When I first met Leslie, she was unlike any other woman I'd ever met. She was a salmon fisherwoman yet glamorous; she lived on an island off the coast of Alaska but flew in and out on small propeller planes en route all over the U.S. as nonchalantly as I got in my car to drive from Minneapolis to St. Paul; she was articulate not only on the page but also on a stage; she was a woman of deep faith who held in her hands both pain and joy as she wrote; she believed deeply that what she wrote mattered and made those of us whom she mentored in graduate school believe it of our own work too.
I had read her memoir, Surviving the Island of Grace: A Memoir of Alaska, before meeting her. Her story of transitioning from a girl from New Hampshire to a woman of the wilderness, and the way she wrote it, had already given me some clue that this was no ordinary woman. This single paragraph about mending the fishing nets communicates so much about Leslie: her sense of place - on the edge of the ocean, surrounded by mountains; her love of words, words that speak truth, words offered in community; her care for what she's been given to work with; her honor and respect for those with whom she serves; the presence of beauty.
"This was where we unraveled the rest of our lives, it seemed, even as we sewed up the holes in the nets. There was something about this space, about standing out there on the beach under the open sky – the clouds or sun, mountains on every horizon, though it was ocean all the way to the edge. The walls were gone, how could there be a larger space to stand in, and yet, it became a sort of confessional. This was where we could speak the deepest truths to one another. Under all that sky, with nothing here to remind us of our other lives, whatever other roles and jobs we worked at during the year, wherever we had been, it was worlds away, and only conjured up by language. We knew the rest of each others' lives only through those words"
Since Surviving the Island of Grace, Leslie has written three other books: Forgiving Our Fathers and Mothers (Thomas Nelson, 2014); Parenting Is Your Highest Calling and 8 Other Myths that Trap Us in Worry and Guilt (WaterBrook Press, 2008), which I wrote about previously on this blog; and Surprise Child: Finding Hope in Unexpected Pregnancy (WaterBrook Press, 2006), which I also wrote about, here. She has also edited several anthologies, including The Spirit of Food: 34 Writers on Feasting and Fasting Toward God. You can find these books and more on her Amazon page. You can read her blog, which she posts to weekly, here. Her essays have appeared in The Atlantic, Christianity Today, Image, Orion, and more, and even with all her writing and fishing, she continues to fly in and out of her Alaskan island to speak all around the country.
Recently, Leslie has started a summer Harvester Island Writing Workshop. Here's a video slideshow of last year's workshop. Applications are now being accepted for the 2015 session - think about it!
Here's what Leslie wrote about Finding Livelihood:
"In this extraordinary new book, Nordenson asks what we all want to know: Can our daily workplace grind really become our daily God-blessed bread? (My personal question: Can cleaning fishing nets of rotting jellyfish really be redeeming work?) Nancy answers an unequivocal "yes"! Through layered eloquent prose and her own vast experience, she offers us real ways of finding astonishment and transcendence even in the most stultifying jobs. This book is a revelation. It goes with me to my fishing camp."
[Photo: Leslie Leyland Fields, used with permission.]