About Kathleen


Kathleen Witkowska Tarr is the author of We Are All Poets Here (VP&D House, 2018), part-memoir, part-biography, involving the famous, bestselling spiritual writer and teacher, Thomas Merton. Merton was a gifted intellectual and Trappist monk from The Abbey of Our Lady of Gethsemani, Kentucky. A graduate of Columbia University, and before reaching age 30, he left regular society behind and committed to a monastic life by entering the austere religious order of the Cistercians in 1941. (Thomas Merton spent two weeks in Alaska in the autumn of 1968 on his way to Asia as part of his inter-faith world trek. In Alaska, he flew over prominent mountain peaks, gave talks and retreats, kept an Alaskan journal, later published posthumously, and considered Alaska a top potential site for a one-man hermitage. Merton often dreamed about place where he could live in more solitude beyond what his monastery provided. As it turned out, Alaska was one of the last places on earth the monk ever saw. Two months later, while outside of Bangkok to attend and speak at a religious conference, Merton died.)

AUTHOR’S BIO: Born and raised in Pittsburgh, Kathleen has lived in Alaska since 1978—first in the rural Tlingit Indian community of Yakutat on the isolated North Pacific Coast, under Mount Saint Elias (18,002′); in Sitka, the former capital of Russian-America; and in Soldotna on the Kenai Peninsula.

Her work has appeared in a wide range of publications—literary journals, magazines, newspapers, blogs and anthologies. In her writing Kathleen has explored Alaska life–in particular the natural world and mountains; Eastern European and Russian history, arts & culture, food, travel, and spirituality.

As a Merton scholar, Kathleen serves on the board of the International Thomas Merton Society. She is a contributor to the anthology, We Are Already One, 1915-2015, Thomas Merton’s Message of Hope (Fons Vitae Press, Louisville, 2015) in honor of Thomas Merton’s centenary. Her work has also appeared in the anthology, Merton & The World’s Indigenous Wisdom (2019), edited by Dr. Peter Savastano, Seton Hall University. A recent essay, “The Necessity of Pilgrimage” appeared in the winter 2022 edition of The Merton Seasonal.

She is a fellow at the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts and has been a writer-in-residence at Mesa Refuge and St. Columba’s Retreat House, both located in Marin County, California. She is a William Shannon Fellow of the International Thomas Merton Society. Kathleen was one of six writers selected as a Mullin Scholar at USC’s Institute for Advanced Catholic Studies (2013-2015).

Kathleen has taught creative writing at the University of Alaska Anchorage and regularly teaches community creative writing seminars and webinars. From 2007-2011, she served as the founding Program Coordinator of the University of Alaska Anchorage’s Low-Residency Program in Creative Writing. She earned an MFA in Creative Nonfiction at the University of Pittsburgh where she was also awarded a full, three-year teaching fellowship.

Under appointment by Alaska’s Governor, Bill Walker, Kathleen was selected to serve in a public seat on the board of directors of the Alaska Humanities Forum (2017-2020). She is a member of the Alaska Historical Society and the Alaska Mountaineering Club.

Off the page, Kathleen takes to the outdoors as much as possible through hiking on mountain trails, birding, and gardening. Her personal interests include photography, cinematic arts, all genres of music, alpine literature, and traveling off-the-beaten path. Since 1990, she has made over ten trips to Russia, including traveling down the Volga River from St. Petersburg to Moscow. She has visited and/or worked in Chuvashia, in Siberia, and in the Russian Far East cities of Vladivostok, Yuhzno-Sakhalinsk,  Khabarovsk, and Magadan. For most of 2014, she lived in the Kazimierz district of Krakow, Poland and visited the Tatra Mountains. She subsequently returned to Poland in autumn 2019 where she spoke at the University of Silesia (Katowice), and also visited Lithuania.

She is the mother of two grown sons and makes her home in Anchorage, under the Chugach Mountains.