New Sentinel staffer looks forward to Alaska adventure

"Why would you want to move to a small town in Alaska?"

That was the question put to me by the Sentinel's publisher, Larry Persily, when I applied for the position of editor.

My answer? I was looking for an adventure.

Before coming here, I had never been near the state of Alaska. I did live in Fargo, North Dakota, from 2004 to 2006, which is a lot colder. But it's a dry cold; I heard that phrase a lot while I was there - that and "uff da".

I was born in Richmond, Virginia, and spent my formative years in Washington, D.C. Then my parents divorced and my mother brought me and my younger sister and brother to grow up in her home of Amelia County, which held a town so small (officially called Amelia Court House) that it was more a village surrounded by rural countryside in the heart of Virginia.

My maternal grandfather built the house we grew up in, that still stands to this day. He worked in the lumber mill, and then served as custodian of my elementary school, all while hunting and fishing and farming food for himself and his family.

My maternal grandmother helped to tend their large garden (which required a tractor for tilling) on their even larger tract of land, while putting herself through college and teaching math in the local school system until retirement, whereupon she worked even harder with various projects of her choosing.

My mom raised us while working various jobs, which included driving the school bus that took us to class. Growing up in that environment, I wasn't just Mark. I was Eleanor's son. I was Josie and John Ed's grandson.

However, even as a child, I kept returning to the D.C. area, first to regularly visit my father, pioneering journalist Max Robinson, before he moved to Chicago to become part of "ABC World News Tonight" as the first African-American broadcast network news anchor in the United States.

In addition to getting a thrill out of watching my dad on local and national news, I loved watching classic television from "Barney Miller" to "The Carol Burnett Show" to "Scooby-Doo" to "Spenser: For Hire." I'm a cartoonist who can't get enough of comic books and novels of adventure; Charles Schulz and Robert B. Parker and Spider-Man were my role models.

My favorite movie is still "Silverado," with its director Lawrence Kasdan my favorite filmmaker. I've worked in children's theater. I've been a storyteller. I've worked in various kinds of bookstores, including one that focused on my one of my favorite genres, mystery and crime fiction. I continue to meet via Zoom chat with a mystery book discussion group that I started in 1996.

Still, journalism remained in my blood. Submitting editorial cartoons to alternative newsweeklies while living in Fargo eventually led me to become the editorial cartoonist of the Montgomery County Sentinel in Rockville, Maryland, and rise through the ranks from reporter to city editor.

After the Montgomery County Sentinel closed, and weathering the pandemic lockdown, I found myself restless, missing that feeling of being plugged into a community that I only got from working in print journalism. When I first caught sight of Wrangell, nestled amid forested hills and ocean as my plane circled in for a landing, I knew that this was the place to have a new adventure.

During one recent interview with a recently arrived resident who grew up in Southeast Alaska, something she said has really stuck with me: "Wherever you are in Alaska, you're home."

I'm looking forward to discovering that for myself.

 

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