham. I think it’s beautiful.
Ross: Great, well we’re really happy that you’re in town. Just remind everyone when they can hear you speak.
Boochever: Yes, I will be speaking about my new book, “Fighter in Velvet Gloves.” I hope to see some of you there.
Ross: Thank you so much.
Boochever: You’re welcome.
Contact the author at firstname.lastname@example.org or 907-842-2200