Holding Each Other Up Hedgebrook Style

By Hedgebrook Guest

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Categories: Alum Experiences, General, Women's Voices,

“We’ll need to hold each other up.” That’s what Anita Gail Jones Roerick (Fir 94) wrote in an email when I informed her of my plan to launch a support group for women writing our first books. I hadn’t met her; all I knew was that she was a Hedgebrook alum (94).

In the fall of 2009, shortly after my first summer residency, Hedgebrook staff spearheaded the formation of leadership councils in a number of cities. I had the good fortune of attending a meeting and becoming part of the council in the Bay Area. The Hedgebrook Mothership, as we called it, was somewhat vague about what it wanted councils to do and gave us space to coordinate activities that grew organically out of the interests of local alums.

The Bay Area council held a number of events that year – a brunch meeting for alums, a few professional development sessions, and an inspiring keynote featuring Dorothy Allison. Among our activities was a questionnaire asking alums what they most needed and wanted. One of the comments that jumped out at me was the need for support on a first book. I needed that too. During my residency, I had restarted my novel from scratch. It occurred to me reach out to the six women who sought support and I invited them for a potluck dinner and conversation at my house, just as we might have done at Hedgebrook.

We called ourselves the Hedgebrook First Book Group and met formally for the first time in summer 2010. A mix of fiction and nonfiction writers as well as memoirists, we ranged in age from mid-thirties to late fifties and reflected the rich diversity of the Bay Area. Some worked full-time; others free-lanced; a few were mothers. Despite our differences, we shared one important goal – we came to the table as writers interested in helping each other complete our first books.

We decided to meet quarterly and experimented with how we used our time. Initially, we read, discussed books, and taught each other “writing secrets” from master classes we’d taken. Ultimately, we settled on one format – a Sunday brunch in which we took turns discussing our writing successes and challenges. At times, we popped open champagne; other times we cried in frustration. Always, group members bared revelations while listeners shared insights and brainstormed to help each other. We also exchanged manuscripts, provided feedback, and in the interim period between meetings, alerted each other of upcoming readings of interest.

Over the last four years since we began, we’ve grown by one member. And, although we’ve experienced many changes in our lives, we have continued meeting. Many of us have shifted jobs, two of us said goodbye to daughters leaving for college, and one of us retired. Several of us completed our manuscripts and our newest member, Meeta Kaur (Cedar 06), successfully published an anthology, Her Name is Kaur: Sikh American Women Write About Love, Courage and Faith. She Writes Press (April 8, 2014)

At one of our recent meetings, Cherilyn Parsons (Oak 98; Waterfall 06) came to her turn to speak, looked at the food, and became teary-eyed. “I really need this nurturing,” she said, “I’ve been working so hard.” One of Cherilyn’s big dreams has been to organize a literary book festival in the Bay Area in 2015. She is leading this massive project on top of finishing her novel, and she had a meeting scheduled that Sunday after our group. “I don’t have time to be here but knew I really needed to be here.”

Being in a consistent and supportive community of women writers has helped me immensely. It has reminded me that I am not alone in this solitary pursuit; I have people I can reach out to for advice and inspiration. What better companions in a writing journey than writers who share Hedgebrook in common? They have been and continue to be one of life’s blessings – another way that the magic of Hedgebrook glows within us long after our residencies have come and gone.

 

sara campos imageSara Campos is a lawyer and a writer living in Berkeley. She has published fiction and poetry in St. Ann’s Review, Penwomanship, LongStoryShort, The Womanist, NewversesNews, and Crux. She has also published essays in the San Francisco Chronicle Magazine, the San Francisco Examiner, the San Francisco Daily Journal and The Recorder and her book reviews have appeared in Waterbridge Reviews and www.beyond chron.org. Her most recent writings on immigration appeared in International Migration, U.S. Immigration Law and Civil Society: From the Pre-Colonial Era to the 113th Congress, (Scalabrini Migration Network 2014). She is currently writing a historical novel set in Guatemala.

 

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Hedgebrook supports visionary women writers whose stories and ideas shape our culture now and for generations to come. The opinions expressed here are not necessarily representative of the opinions of Hedgebrook, its staff or board members.

2 Comments

  • Deborah Davis
    5:20 PM - 11 December, 2014

    Lovely piece, Sara!

  • Florencia Milito
    9:02 PM - 3 February, 2015

    Hi Sara,

    This sounds great. How often does your group meet? Do you have space for a new member? Warmly, Florencia (Waterfall, 2007)

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