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Alaska authors rack up accolades in 2013

Suzanna Caldwell

While Alaskans might be plastered all over reality TV at any given time nowadays, a less-flashy group of residents has slowly gained national acclaim.

That would be the writers of the 49th state, some of whom earned serious accolades this year. From being on notable lists, to getting shortlisted for major awards to even just plain-old surprise sales numbers, Alaska authors proved residents of the state are more than just gold diggers or crab fishermen -- they have a literary side, too.

Here's a rundown of some of the biggest book names Alaska saw in 2013 and why they caused the reading world to pay a little more attention to the Last Frontier.

'The Raven's Gift' by Don Rearden

Don Rearden's book made the Washington Post's Notable Fiction list for 2013, despite first being published in Canada in 2011. The Post wrote that Rearden's novel, described as “part dystopian survival tale, part Jack London wilderness saga, and part Stephen King/Michael Crichton–style suspense story,” shifts between the blighted present and happy past and calls Rearden, an associate professor at the University of Alaska Anchorage who was raised in Southwest Alaska, “a master of the cliffhanger.” The Post went on to compare it to a mix of the Pulitzer Prize-winning Cormac McCarthy novel “The Road” and an episode of "The X-Files."

'The Snow Child' by Eowyn Ivey

The magic of Palmer author Eowyn Ivey's debut novel “The Snow Child” was hard to miss if you lived here in Alaska when it was first released -- also in 2011 -- but her retelling of a Russian fairy tale about a child made of snow and set in the Matanuska Valley made big waves in 2013 when she was named a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. While she didn't win (that honor went to “The Orphan Master's Son" by Adam Johnson), she was more than honored to make the list -- past winners of the prize include Ernest Hemingway, William Faulkner and John Steinbeck. Ivey is believed to be the first-ever Alaskan to be nominated for a Pulitzer for Fiction.

'If You Lived Here, I'd Know Your Name' by Heather Lende

Longtime Alaska columnist and author Heather Lende got a big surprise this summer, when her 2005 debut memoir about living in tiny Haines, “If you Lived Here, I'd Know Your Name” snuck into the New York Times bestselling ebooks list at number 17, only to jump to number seven three weeks later. Lende herself expressed surprise over the bump, joking that Oprah hadn't called her yet. The book initially made the s best-seller list when it was first released, but Lende notes it was toward the bottom at around number 50. Despite the moderate amount of fame, at the time Lende wrote that she contacted her editors to see if the listing would make her rich and famous. No word back, yet.

'Pilgrim's Wilderness' by Tom Kizzia

Alaskans are all too familiar with the tale of Robert “Papa Pilgrim” Hale. In 2003, Anchorage Daily News reporter Tom Kizzia wrote a shocking series detailing the homespun, fundamentalist Christian family at odds with the National Park Service over their homestead in the Wrangell-St. Elias National Park. Kizzia couldn't have imagined the disturbing twist the story would take years later, when the patriarch went on the run to escape charges of sexually abusing his oldest daughter. Kizzia takes pieces from his original stories and expands on them greatly, detailing the extreme psychological and physical abuse Hale inflicted on his family for decades. Since its publication this summer, the book found widespread acclaim, with mentions in both the New York Times and on National Public Radio. Amazon editors even listed it as the fifth best book of 2013.

'Good Tidings and Great Joy' by Sarah Palin

Depending on your political leanings, it's hard to say whether former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin's latest outing is worthy of a mention. But no matter where you fall on the political spectrum, it's been hard to ignore “Good Tidings and Great Joy,” Palin's manifesto on putting the “Christ back in Christmas” and her fight against the “homogenization” of the holidays. The book has hovered on the New York Times' non-fiction bestsellers list, but is probably better known for its massive press spin out, with a nationwide, 35-city book tour and Palin's appearances on everything from the Today show to CNN.

Honorable Mention: The Best American Sports Writing 2013 for Cinthia Ritchie's essay “Running”

Cinthia Ritchie may not have had a whole book published, but her remarkably moving essay “Running,” first featured in the literary magazine Sport Literate, and later as one of 26 pieces of sports writing included in the annual anthology. The essay, written in a breathless, frantic tone meant to mimic running, recounts Ritchie's own personal struggles through her passion for the sport. Runner's World called Ritchie's essay -- on the “transcendent” power of running -- a “gem.”