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By Kuri Jallow

Women Writers Reflect on the Pandemic

As we face a future unknown, reflection becomes even more critical to our wellbeing. Human expression is uniquely able to offer us a way to process our existential thoughts and fears, while connecting deeply to our humanity through emotions.

That connection to humanity feels more critical now, as the realities of COVID-19 unfold. Through the stories of others, we can leap over divides of culture, race, class, and nationality. We can traverse the boundaries imposed by social distancing orders, feel, empathize, think, realize, and commune.

We are also reminded of how important it is to consider whose perspective are being reflected in the daily onslaught news, media, and commentary. In these days of crisis, even the strongest resolve to think broadly can be challenged. It is only with our eyes open and our head up that we can begin to see a new way forward. With this in mind, we bring you a recent selection of women writing about the pandemic, our world, and our future. 

Added May, 1st 2020

What the Coronavirus Means for Climate Change: https://www.nytimes.com/2020/03/27/opinion/sunday/coronavirus-climate-change.html

Coronavirus Holds Key Lessons on How to Fight Climate Change: https://e360.yale.edu/features/coronavirus-holds-key-lessons-on-how-to-fight-climate-change

Tackling Climate Change with COVID-19 Urgency: https://www.project-syndicate.org/commentary/tackling-climate-change-with-covid19-urgency-by-mary-robinson-and-daya-reddy-2020-04

Someday, We’ll Look Back on All of This and Write a Novel: https://www.nytimes.com/2020/03/17/books/review/sloane-crosley-pandemic-novel-coronavirus.html

The Risks of Being A Woman During the Pandemic: https://www.thenation.com/article/society/coronavirus-feminism-domestic-violence/

No Room of One’s Own: https://www.insidehighered.com/news/2020/04/21/early-journal-submission-data-suggest-covid-19-tanking-womens-research-productivity

Women And The Frontlines Of COVID-19: https://www.forbes.com/sites/naomicahn/2020/04/05/women-and-the-frontlines-of–covid-19/#6586f97b7030

The Coronavirus Is a Disaster for Feminism: https://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2020/03/feminism-womens-rights-coronavirus-covid19/608302/

Days Without Name: On Time in the Time of Coronavirus: https://lithub.com/days-without-name-on-time-in-the-time-of-coronavirus/

Op-Ed: Surprised that black people have a higher risk of death from COVID-19? I’m not: https://www.latimes.com/opinion/story/2020-04-26/op-ed-surprised-that-black-people-have-a-higher-risk-of-death-from-covid-19-im-not

Facebook Covid 19 Grant Program for Small Businesses Puts Inclusivity Front and Center: https://www.forbes.com/sites/soniathompson/2020/04/13/facebooks-covid-19-grant-program-for-small-businesses-puts-inclusivity-front-and-center/

Why people are Experiencing Particularly Vivid Dreams During Lockdown?: https://www.google.com/amp/s/www.independent.co.uk/life-style/lockdown-coronavirus-dreams-vivid-strange-sleep-emotional-state-a9486206.html%3famp

Help for Corona Anxiety: https://www.nytimes.com/2020/03/18/smarter-living/coronavirus-anxiety-tips.html

Sarah Ladipo Manyika’s piece starts at the 49:30 mark: https://www.kalw.org/term/sarah-manyika?fbclid=IwAR36471qS-5e1wJ_00n5DguWynmXmkU0HszzA-3JLaNjseExoRxPN3Ss7Io#stream/0

The Gender Gap is Working from Home: https://www.vanityfair.com/style/2020/04/dispatches-from-the-gender-gap-motherhood-in-the-time-of-coronavirus

Voting Rights, Running Mate(?), Covid-19: https://www.elle.com/culture/career-politics/a32132819/stacey-abrams-on-voting-rights-covid-19-and-being-vice-president/

The Way We Live Now With Dani Shapiro: https://www.iheart.com/podcast/1119-the-way-we-live-now-60870096/

Krista Tippet on the Gifts We Give to the Future World: https://onbeing.org/programs/living-the-questions-feel-okay-when-we-arent-doing/

Not Hiding Our Kids Anymore: https://www.vogue.com/article/how-work-life-balance-has-changed-coronavirus

Beautiful Babies Being Born: https://www.nybooks.com/daily/2020/04/02/corona-maman-a-paris-clinics-first-covid-19-delivery/

It’s Like 9/11 (this just hit me because of my personal experiences): https://pulitzercenter.org/reporting/new-york-silent

Stories from Seattle: The House With the Mossy Roof: http://www.seattlemag.com/city-life/stories-seattle-house-mossy-roof

 Added in April 

Creative Caregiving: https://hedgebrook.org/writes-speak-about-covid-19/

Gratitude: “Mindful” by Mary Oliver

Keeping Safe: https://medium.com/@amcarter/i-had-no-immune-system-for-months-after-my-bone-marrow-transplant-1b097f16040c

through Global Eyes: https://africasacountry.com/2020/03/homesick-notes-on-lockdown?fbclid=IwAR3AR3PQFwnFJZ21ZKFeU02p-ds9hh0Andzf6H81ikje68lWDEfOWwbHIGU

Washington Writers respond to Coronavirus: https://crosscut.com/2020/03/notes-pandemic-washington-writers-respond-coronavirus

Dr. Yasmin and FAQ: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JnD5nGbGW4g&feature=youtu.be

A Personal Quarantine: https://www.nybooks.com/daily/2020/03/26/since-i-became-symptomatic/

Keep The Creative Fires Burning: http://booksbywomen.org/how-do-you-keep-creative-writing-alive-in-the-time-of-coronavirus/

Is Coronavirus More Deadly for Men? https://www.latimes.com/science/story/2020-03-21/why-is-the-coronavirus-more-deadly-for-men-than-for-women

A Viral Online Movement During Global Pandemic: https://www.expressnews.com/news/local/article/How-one-San-Antonio-woman-helped-create-a-viral-15156644.php

Is the Virus a Disaster for Feminism? https://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2020/03/feminism-womens-rights-coronavirus-covid19/608302/

Its Like a Remote Sleepover’ My Week Meeting Quarantined Strangers: https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2020/mar/27/quarantine-chat-app-coronavirus-phone-calls-isolated-people

Washington Writers respond to Coronavirus: https://crosscut.com/2020/03/notes-pandemic-washington-writers-respond-coronavirus

Where’s the Love? https://bumble.com/the-buzz/amp/datingduringcrisis

Coronavirus: I’m in Lockdown With my Abuser: https://www.bbc.com/news/world-52063755

Lockdowns Around the World Bring rise in Domestic Violence: https://www.theguardian.com/society/2020/mar/28/lockdowns-world-rise-domestic-violence

By Gabrielle James

Reflections From Summer Camp

In the summer of 2014, approximately 40 youth converged at the Whidbey Institue for the inaugural Y-We Write summer camp, a partnership with Young Women Empowered. Since then, over 200 young people have participated in the program. Writing workshops are led by Hegdebrook alumnae in fiction, spoken word, songwriting, and more.

Two of Hedgebrook’s teaching artists look back on this past summer’s Y-We Write summer camp and the transformative impact it has for all who participated.

Shannon Humphrey

Y-WE was an amazing experience, and I get as much experience as the students. They are invigorating with their curiosity, vulnerability, and passion. It is inspiring for me to watch them channel all of that into purposeful creatively. Their questions, suggestions, and support of one another do not cease to amaze me. I’m thrilled to have done it for two years in a row. Before I arrive, it feels challenging to set aside the business of life and put everything on hold, but once I get to Y-WE and the students’ hugs and anticipation, I’m so grateful. You know, it’s that part about needing a break from life but not knowing it until it happens. Their energy and love feed me too, and I come home rejuvenated. Thank you, Hedgebrook family, for helping make that a reality for them and us, the writers!

Amber Flame

Y-WE is a magical experience. It makes sense that the land holding the camp gains magical properties as well. There is such serenity among the trees, such peace in the hearts of those who service Whidbey Institute, that a sense of true safety descends and every individual has the opportunity to explore their creativity to the fullest. Songwriting workshops led to a chorus of voices for collaborative pieces, the energy of the other workshops mingled over lunch discussions and fed our inspiration. The youth experimented above and beyond any expectations. My time with the other Hedgebrook teaching artists was soul-filling and deeply connective; we gazed at stars and bonded in that short week with the same intensity a residency at Hedgebrook fosters! And I filled my little cabin with joyful noise, recommitted to my own creative drive to practice what I preach.

By Hedgebrook Staff

Women Championing Each Other

Women Championing Each Other

By uplifting the voices of women and non-binary writers, we are fueling a revolution!

Hedgebrook is pleased to recognize two celebrated, New York Times bestselling authors – Elizabeth George (known for her Inspector Lynley crime novel series), and the late novelist Rona Jaffe (who penned the bestselling classic novel The Best of Everything) – and the five Hedgebrook writers being supported through their foundations as an example of the spirited alchemy of women authoring change.

Both Foundations hold a mission to support emerging women writers of exceptional talent through awards and grants. They support Hedgebrook by establishing fellowships that underwrite the writer’s residencies, with a stipend to help cover their travel.

ELIZABETH GEORGE FOUNDATION AWARDEES

Lily Padilla: a playwright receiving acclaim for their play How To Defend Yourself, winner of the Yale Drama Series Prize that took the 2019 Humana New Play Festival by storm. They teach playwriting and devised theatre at University of California-San Diego. 

Elaine Kim: a fiction writer, Fulbright Foundation Research Fellowship Grantee and NYFA Fellow, working on a novel about how we live after war and loss; how we make sense of the forces of history that squeeze and shape us; and how we embrace or shy away from being agents of change in our lives and in the world around us.

Margarita Ramirez Loya: a fiction writer and ESL instructor working on a YA novel set against the backdrop of the US-Mexico border during the Trump administration. Margarita’s story will be a bold testimony giving voice to young people currently being silenced and locked in cages.

Ama Codjoe: a poet working on her first full-length collection of poems, Iterations of Being, that investigate the identity of an African-American woman whose personal and familial stories stretch across both sides of the Atlantic, and the ideas of iteration, repetition, and transformation through subjects such as memory, girlhood, nature, and fertility. 

RONA JAFFE FOUNDATION AWARDEE

Leslie Blanco: an American writer with Cuban and French ascendants who often refers to her colorful cultural heritage in her writings and puts the characters of her fictions into a Cuban context. Leslie’s essays and fiction have appeared The Huffington Post, The Kenyon Review, PANK, and numerous others.

By Hedgebrook Guest

At a recent Hedgebrook Alumnae Gathering, we were talking about the love of writing (what else?), and when did we first start, and how did we keep it going? When I was in the 4th grade, I won the Little Hot Spot medal for writing the best essay in the city on safeguarding the home against fire. I got the morning off school, and my parents stood proudly by, as we went down to City Hall, and the mayor of New York City pinned an actual medal on my young chest, as the Marine Band played. I thought This writing life is something else.

In grade school, I started a neighborhood newspaper, and in high-school, I was co-editor of the weekly Timely Turtle Types, distributed among friends, mostly mocking our strict teachers and making fun of our own teenage foibles. Writing stories took the sting out.

So, early on, I learned that life is grist for the writer’s mill. When you’re a writer, you never stop writing, am I right? As a new mom, I wrote book reviews for The Baby Diaper News—and got free diapers in return. As a mother of four, I was busy, busy, busy; I combined writing with raising my family. I couldn’t stop to write, so I never stopped writing. I wrote restaurant reviews, so I could take the children out to dinner; I took them on day-trips and wrote up our adventures for The Seattle Times (my favorite: “Port Gamble, a Sure Bet for a Sunny Afternoon.”)

When James, my first-born, started school, I wrote an article about how he brought his pocket teddy bear named Yai-Yai, to class. Leave no rock unturned. This is a lesson I learned from my son Peter at age three. We took a walk down the block—and he stopped to examine every flower and stone, and say hi to neighbors I did not know. “A Day at Peter’s Pace” was my first national publication. With two published articles under my belt, I started teaching a class at the University of Washington, “Writing Articles for Publication.” I was brazen. The students had to submit query letters weekly as part of the class—so, guess what?—a lot of them got published.

When Peter turned four, I staged the birthday party aboard the ferry—children under five got to ride for free. Packed up the cake and treats and toy telescopes in a picnic basket, took Peter and his friends for a free ride, and, of course, wrote an article, with pictures, for the Sunday Magazine. Years later, when Peter was preparing for the SAT’s, we would board the same ferry in Edmonds at 6 o’clock at night. He would sit at one table and study; I would sit at another table nearby, writing. We would go back and forth across the Sound, and get off at 10:00, with four solid, uninterrupted hours of work under our belts.

Emily loved clouds, so we sat down together and wrote a book about clouds. When Katherine was a brand-new baby, I wrote an article for a national parenting magazine about how lambskin helped her sleep.

Come to think of it, my whole book, Put Your Heart on Paper, is filled with stories about the fun of writing with my family: writing lists with Emily, the thrill of writing an award-winning play with Peter, the closeness of co-authoring a book about the stars with James, the sweetness of finding notes from Katherine tucked in a shoe. When Peter punched a hole in the wall upstairs, when James’s truck broke down when Katherine wanted to ride her bike off the block, when Emily wanted me to buy her an expensive sweatshirt, we worked it out in our interactive journals. (I wrote an article for Writers’ Digest Personal Journaling Magazine called “A Diary for Two”).

I often sing in my head, sometimes fiercely, paraphrased from The Chorus Line, “God, I’m a WRITER, a writer WRITES.”

I love Mary Oliver’s Instructions for Living a Life

Pay Attention.

Be astonished.

Tell about it.

Wherever you are in life, look around you, write it up, send it in.

Henriette Anne Klauser, Ph.D.

Author and Speaker

Web: http://HenrietteKlauser.com/

Facebook: http://facebook.com/HenrietteKlauser/

By SassyBlack

Ancient Mahogany Gold

With the release of her new album Ancient Mahogany Gold, Hedgebrook Alum Relations Maven Kuri Jallow caught up with SassyBalck.

KJ: You’ve been doing this for a while, haven’t you? What inspired you to start writing and performing? 

SB: I have wanted to perform for as long as I can remember. Every time I saw a stage or a mic, I just wanted to get on it and share something. I wanted to get everyone’s attention and share myself. I started writing pretty early, but the first song I wrote was in 1997 when I first moved to Seattle from Hawaii. It was about love, and I can still sing it to this day. 

KJ: Why Ancient Mahogany Gold for this Album? 

SB: Those words just floated to me. I was working on a song, and the words came to me in the form of lyrics but stuck with me as the title of an album. The combination of these terms feel rich and hearty and strong and are an excellent representation of self-value and self-worth. 

“Ancient” – representing the age of our souls and spirits that we still struggle to understand. “Mahogany” – like the tree that stands firm and tall. Also, that word just rolls out of the mouth into the universe. And “Gold” – because it is the color of the sun and stars as we see them and holds value in our society. Also reference jazz, funk & soul classic “Golden Lady” by Stevie Wonder & “Sun Goddess” by Ramsey Lewis. There is so much more to it, but this is how I see it right now in this moment. 

KJ: You mention your experience at Hedgebrook helped in developing a song from this album. Can you tell us a bit more about that (and the name of the song)? 

SB: The song “Depression” was a work in progress when I went to stay at Hedgebrook in 2018. I was finally able to really release my outside world and give in to my music. I needed this break from reality like never before, so I dived into myself. In my sweet, serene cabin, I set up all my equipment and let my emotions flow. At that point “Depression” was still a skeleton of itself, a sketch. I was able to flesh out the song with lyrics and some harmonies, recorded in Ableton, my music production software, and with my SM58 mic. It was freeing. I worked on a lot of music and writing while there, but this is the song that made it out. 

KJ: Can you please share with our community how our Singer/Songwriter program impacted your music? 

SB: I didn’t quite understand Hedgebrook at first. It seemed too good to be true, but it’s not. It’s just what it says it is and it’s been a joy getting to learn more about the community and watch Hedgebrook continue to grow in all the ways an organization should and does over the years. I was lucky enough to be apart of the first class for the Singer/Songwriter program, and I can honestly say that it has strengthened my voice and my creativity as well as my community. It has been a blessing. 

KJ: What is next for SassyBlack? 

SB: I am working on a few things, including some short films I am writing and my first poetry book to come out spring 2020. Also music. Music will always be on the horizon for me.

Photo credit:  Texas Isaiah

By Grace Prasad

2001: A Writer’s Odyssey

Late last year, I sent a Facebook friend request to a writer I knew but had lost touch with years ago – a Chinese writer based in Oslo, Norway. I met He-Dong in the summer of 2001. 

She had sent an email to a mailing list of Hedgebrook alumnae in the Bay Area saying she was coming to visit and wanted to meet some people here. At the time, I was working as a freelance writer and had just started exploring my creative writing more deeply. My schedule was flexible, so I wrote back and offered to show her around when she arrived in San Francisco. I didn’t know anything about her other than she was a Chinese writer based in Europe, and we had both recently completed residencies at Hedgebrook.

We met a few days later and immediately hit it off. She was tall and slender, a few years older than me but with a girlish, playful personality. I took her to the Golden Gate Bridge, and we took pictures in the fog and complained about how cold it was (a rite of passage for all visitors to San Francisco). We explored the area around Fisherman’s Wharf and walked around with no set agenda except buying a few souvenirs. We met again the next day, and the next, and by the time she left, she was like a big sister to me.

Dong and I talked about writing and life. She gave me a copy of her book, Ask the Sun, which had been published in the U.S. by the Seattle-based press Women in Translation. She reassured me that age 32 was not too late for me to find love and that she’d been around the same age when she settled down with her partner. She showed me photo after photo of her sweet-faced baby girl, Yinni. Although she was enjoying her time in the States, she missed her daughter very much as this was the longest they’d ever been apart.

A few months after she left San Francisco, I remember emailing Dong to tell her that I’d met someone special and felt optimistic about the relationship. He turned out to be my future husband. Now, looking back on that time, I am filled with awe at what a transformative year 2001 was for me. Meeting Dong was just one of the chapters.

2001 began with a three-week residency at Hedgebrook. Even though I picked the coldest time of year, I loved everything about the landscape—the ferry ride to Whidbey Island, the gentle hills of the island, the crunching leaves as I walked around the property, the vegetable garden, resident llamas, and the pitch darkness each evening that allowed an unfiltered view of the stars.

I was incredibly content in Cedar Cottage. Here I was, a die-hard city girl, living in a cabin without phone or internet access, learning how to tend a fire in the wood-burning stove. How many hours did I spend staring at it, mesmerized by the glow and the heat and the relentless, untamed beauty of fire? I still remember the smell of wet leaves every time I left the cottage — the luxury of taking a long bath in the Bath House emerging in a cloud of scented steam.  And – of course – the homemade lunches delivered in a wicker basket.

But even more powerful than the feeling of being cradled by nature and cared for by the staff was the sense that I was there to do something important. That someone specifically created that space for me. It was my first ever experience of having a room of one’s own, in which to think and create without pressure or interruption. In which my only priority was to follow my artistic impulses. Being at Hedgebrook in such a peaceful, nurturing environment and in community with other women writers, was the first time I ever felt like my writing mattered. My words might find an audience one day.

At Hedgebrook, I wrote the rough draft of what would become my first published essay, “Projections,” about my experiences at an Asian American film festival in San Francisco during a period of heightened cross-strait tensions between China and Taiwan, coinciding with the hotly contested 2000 presidential election in Taiwan. The essay is nonlinear and experimental, yet is probably my most direct statement about Taiwanese nationhood and what it means to be Taiwanese. 

After I left Hedgebrook, I went to another writing residency for two months. Based on the strength of “Projections,” I was admitted to a private workshop with Japanese American poet and professor Garrett Hongo. It was in this class of about 15 writers that I first connected with Seventeen Syllables, an Asian American writing collective that’s been my most enduring literary home and source of lifelong friendships. Over the years we’ve read each other’s work and cheered each other on through book deals, fellowships, academic tenure, cross-country moves, weddings and the births of our children.

The summer of 2001, I met my now-husband, who is also a writer. My essay “Projections” was published in the Hedgebrook Journal, guest-edited by Kathleen Alcala. Then in the fall, I began my MFA program at Mills College and became part of another literary community.

So you can see why I look back fondly on 2001, a year in which my writing really took me places and gave me access to experiences and communities that contributed immensely to my growth as a writer. It all started at Hedgebrook; Hedgebrook was the first time someone said “yes” to my writing. Without that early encouragement, I don’t think I would have had the same trajectory.

And now we come full circle. A few weeks ago, I woke up one Saturday morning and was delighted when I saw that Dong accepted my Facebook friend request, after many years of being out of touch. She sent me a direct message and some photos, I responded with the same, each of us attempting to catch the other one up on the 15 or so years since we last communicated.

I’m still in awe of Dong. Sure we’ve both aged a bit, but her face is still youthful, her playfulness is now expressed through a purple streak in her hair. She now writes full-time after retiring from her job at the University of Oslo. Her adorable daughter is all grown up and studying abroad at Oxford. And she was equally delighted to see photos of my 11-year-old son.

I can’t wait to tell her that through some cosmic act of synchronicity, my husband has been invited to attend two music festivals in Oslo this summer. This time it will be her turn to show me around her city. I look forward to our reunion, 18 years after Hedgebrook first connected us.

By Gabrielle James

Eve Ensler with Amy Wheeler

In her latest book, The Apology, author Eve Ensler revisits her past to explore how and why she became the victim of years of physical, sexual, and psychological abuse at the hands of her father. She digs deep in search of answers, which lead her to channel the apology that she never received from her father. What she uncovered was life-altering.

Hedgebrook Executive Director Amy Wheeler interviewed Eve at Hugo House on June 14, 2019. The audio was recorded by KUOW.

Please note: This recording contains themes of sexual violence and unedited language of an adult nature.

Photos by: Kate Buzard

By Pamela Yates

“Borderlands,”

A documentary film currently in production

 It was just a whisper that grew into a roar. Three hundred people gathered, the next day 2,000 then 5,000, swelling to 7,000. They are on the move, women, children, and men fleeing violence, climate change, and hunger, walking thousands of miles en masse to the United States. It is a Central American exodus.

We were accompanying them, documenting whether their strength in numbers would ease the dangerous crossing across Mesoamerica. Could being together help them avoid having to pay human smugglers, the coyotes? Were they too big a group to be extorted by the narco-cartels roaming the land? Could any border crossing or wall stop that many people banding together?

 It’s all part of my new feature-length documentary, “Borderlands” currently in production, that focuses on Americans who are willing to risk it all to stand up to U.S. government policies and welcome these refugees. It’s a set of stories about “righteous persons” motivated by moral conviction and compassion. It shows how courageous actions can lead to mobilization and the defense of human rights in the face of hate and discrimination. Who we are as a nation is at stake: will the southern U.S. border become the Ellis Island of the 21st century, welcoming new immigrants to the American dream, or become a new version of the WWII internment camps that Japanese-American citizens were forced to endure?

One of these stories is about the women of No More Deaths/No Más Muertes, a humanitarian aid group in southern Arizona made up of young volunteers who hike the migrant trails of the Sonora desert leaving water and food so that the migrants won’t die from exposure. Border Patrol agents seek out the containers and empty the water. When No More Deaths published a video of the Border Patrol’s callous acts, federal officials struck back charging volunteers Zaachila Orozco-McCormick, Oona Holcomb and two others with littering and trespassing and put them on trial in a Federal Court. So not only is the government exposing people to high risk of death by forcing them to cross through ever more perilous parts of the desert, but they are also criminalizing those who try to help the migrants survive the crossing, resulting in even more people dying.

But the women of No More Deaths managed to flip the narrative while at trial and make it about the Federal Government’s cruelty. In their testimony, they brought attention to the humanitarian crisis triggered by policies intended to deter migrants by increasing risk of death at the border, creating a public relations disaster for the government. When the women were convicted of littering and trespassing and faced six months in federal jail, the government backed down and reduced their sentences to a fine and probation. They dropped charges against other humanitarian aid workers and declared a mistrial in the case against Scott Warren, another No More Deaths volunteer. Rather than the government’s action having a chilling effect, it has now emboldened many others to volunteer from around the country and walk the desert on the border, helping those in need.

Women of No More Deaths outside the Federal courtroom in Tucson, AZ. 

This is one of the stories that we will tell about Americans who, working together and individually, are challenging the anti-immigration narrative, from one of cruelty to one of humanity and welcome. In “Borderlands” we meet the women and men who are confronting unjust laws and are taking great risks to do the right thing, even downplaying those risks as they reflect on the courage of the migrants undertaking epic life-threatening journeys to come to the U.S.

Still from “Empathy,” a short film about the caravan’s journey

You can watch the three-minute film here: http://tinyurl.com/yyuekpzl

By Sylvia Arthur

Global Impact

One of the best things that happened when I opened my personal library to the public in Accra, Ghana, in December 2017, was also one of the first. It was on my second day when a small, shy teenager cautiously stepped through the door and into the middle of the space where she stood, transfixed, surrounded by books. “If I hadn’t brought her here today, she would’ve killed me,” her mum said, with a completely straight face. The girl remained stuck in her spot, her mouth slightly agape, oblivious to her mother’s obvious frustration. Recognizing her daughter’s state of suspension, the older woman resigned herself to her fate and took up residence in one of the tub chairs. “She’s so excited,” she said, gazing at her child. Pride had replaced annoyance.

When I told the girl she could borrow two books, her eyes glistened, as if tears werethreatening to form, and she immediately reached for Women, Race, and Class by Angela Davis and Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s We Should All Be Feminists. I was so impressed by her choices that I insisted she take another. She was torn. She searched through the shelves, and eventually settled on two, flitting between Margot Lee Shetterley’s, Hidden Figures and The Autobiography of Malcolm X. She opted for the latter. I was now the one in awe. Behind the reserved exterior and deferential demeanor was a steely young woman who wanted to change the world. At that moment, I felt there was nothing left for me to do. My work was complete.

When I left Hedgebrook in the spring of 2017, I had no idea I’d venture from the Pacific Northwest to the Gulf of Guinea and achieve a long-held dream. This cross-continental journey can, in part, be traced back to conversations I had around the fabled farmhouse kitchen table with fellow resident, Saskia, a German-Indian novelist who lived between the Two countries of her heritage. As someone who’s never been at ease in groups, I latched onto Saskia soon after I arrived and we talked for hours about the places we’d lived. I confided in her that I was thinking of leaving London, my hometown, for somewhere more livable, and she encouraged me to see Ghana, my parents’ homeland, as a viable option.

One of the things that made moving to Ghana easier was that the vast majority of my beloved book collection, over a thousand volumes gathered over 20 years, were already there. Since 2011, I’d routinely ship them to my mother’s house in Kumasi when I could no longer accommodate them in my London studio. Each time I’d visit, I’d feel an overwhelming sense of guilt that the books, primarily by writers of color, were just sitting there and not being read when there was a need for access to culturally-relevant, contemporary literature. The idea behind the library was twofold: to give Ghanaians access to books that weren’t easily obtainable and to amplify the voices of Black writers on the continent.

In the 18 months since the library opened, its objective has evolved. My focus now is as much on literacy as literature, and outreach to underserved communities is a core part of my work. In Ghana, illiteracy is high (30%), particularly among women and girls. 

During my time here, I’ve met some amazing women who are doing all they can, often at tremendous personal sacrifice, to improve the life chances of girls. Auntie Grace, a former teacher, who founded Gem Star School in the compound of her small home, is one such example. I donated about 300 books to the school and we worked together to create a library for its 500 pupils.

Every other Saturday, my colleague, Seth and I teach creative writing to a group of 6-15-year-olds there.We also organize reading and creative play sessions for the children of market women and a barbershop/hair salon program that rewards children with free hairstyles in exchange for reading. The impact is significant. I’ve seen lives transformed.

The beauty of being at Hedgebrook is that it refocused my mind, not just on my writing, but on the inequities in the world, I seek to challenge through my work. The library has allowed me to dispense the kind of radical hospitality I was privileged to receive at Hedgebrook to girls like 15-year-old, Afra, who affirmed me on that second day of opening. It’s this ethos I hope to embody in my outreach too, connecting with women and girls across Ghana and helping them feel they have a place to take up space in the world.

Please read more about Sylvia’s library by visiting libreriagh.com

Sylvia Arthur, second left, with a group of girls from her creative writing class at Gem Star School.

By Janine Kovac

Pollination

I’ll let you in on a secret.

Hedgebrook is not a place. 

Oh, sure, nestled in the woods of the Pacific Northwest, there is a place called Hedgebrook, a garden of inspiration and connection where every sensory detail feels like a metaphor: thick thorns on impenetrable blackberry bushes, the sound of kindling catching fire in a wood-burning stove. A bottomless cookie jar. Mt. Rainier glowing pink and purple in the distance.

But that’s just the location. What makes Hedgebrook Hedgebrook is not the gingerbread houses with writing desks and the Instagram-worthy banana slugs. Hedgebrook is a spirit. Specifically, the spirit of radical hospitality.

Which means that the Hedgebrook experience of inspiration and connection can happen anywhere.

My first Hedgebrook experience took place in 2016 at St. Mary’s Bridging: A One-Day Retreat in Moraga, California. I’d been to retreats before, but this was the first time someone handed me a key to a room all my own and said, “We value your voice. Here is the time, space, and nourishment, you need to write the story only you can write.”

It was like an artistic namaste. The authentic voice in me salutes the authentic voice in you.

Later that year I went to the “other” Hedgebook, the one with the gingerbread houses. The biggest difference between Moraga and the Meadow House? One day of radical hospitality planted a seed. Three weeks allowed that plant to take root and blossom.

When I returned home, a different kind of seed had been planted—the realization that if I wanted to, I could be a radical host. I could offer this experience to other women. The authentic voice in all of us flourishes with time, space, and validation.

Seed. Germinate. Grow. Pollinate. Artistic namaste.

I didn’t have access to a gingerbread house or a wood-burning stove. I didn’t even have access to space where each writer could have her own room. But I did belong to a women’s co-working space. I could hold a retreat of my own with treats, time to write, and a panel discussion on the impact of privilege on our writing. That became a 2017 Hedgebrook collaboration with the Hivery and Moxie Road Productions. Looking through my digital Rolodex, I came across a generous café owner (“Of course you can sell your book in my café!”) with a podium and a PA system. In 2018, I hosted a write-in and open mic that alternated between readings with Hedgebrook alums and audience members.

This year, my Moxie Road business partner, and I will participate in St. Mary’s annual Bridging event as part of a publishing panel. We’ll host another write-in and open mic this summer to coincide with Hedgebrook’s submission deadline.

It’s my way of sharing Hedgebrook, of showing what happens when you say, “I value your voice. I value your message. And here’s how I show it.”

Anywhere. From any of us. For all of us.

Radical hospitality. 

Hedgebrook.

“Seed. Germinate. Grow. Pollinate. Artistic Namaste”

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Women Writers Reflect on the Pandemic
Reflections From Summer Camp
Women Championing Each Other
Ancient Mahogany Gold
2001: A Writer’s Odyssey
Eve Ensler with Amy Wheeler
“Borderlands,”
Global Impact
Pollination