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By Kathleen Alcalá

Kathleen Alcalá

In 1989, I was asked to interview Nancy Skinner Nordhoff about her new endeavor, a writing retreat for women. We spent part of a day talking. I think we drove from Seattle to Whidbey together, so she could show me what form her ideas were beginning to take, how her dreams were turning into something real. I had a lot of dreams too, so I was anxious to see what this looked like, given the resources.

Nancy described how her marriage had fallen apart, leaving her to reinvent herself from the good wife and good mother, roles she had filled to the best of her ability to – whatever she wanted or needed to be. She took a good hard look at what she saw for the future, and how to turn her considerable skills and assets into something practical and useful to those without such resources.

Nancy described a cross-country car trip and how she was drawn to rural spaces, found herself wanting to press her nose to the windows of farmhouses, yearning to join the circle of family she imagined inside. Her friend, a midwife, helped Nancy focus her yearning into a specific goal, a creative space where women could feel safe, didn’t need to do domestic work, and could support and encourage each other. It was a space in which their creative work could take precedence, and be their major focus, if only for a few short weeks. I could not help but wonder what was in this for Nancy. I have worked for non-profits most of my life, but understanding the motivations of people who, to me, seem to have so much more agency than the rest of us remains mysterious.

I remember feeling intense waves coming off Nancy. How I suddenly became a sounding board, and felt the need to be very careful not to say anything that would limit her exploration. I am generally tone deaf when it comes to other’s emotions. In addition, I was a bit overwhelmed with my own emotions that day. I admitted my recent failure at retaining a leadership position at a difficult organization. It had happened so recently, that I was still in shock at how badly things had gone.

Nancy suggested that I spend some time myself at the residency, a chance at some stolen time in paradise.

So I had to share another secret with Nancy. There was a limited amount of time I could spend, even at a dream residency. What had started out as a general interview for publication was turning into a series of big reveals. Nancy offered me a residency at Hedgebrook for two weeks in the fall, when the first four cottages would be ready, and I agreed. This was probably late spring or early summer at the time.

In late September, my belly swelled out to there, I moved into one of the cottages. I know other Hedgebrook residents form deep attachments to their particular cottage. I have since stayed for short visits in two or three of them, and always loved all of them the way one loves her aunties. They have collectively nurtured me with their benign, nonjudgmental spaces. The murmuring trees, the talkative owls, the path through the cedar deep, all have combined to supply that “Yes, and…” that allows a writer to fill that blank space with her own words.

What I do remember are the other three women who stayed at the same time. Dana Stabenow, upon meeting me, promptly offered to deliver my baby if I went into labor early. She had EMT training! I demurred, politely I think, holding out for full term. Amy Pence was a poet, and the fourth, Susan Brown, was working on children’s books. All have produced several or many books since then, raised families of either books or children, and effected positive change in the world not only as writers, but as teachers, parents, philanthropists, and general wise women.

I had already written my first collection of stories by the time I got to Hedgebrook, but managed to produce the first forty pages of what would become Spirits of the Ordinary, my first novel, in the two weeks I spent on that magic isle. Oh yes: On October 19 of that year, my son Benjamin was born, the first “Hedgebrook baby,” and certainly the first male to spend the night in a Hedgebrook cottage. I had an easy pregnancy and birth, and I attribute much of it to the affirmation I received at Hedgebrook. Looking back, I see how much more of the world Nancy understood than I did at that time, that giving women time and creative space might be one of the greatest ways to heal the earth, and oneself. I have tried to give back in my own way, mostly through teaching, but also by trying to be present when someone needs an ear, and answer the inevitable questions about the writing and publishing process. I will never forget what Nancy taught me, and what she offered me during my time of greatest joy out of her great need to heal.

 

 

By Guest Author

A Safe Space in Tuscany By Katrina Woznicki

It’s not easy to sell off the last of your stock holdings, the very last thing you bought in your own name years ago, back when you were flush and earned a healthy bimonthly paycheck. Yet that’s exactly what I did to attend Hedgebrook’s Master Class in Tuscany with Hannah Tinti. I didn’t need to return to Italy; I had just been there the previous year. But Hedgebrook is different. And the experience proved to be worth every penny.

Honestly, I can’t even begin to place a dollar value on my week there because this particular writers’ retreat was like no other. I want to call it magical, life-changing, life-affirming, all those other “feel-good” words you see on the cover of Oprah magazine because they’re all true. I’ve attended writers’ conferences before; I’ve been workshopped by rock-star authors. Hedgebrook delivered something different: community that’s committed to ensuring that every woman is heard.

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The Bookshelves of Hedgebrook by Ayobami Adebayo

When I was packing for my Hedgebrook residency, I chose four big novels and two anthologies to see me through the month I was to spend on Whidbey Island. I haven’t left the house without a book since I was teenager and travelling to another country without taking novels with me is still unimaginable.

At the airport in Lagos, a customs officer rummaged through the carefully arranged contents of my suitcase before I could check it in.

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Hedgebrook Authoring Change – Interview of Rahna Reiko Rizzuto

Tell us about your work as a writer—do you write in multiple genres/forms?

Sadly, yes. I’m a self-taught writer, so every time I write a book, I have to teach myself to write all over again, and it’s not a quick process. For my first novel, Why She Left Us, I read like crazy and mapped out the books I liked to figure out what a novel was. I dissected them, teaching myself everything from how to end a chapter to how to format dialogue.

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Nostalgic for Some Radical Hospitality

What I wouldn’t give to be in the soothing, lulling calm of Hedgebrook Farms right now. I could use a little radical hospitality of the soul post November 8.

I had the good fortune to attend a Master Class last June and while I can’t say it radically changed my life I would definitely say it substantially altered the course of my work.

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By Guest Author

Alumna Reflection: Elissa Washuta

In 2009, nearing the completion of my MFA in creative writing, I sat in on a panel of faculty and alumni who shared their post-MFA experiences and let us in on their secrets of productivity after the quarterly deadlines disappeared. This was the first time I’d ever heard of a writing residency.

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Alumna Reflection

I arrived to my Hedgebrook residency in February 2015 with a pile of grocery bag paper, fabric scraps, pens and glue sticks, and a few finished pages for my second book, Death Is Stupid. I was there to illustrate the story I’d written about a child facing his grandmother’s death while adults say stupid things to him, like “she’s in a better place.”

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By Guest Author

An Enchanted Summer at Hedgebrook

In the solitude at Hedgebrook I was pulled from the deepest darkest parts of myself, showing up as a writer each day. My daily routine that summer was a part of the process, waking up before sunrise, wandering through the silence of trees to the bathhouse, picking flowers in the garden for my cottage at Oak, making myself coffee and two boiled eggs from my basket—which was stocked each night in the main house with goodies for the next writing day—and returning to my desk to work until late afternoon.

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By Guest Author

You’re Here Because You’re Good

I received my acceptance letter from Hedgebrook in December 2013, a few months after I earned my MFA and returned to the Philippines with the intention of finishing a draft of my novel while living rent-free with my parents. It came at a time when I felt the pressure to prove to those who knew me that I was not flailing around after getting my degree or falling short of their expectations.

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By Hedgebrook Guest

I Hedgebrooked My Life

Residencies and Master Classes at Hedgebrook should come with a warning: This will change your life.

I spent the first two weeks of August 2015 at Hedgebrook. My goal was to finish a book I’d been writing for ten years – and I did.

At Hedgebrook, I did the same thing every day: woke up, brewed coffee, made toast with peanut butter and banana, and wrote until I was so hungry I had to stop to eat whatever amazing creation I’d carried in my basket the night before. Then I walked on the beach until dinner.   Read more

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