Radical Hospitality: The Leap of Faith

By Christine O'Connor

Categories: General, Women's Voices,

“When you are served with so much love and nurturing, from the garden to the table to the cottages—someone believes that what we have to say is important.”

– Suheir Hammad, poet

At the core of our writers in residence program here at Hedgebrook is the ethos we refer to as “radical hospitality”: each writer who comes to the retreat is offered her own comfortable cottage, delicious food and complete control over how she spends her time, with the only requirement being that she gather for dinner in the evening with the other women in residence. Women are selected for our residency program from all over the world and from all over the career spectrum: published authors and beginners alike. All who have competed for and won a residency are offered the chance to explore their own creativity at their own pace.

Gloria Steinem serves on our Creative Advisory Council, lucky for us! She describes Hedgebrook this way: “It’s as if women have taken their 5,000 years of nurturing experience and turned it on each other.”

Women are often in roles in which they are expected to offer hospitality, where the gifts of nurturing and support have in a way been robbed from them, demanded rather than honored as gifts. Whether it be the woman who works in the “hospitality industry” cleaning motel rooms at one end of the economic spectrum or the trophy wife who must open her home to guests who will criticize her taste behind her back on the other: both are robbed of what should be theirs to give.

At Hedgebrook, we reclaim this work as gift and offer it to women. We are confident that this honoring inspires the amazing experiences that our alumnae often share with us.

There’s a delightful word play in the roots of the word “hospitality” itself. “Hospes” refers to guest, while “hostes” means enemy. That one letter difference perhaps captures the lived experience of human beings meeting someone new: will this new person become a friend or an enemy? There is a leap of faith in that first handshake of welcome. Many ancient cultures had a sacred practice of welcoming the stranger, since he or she might be coming to warn of a marauding army a mile away or with news of a friend or child who had gone to war.

At Hedgebrook, we take a similar leap of faith: we believe that what our writers have to say is important and we want them to know that. We communicate this with a hospitable intention that inspires the staff and board, be it in the placement of a box of Kleenex or a coaster in just the right spot or a thank you note to a donor.

And meals—oh, the meals! In a tradition that embodies the practice of claiming the gift, our chefs prepare the evening meal and then join the writers at the farmhouse table for food and conversation. Any sense of hierarchy between server and served is deliberately erased. At the end of the meal, the writers are told that they cannot clear the table and there is so much laughter as the residents struggle with this request! It is so “normal” for women to feel responsible for cleaning up after a meal and yet the practice is to remind them that they are here for other work.

We know that this leap of faith inspires us, as well: every application read, every batch of muffins baked, every head of lettuce harvested from the organic garden, every duvet cover laundered becomes a gift.

That’s how we seek to transform the world.

1 Comment

  • H.
    2:57 AM - 21 July, 2011

    It is so curious, the feminine compulsion (in my case) to clean, to nurture, to create order and harmony, all the while (often) creative work languishes. This “Radical Hospitality: Leap of Faith” your offer is so powerful; I am certain it will change the work, change the world… if we will only allow it.

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