Shareholder Spotlight: Shirley Esmailka Sam
Shirley Esmailka Sam dreamed of writing books as a child; today she is a published author of two books. She blends murder mystery with old Athabascan stories weaved in, giving readers a glimpse of village life and the beliefs of the people.
Sam’s parents are the late Ernie Esmailka, Sr. from Huslia and Ethel Esmailka from Koyukuk. She is married to Darrell Sam and together they have eight children and 10 grandchildren. Sam recently moved back to Koyukuk, where she works as a transportation officer at the Koyukuk tribal office.
Sam began writing her first book, “Deadly Summers in Alaska,” in 2011 while working in Denali National Park at Denali River Cabins. She liked to sit next to the river and think of different serial killer plots. She wrote four chapters before she put it away for a while, picking it up to finish a few months later.
“It is hard to write about a character who is evil, so it’s nice to put it away for a while,” said Sam. “It’s crazy how many months I had to think about murder plots.”
Sam’s inspiration comes from the stories she heard as a child. Growing up on the outskirts of the village next to a graveyard, there was plenty to keep the imagination filled. In the evening, under the glow of a kerosene lamp, her mother would tell stories of the old ways. Without electricity and modern technology, her mother’s stories seemed tangible and thrilling. Sam recently moved back to Koyukuk and her mother began telling her stories again; this time, Sam listens with her 9-year-old granddaughter by her side.
Sam’s first book was published in June of 2013. “It was such a great feeling when it was published, I couldn’t stop smiling,” Sam said. “My son listened to me throughout the whole process of writing my book and he was so proud of me.” Both of Sam’s books, “Deadly Summers in Alaska” and “Deadly Summer in Alaska II: Birdie,” are available in paperback and eBook.
Today, Sam is working on two more story lines and she tells her granddaughter about it, as she did with her son. “This one is going to be really scary,” she said excitedly.
After writing two books, Sam decided to go to college. She holds a degree in tribal management and is now working on two Bachelor of Arts degrees, one in psychology and one in rural development, through the University of Alaska Fairbanks. Sam was recently selected as “Student of the Year” by Gana-A’Yoo Foundation for her dedication to higher education, community and family, and her cultural and community involvement.
Balancing family life, school, a career and writing might be daunting to most, but not for Sam. “You can do anything you set your mind to,” she said. “If you have a dream, just slowly do it. Then all of a sudden, you will be doing what you dreamed!”