Writer, with a Capital “W”

By Hedgebrook Guest

Categories: Alum Experiences,

I applied to Hedgebrook nearly twenty years ago as a young poet with a journalism day job and a love for putting words together.

Today, dozens of proposals later, I teach artists and writers how to write kick-ass proposals. We work on writing applications that are Shiny, Persuasive, Authentic, Real, and – of course – Killer.

That spark is what makes an application leap from the pile. Sometimes it comes out naturally and easily the first time; often, it can be coaxed and elicited through a smart writing and revision strategy.

But back when I applied, I had no formal education in poetry, no idea that a creative writing “career” was possible, and no application strategy whatsoever. I’d learned about Hedgebrook from another writer of color, Gloria Yamato. We were part of an emerging circle of queer women of color in the Bay Area who were learning and writing and performing our craft.

On Gloria’s say-so, I sent away for the application, and it came in the mail. I hand-wrote my earnest, heartfelt answers in my journal before typing them into the form, using a typewriter at the public library. Then I printed out my best poems on the library’s dot-matrix printer. I mailed them back with the now-obsolete SASE, which has gone the way of the beeper and the dinosaur.

Hedgebrook in the mid-1990s was far less competitive than it is today, and I was thrilled to be granted a five-week residency. I took a leave from my newspaper job, packed my fancy dual-floppy-drive Macintosh 128k in its carrying bag into my red Geo Tracker, and drove up to Seattle with an overnight pit stop in a somewhat scary motel.

On the first day, we all introduced ourselves: Minal, Marusya, Karen, Emily, Mary, Gloria.

On the second day, through conversation, I realized that “Gloria” was Gloria Anzaldúa, one of my writing heroes. “Wow,” I said about a dozen times, gazing at her in awe. Graciously, she said “wow” back, with a sweet smile.

It was an unspeakable privilege to be her peer for the next five weeks, to share meals and work in progress. Through dozens of moves, I have kept a treasured copy of my very first short story, marked up with her generous comments.

Hedgebrook was the first place where I was treated as a Writer, capital W. The experience of those five weeks was one of coming home, and it became a touchstone of my writing life ever after.

The ‘old girls network’ also transformed my life when a Hedgebrook alum, Gabrielle Idlet, launched a writers fellowship program at the Sundance Institute. She called Hedgebrook for recommendations for California nonfiction writers, and then-Executive Director Linda Bowers shared my name. Of course, I applied.

The Sundance fellowship led me to another mentor, who suggested I apply for a yearlong National Arts Journalism Fellowship at Columbia. There, I developed the proposal for my first book, which sold, allowing me to leave my day job forever. I will be indebted to Hedgebrook forever.

Although I’ve landed at other residencies and writing communities since, many of my most cherished writerly connections come from the powerful and gorgeous Hedgebrook alumnae network. With every relationship and proposal and “hey you should know so-and-so” that we share, Hedgebrook has been a crucial part of my path as a writer and now a teacher, particularly as one creating outside the MFA structure.

Poetry and creative writing are a much more organized business now. There are databases of writing residencies, and social media groups devoted to strategizing.

Still, in every application pool, it is the clear, passionate, original voice that stands out. So in my proposals course, we begin, always, with this instruction from Gloria:

“Write with your eyes like painters, with your ears like musicians, with your feet like dancers. You are the truthsayer with quill and torch. Write with your tongues of fire. Don’t let the pen banish you from yourself. Don’t let the ink coagulate in your pens. Don’t let the censor snuff out the spark, nor the gags muffle your voice. Put your shit on the paper.”

Thank you, Hedgebrook, for finding and nurturing that spark in each of us.

 

Learn more about the Writers in Residence program.

 

About the Author:

Minal-webMinal Hajratwala teaches Write Like A Unicorn. Her most recent book is Bountiful Instructions for Enlightenment.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


 

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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.

1 Comment

  • Franci McMahon
    3:12 PM - 7 August, 2015

    Minal, Thank you for this blog about your experience. This quote is one of the most stirring and beautiful, plus down-to-earth and useful of any I’ve read about the writing process.
    “Write with your eyes like painters, with your ears like musicians, with your feet like dancers. You are the truthsayer with quill and torch. Write with your tongues of fire. Don’t let the pen banish you from yourself. Don’t let the ink coagulate in your pens. Don’t let the censor snuff out the spark, nor the gags muffle your voice. Put your shit on the paper.”

    So, thank you for making it available to me.
    Franci McMahon, Owl cabin circa 2003?

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