Originally written for The Northern Light.
Various books written by local authors are displayed throughout The Writer’s Block, along with paintings hanging on walls from Anchorage artists. Officially opening their doors January 2018, The Writer’s Block houses books, music, art and food based on the four owners’ passions for the arts.
“Dawnell [Smith] has done a lot of the community, social media, all the outreach that goes with just communicating to the public. Teeka [Ballas] has spearheaded all of our events. She has those kinds of connections and background in music, theatre and art,” Vered Mares, one of the owners, said. “Kathy [McCue] has been this kind of quiet behind-the-scenes person who is always making sure the building is actually functional. She’s not directly involved in the day to day operations, but she is very much active.”
The four women wanted to create a space where various artists can showcase their work and allow the community to connect and interact with one another.
“Vered [Mares] and I met about five years ago over coffee, and we talked about how we needed what we called a cash cow. It’s something that can help find that space for artists and for literary aficionados and for our love for these things,” Ballas, a UAA alumna, said. “That’s when we started building this idea. It took a lot of work.”
Mares, Ballas, Smith and McCue all met through Out North Contemporary Art House and F Magazine.
Ballas has lived a life filled with art and travel from an early age: her father was part of a booking agent called Bebop Bands that moved her family around quite often. She went to music school in Los Angeles, California when she was 16 years old.
As she grew older, she hitchhiked to Rainbow Gatherings and Grateful Dead shows, did travel writing in Australia, and radio and print journalism in Texas, Russia and Alaska. Ultimately, Ballas moved back to Alaska to finish her degree in journalism and stayed ever since.
Smith led a nomadic life from California to Europe and finally Alaska in 1988. She paid the bills as a brewer, journalist and events coordinator. With the remaining time she had for herself, she wrote poems, essays, stories and created art. Aside from the Writer’s Block, Smith is an environmental lawyer at Trustees for Alaska.
Before settling in Alaska in 2002, McCue’s medical career took her to Haiti. She also took up various roles from a radio DJ in college, editor, graphic artist, soccer player, teacher, volunteer and currently an emergency physician.
Mares grew up in a family full of poets, writers and musicians who traveled frequently. Moving from one place to another, travel and books comforted her through vast changes within her family. She paid her way through art school by bartending and managing a bar in Idaho before settling in Alaska. She had also worked numerous jobs like construction, commercial art, and being a pilot. Now, she has dedicated herself to The Writer’s Block.
What once started off as the notorious “Adults Only” shop in Spenard has now been refurbished allowing people to have an open space to interact and share their art.
William Kozloff was one of the first local artists to utilize and display his artwork.
“When I walked into this space, everything was open. I had a lot of plans, and I had no idea what to do with them. I’m very appreciative,” Kozloff said.
The Writer’s Block also hosts live performances of local singers, songwriters and musicians. ASA Songwriters Showcase is one of the events that lets artists exhibit their talents once a month.
“[The] Writer’s Block is very unique and never disappoints. They have opportunities to see local artists in a very intimate way,” Tiara Merculieff, a local who attended the ASA Songwriters Showcase, said.
Mares says the business is open to everyone in the community.
“People can come and be comfortable — they’re not going to be turned away,” Mares said.
The Writer’s Block is located at 3656 Spenard Road. They are open Tuesday through Sunday from 8 a.m. – 10 p.m. on Tuesday, Wednesday and Sunday and 8 a.m. – 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday.