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Faces of Alaska: Dana Stabenow

January 11, 2011

Dana Stabenow is as homegrown Alaskan as you can get. Raised between Seldovia and a 75 foot fish tender in the Gulf of Alaska by a single mom, she was shaped by that woman’s fierce independence and her father’s sense of adventure. Alaska genealogist Barbara Samuels assisted with family research, tracing Dana’s family heritage back to Bavaria, across Coeur D’Alene, Idaho and into Alaska. And still, she couldn’t settle all the mysteries in Dana’s fascinating family.

Thursday (Jan. 13) at 8:00 pm and Saturday (Jan. 15) 7:00 pm on KAKM, join host Kathleen McCoy and mystery writer, Dana Stabenow as they talk about that paternal great grandfather in Idaho who edited newspapers and raised hell. About her maternal grandfather who flew the first post-WW II refurbished DC-3 into Anchorage for Alaska Airlines in 1945. About the father she first met when she was 14. About his ability to fix anything mechanical and turn a two-week vacation into a six-week hunting trip, the job be damned. The Stabenow family story – one of enterprise, loyalty and creativity – is another great Alaska story

Mystery Writer, Dana Stabenow

  • Raised on a 75-foot fishing tender in the Gulf of Alaska by a single mom/deckhand
  • 1973, graduates with journalism degree from UA
  • Works almost 10 years for the oil industry, makes “an obscene amount of money,” spends its between Alaska and Hawaii
  • 1982, at age 30, shifts
  • 1985, completes MFA in creative writing from UAA
  • 1990, sells ‘Second Star’ to Ace Science Fiction
  • 1991, editor offers three-year contract for Kate Shugak series
  • 1994, wins Edgar Award for ‘A Cold Day for Murder’
  • 2009, Signs deal to make Kate Shugak books into TV series, filmed in Alaska
  • Feb. 1, 2011, heads out to promote 18th  book in Kate Shugak series, Though Not Dead

Q & A with Dana Stabenow

What did your family give you in the way of an approach to the world and to life?

“My mother never, ever once said to me I couldn’t do something because I was a girl, and she led by example.  She was one of the first woman deckhands on a fish tender in Cook Inlet, and when we moved on shore she had job offers coming at her from every skipper afloat.  She worked ground support for an air taxi service after that, ferrying passengers to and from the airstrip, loading and unloading and delivering freight, keeping the books, cussing out the pilots when they would overhead to Port Graham as she waited with freight and passengers on the ground in Seldovia.

I didn’t meet my father until I was 14, but he was entirely a self-made man.  He went from his mother signing him into the merchant marine before he was old enough to join on his own to being a master mechanic and a Bush pilot.  He lived life on his own terms, as when he’d take a two-week vacation from Chugach Electric to go on a six-week beachcoming trip/caribou hunt down on the Alaska Peninsula.  They’d fire him when he got back, of course, but he’d say, “I was looking for work when I got this job.”

I’d say Mom taught me that nothing was impossible, and that Dad taught me to live in the moment, to appreciate the now, to never pass up an opportunity to go anywhere.”

Despite your training in journalism, you pursued and have had a fabulous career writing fiction. Yet Adam Aulbach, a great grandfather, was a wily newspaper editor in the Coeur D’Alene mining district in the late 1800s. Do you feel much connection to him because of your writing career?

“I don’t feel any connection to him at all.  I never met him.  He’s a face in a picture, albeit an uncannily similar one — I look just like him, sans the mustache.  I do love the fact that I’m related to someone who was shot at for calling the governor of Idaho a [name]  in print.  Kind of makes him an honorary Alaskan, doesn’t it?

I got into journalism because my teachers wanted me to be able to make a living and when they saw I had a talent for writing they pushed me in that direction.  It occurred to none of them that I might be able to make a living at writing novels.  Ironic, no? “

Is there a food or recipe that you grew up with that means family to you?

“As anyone knows who has ever helped butcher out a moose, what you have most of when you’re done is scraps.  That’s where I came in, me hanging grimly onto the crank of an old-fashioned meat grinder.  I stuffed the scraps down the chute and the crank turned a screw that pushed the scraps through a perforated metal plate.  I had to put the scraps through twice, once through the plate with the big holes and again through the plate with the little holes.  It was hard, sweaty work.  There were bugs.  There was blood and meat scraps in my hair.  I hated it.

The only thing that kept me on that damn crank was Mom’s spaghetti, which (after the heart, the tongue and the liver, the only things on a moose you can eat right away) was our first meal from the moose.  She never measured anything but it went like this:

  • Bacon, chopped and browned.  Very important!  Everything good started with bacon.
  • Add chopped onion and brown.
  • Add moose meat, garlic powder, salt, pepper, dried oregano, and brown.
  • Add sliced canned mushrooms, a small can of tomato paste, a large can of chopped tomatoes (remember we didn’t have anything fresh back in those days).
  • Stir together, cover and let simmer all afternoon.
  • Serve over spaghetti and shake Kraft Parmesan lavishly overall.

Heaven on the tongue and even better the next day.  Or so I thought then.  I still make Mom’s spaghetti today, with an amended recipe.  It is known as “Auntie Dana’s Famous Spaghetti” in the family, but it all started with Mom.

Her beans were pretty good, too.  Dad made sauted ptarmigan breasts which he then finished in the oven with a wine sauce.  He didn’t use recipes, either, so it was different every time, and delicious every time.  Truth to tell, I might miss his ptarmigan as much as I miss him.”


Anchorage has a number of good starting places for those interested in digging into their family histories.

Get started on your own story here:

Watch Dana Stabenow talk about her family roots on Faces of Alaska Thursday, January 13  at 8:00 pm and Saturday, January 15 at 9:00 pm on KAKM Channel 7 TV.

Find out what’s to come on Faces of Alaska parts 3 and 4 at

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