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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 Hedgebrook Guest

Sonora Jha Interviews Donna Miscolta

We asked Summer Salon teachers Sonora Jha and Donna Miscolta to interview each other for the Hedgebrook Farmhouse Table Blog. Look for Donna’s interview with Sonora next week!

Sonora: You came to writing later in life, after an education and career in everything BUT writing. What part of this do you regret, if at all? And what part do you love?

Donna: Part of the reason why I came to writing late was I had long believed that it wasn’t possible for people like me to write books, and even if I had thought it possible, I didn’t believe that I myself was capable of such a thing. I regret that it took so long for me to believe. If I had come to writing earlier, it would’ve meant more years in which to learn to write and more years to produce work. My first book was published when I was 58. I turn 63 this year when my second book comes out. I’ve just finished a new novel manuscript and am two-thirds of the way through another one. My kids are grown and retirement from my day job is on the horizon. And though I feel some momentum in writing, I also feel the pressure of time. So, is there a part that I love about coming to writing later in life? I guess I just love that I came to it at all.

  Read more

By Hedgebrook Guest

On Making The Overtly Feminist Performance That’swhatshesaid

I have this belief that as a performer, my true identity and self is inherently present and important in everything I do. This, by definition, is the exact opposite of acting. Maybe that’s why I don’t call myself an actor any more.

I used to, though. Proudly introduce myself as an actor. There was totally a Chorus Line fantasy fulfilled in the auditions I used to attend. I’d hop on the bus, poring over my monologues and drinking lemon ginger honey tea (good for your voice, I heard!). I’d get to the audition way too early, smile a lot, ignore the other 40 women warming up in the hallway, say my ‘thank you!’s and ‘look forward to hearing from you!’s and then do it all over again the next day. So glamorous! So fun! Living the dream!

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By Hedgebrook Guest

How Satya Nadella sounds a lot like my brother and why that is not a good thing.

I had just emerged from teaching a class in media studies at Seattle University last Thursday when I saw numerous posts on social media about remarks made by Satya Nadella. The recently installed Microsoft CEO was acting as the keynote speaker at a female-focused technology event when he was asked if he had any advice for women who are uncomfortable asking for promotions.

“It’s not really about asking for the raise, but knowing and having faith that the system will actually give you the right raises as you go along,” he said. “That might actually be one of the superpowers that women who don’t ask for raises have, because that’s good karma.”   Read more

By Courtney Meaker

Walking While Fat and Female – Or, Why I Don’t Care Not All Men are Like That

I started walking between 5 and 12 miles a day about year after I moved to Seattle. The main motivator was a crippling anxiety about being late coupled with an inconsistent public transportation system (that will now become less consistent, yippee). Additionally, working in an industry with late nights (I house manage for various theaters) means that if you’re reliant on public transit, you will be waiting for an hour at a scary bus stop with Mr. and Mrs. Meth Addict at 1:30 in the morning. Walking became a way for me to take control of my commute. It was my time. Four mile walk to work. Four mile walk back. In the rain. In the dark. In the cold. Every season. Sometimes with tunes. Sometimes with “Stuff You Missed in History Class.” Sometimes talking to myself. And sometimes with silence.   Read more

By Sonora Jha

Of Awards and Rewards

Some mornings, you don’t want to wake up to your alarm clock. You want to wake up to your smartphone buzzing from people tweeting your handle (there are at least three words in this sentence that wouldn’t make sense to anyone a few years ago). That’s how I awoke on Monday morning, eyes squinting to read the alerts about my book ‘Foreign‘ being longlisted for the DSC Prize for South Asian Literature.

My first response to this was disbelief. It’s the same response I had to the news last month that ‘Foreign’ was shortlisted for the Shakti Bhatt First Book Award.

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By Jen Marlowe

Taking A Deep Breath

 

“Troy sat in his cell, hunched over on his bed, waiting for the horrifying moment when the lights would flicker, indicating that a high-voltage current of electricity was coursing through Chris’s body. Every man on the row twitched in silent agony when the flickering began at 9:50pm. Troy knelt on the hard floor, gripping the steel frame of his bed tightly, and prayed for his friend…”

These words (which come from the new book I AM TROY DAVIS which I co-authored with Troy Davis’s sister Martina Davis-Correia) were read aloud on Sept 20–the eve of the 2nd anniversary of Troy’s execution–at our NYC Book Launch at St. Mary’s Episcopal Church in Harlem. It was not me reading this passage from the book; it was Lawrence Hayes, a death row exonoree.   Read more

By Susan Rich

Thank you to the wonderful women, to Hedgebrook and to SAM

Thank you to the wonderful women who came out yesterday to my ekphrastic poetry workshop at the Seattle Art Museum sponsored by Hedgebrook.

I’m always utterly amazed and humbled by women who put themselves in my hands; who allow me to share what I know about poetry and art. Writing is often a solitary experience and we writers tend toward the shy side. But here were 23 women, most whom I had never met before. They came out to learn about the history of visual art and poetry and finally to share their work. We had women that were in their first poetry workshop and women who are well published. There were photographers, journalists, gallery owners and even a gospel singer!   Read more

By Susan Rich

We Did It! What I Learned Doing The Improbable Places Poetry Tour

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Wow. The inaugural event of The Improbable Places Poetry Tour + 1 surpassed my wildest dreams. We read poems (+ one short story) in our pajamas, read poems (and one short essay) bouncing on the Author Suite’s bed at the Alexis Hotel, and celebrated in style. The quote of the night belonged to one attendee, “I never expected to have so much fun at a poetry reading.”

So what made this a different kind of poetry event? Well, what didn’t make it different?   Read more

By Hedgebrook Staff

The Joy of Women Who Eat

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I am sitting at a coffeeshop and catching up on some work. On the way to the coffeehouse, the idea for this post came to me: writing about how awesome it is to be in the company of women who like to eat. I mean really eat.

I am not talking about grabbing coffee or tea with friends and sharing a pastry. Or having soup and salad with a friend and feeling vaguely virtuous afterwards.

I am talking about the joy of watching Kelsye, my co-worker, attack a meatball, turkey and bacon sandwich which dwarfed her small frame. Or at Hedgebrook staff meetings where we take the first bite of whatever Denise has made us (her mac and cheese and enchiladas are my favorites). That first bite where all the women emit a visceral “Oh my GAWD this is so good!!!!” whether it’s audible or not. (Sometimes that feeling comes out in a sigh of relief and appreciation, barely louder than a whisper.)

At Hedgebrook, you EAT. You EAT with WOMEN. Powerful women. Soulful women. Intelligent women. Irreverent women. Women who have won Pulitzer Prizes. Women whose writing you watch on television the next day. Revolutionary women. Women who make you take stock of who you are, what are you doing to make the world a better place, what are you eating and the company you keep when you are eating.   Read more

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