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by Hedgebrook Staff

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Ann Hedreen is a writer and a Hedgebrook alumna. We asked her about her work and about being a Woman Authoring Change.


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

I do write in many genres. My day job is making documentary films with my husband. I am the writing/producing/interviewing half of the team. Every year, we do about a dozen commissioned short films for nonprofits, and we also make documentaries of our own choosing when we can. We’re working on one now that is set in a handmade settlement outside Lima. It will be a blend of journalism and memoir: there’s a family angle—my great uncle lived there—and there are themes of home and migration.

Our clients include organizations that help people find housing and jobs, fight wage theft, support public schools, bring art and culture to a wider public, deal with grief, solve global and public health problems. It is hard to describe how much the people I interview for these films inspire me. I also write radio essays every week for KBCS, which I post, often in a slightly expanded version, on my blog, called The Restless Nest. And I write occasional magazine articles and OpEds. Now, to my delight (and with gratitude to Hedgebrook for giving me time, space and courage to get started) I’m also known as a book author. My memoir, Her Beautiful Brain, about my remarkable mom and how her younger-onset Alzheimer’s disease rocked my family’s life, was published in late 2014. I’m working on another book about faith and doubt, tentatively titled The Observant Doubter. I also want to put together a collection of Restless Nest pieces.


Do you consider yourself an activist?

Yes and no. I started my career as a journalist, so I got used to taking refuge behind the façade of professional neutrality. After shifting into public affairs writing and advocacy film-making, I began to grow more comfortable taking a stand, and something interesting began to happen: I found that writing for clients—no matter how wonderful and well-intentioned, because they all are—made me hunger to write in my own voice. I discovered that I have a strong desire to write on subjects that matter not only to me personally but in a larger way. For example, one of the reasons I wrote Her Beautiful Brain was because I wanted people to understand what Alzheimer’s looks like and what a profound ripple effect it has. I wanted to motivate people to volunteer for research, donate to the cause, but most importantly, be more empathetic next time the encounter someone with dementia. But I didn’t want to motivate readers through polemic and haranguing; I wanted to do it by telling one story—my mother’s—poetically and honestly. My mother’s life also encompassed a huge amount of social change—she weathered two divorces, went back to college at 39 while still raising six children, became a teacher and was my first true feminist role model. It was important to me to write that part of her story, too.


Would you characterize your writing as activist? Why or why not?

I would say no, in the sense that I rarely include a specific call to action. But perhaps yes, in the sense that it is my hope that what I write will influence some people to think about an issue differently. I might be a stealthy activist.


What impact do you hope your writing will have in the world?

See above!


What’s the best feedback you’ve received from a reader/audience member?

I will never ever get tired of hearing some version of: “Thank you. I know you were writing about your life, but you captured something I have felt too.” I’ve heard this from people who have had a family member with Alzheimer’s. I’ve also heard it from Restless Nest readers and listeners, who especially seem to love pieces like the one I wrote a few years ago called “Oops, I Forgot to Get Rich.”


About Ann Hedreen:

Ann Hedreen is the author of the memoir Her Beautiful Brain (She Writes Press, 2014). Her Restless Nest commentaries can be heard on KBCS radio. She teaches memoir writing twice a year at Seattle Central College. Ann and her husband Rustin Thompson own White Noise Productions and together have made more than 100 documentary films, including Quick Brown Fox: an Alzheimer’s Story. Their current project is a documentary film called Zona Intangible, set in Peru. Ann and Rustin have two grown-up children and live in south Seattle. Ann’s writing has also appeared in Seattle Metropolitan Magazine, the Seattle Times and other publications. She has a BA from Wellesley College, an MFA from Goddard College and is an alumna of Hedgebrook. She is on the Marketing and Communications Committee of the Alzheimer’s Association’s Western & Central Washington chapter and is a member of Women in Film Seattle.



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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.

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