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By Dana Stabenow

Storyknife

1989 I was busily engaged in sending novels to New York agents and watching them return like little homing pigeons. That spring a story appeared in the local paper about a retreat for women writers on Whidbey Island in Washington state. It was calledHedgebrook. I thought, “What a wonderful opportunity for some lucky writer, but they’d never take me.” My best friend, Katherine Gottlieb, read the same storyand called me to say, “You should apply.” It took her a week of nagging until Ifinally did, and in the fall of that year I flew to Seattle, took the bus up tothe Mukilteo ferry, and was met on the other side by Holly Gault, the thenchef/manager in residence who drove me the rest of the way.

It was an old farm with five (we watched the sixth cottage go up while I was there) beautiful new post-and-beam cottages with stained glass windows and hand-woven throws, in a quiet, iconically Pacific Northwest setting where every morning I’d look up to see wild rabbits carousing out front or Nancy marching by with a rifle to scareoff the deer. On a clear day, the Seattle skyline was only a distant reminderof the madding world. I rode the farm bike to the library in Freeland and tothe beach to dig for clams and Holly took us up to Coupeville for mussels and beer.

And I wrote. I worked on anovel, I wrote a short story inspired by something I saw on the beach, I even wrote a sonnet, my one and only, and left it behind in the cottage journal.It’s pretty bad.

 Dana’s  original piece from Waterfall Cottage journals shared with her permission.



I was there for two weeks. I had all day in Waterfall Cottage to work without interruption, and every evening over dinner I could talk shop and tell war stories with my fellow residents, author Kathleen Alcala, poet Amy Pence, and author Susan Brown. It was a seminal, no, it was the seminal moment of my career. It was the first time anyone had ever acted around me like writing was a real job (“Sit down,”Nancy said when I got up to help clear the dinner dishes, “you’ve already doneyour work for the day.”) and it was the first time I’d ever been in the companyof other women writers. It turned out I wasn’t the only person who thoughtadjectives were important.

I sold my first book the following year. So when I unexpectedly found myself with four acres of view property in Homer, Alaska, it wasn’t much of a stretch to imagine what to do with it. When Hedgebrook invited me back for their 25th anniversary they toldme they could have as many as 1,400 applications for 40 spaces in a singlesemester. Unquestionably there is a need. I started a nonprofit corporation andbegan a capital campaign fund which has to date raised $500,000 of the $1million it will cost to build a main house and six cabins. We have two grant applicationspending and if they come through we will begin construction in April 2019, andwe hope to be in operation in 2020.

There is a direct line from my residency at Hedgebrook to the subsequent publication of the first of my thirty-four novels, to my appearance on the New York Times bestseller list, to my winning an Edgar award, to being named Individual Artist for the Governor’s Arts Awards in 2007.

And there is a direct line from Hedgebrook to Storyknife. It is my hope that, like Hedgebrook, Storyknife will build a sustainable community where women writers will find the support and encouragement they need to succeed.

Hedgebrook led the way. We are only following them.

Storyknife

Fireweed Storyknife
Snow Storyknife
Storyknife Neighbor
Alpenglow on Ilimna

By Jan D'Arcy

Hedgebrook’s First Writer in Residence Jan D’Arcy

It was August 1988. My son Tyler had been diagnosed with a chiasmic glioma. The brain tumor was not cancerous, but it had done horrific damage. Tyler was completely blind in his left eye and had very little sight left in his right eye. We went through multiple doctor’s appointments, tests, 6 weeks of radiation and still the tumor seemed to be growing. I was a single Mom, completely immersed in his care, taking care of my four other children and running a communications consulting business. I had published a small book and an audio cassette album. I was writing another book, but it definitely was not getting any attention. I heard about Hedgebrook but was reluctant to apply. I didn’t have anyone to stay with Tyler 24/7. I also thought there must be some catch about the offer of a free writing “vacation.”

When I heard that Children’s Hospital Camp Goodtimes had doctors, nurses and trained volunteers to oversee the children, I signed Tyler up for a week. I sent in my application to Hedgebrook and was amazed to receive notice that I was selected to go for the same week.

After waving goodbye to my son, I drove to a ferry and followed Nancy’s explicit directions to Whidbey Island. There was no one I could talk to about their experience and what to expect.

I’m embarrassed to say that I brought along a sleeping bag, a pillow and primitive camping gear. When I drove up to the gate at Hedgebrook, Nancy was waiting for me. She told me to keep going up the road and she’d follow me.

I came to a magical fairyland cottage in the middle of the woods. I waited for her to open the door, but she insisted on staying at a distance and watched while I carefully turned the knob and stepped inside. At once, I knew I didn’t need the sleeping bag or the camping equipment. It was very luxurious, down to the leather carrier for the wood – whose material I’d have coveted for a purse. I set up my stubby Mac computer and carried in two boxes of research. The first night I was so exhausted, I sunk into the comfy bed, covered myself with the down duvet and slept for 10 hours.

Nancy explained that I ‘d have my lunch delivered and then come to the farmhouse for dinner. What would I like to eat? I mentioned I liked veggies- beets, carrots, tomatoes- anything would be fine. The next day I saw her digging in the garden and realized she was digging the beets

I’d be eating an hour later for dinner. Chef Nancy definitely started the authentic Farm to Table restaurant. We had some wonderful conversations over dinner when she told me what led up to her creating a place for women writers. She was very concerned that my accommodations were acceptable, that I was comfortable, that I had everything I needed to work on my book. My mother was always supportive of anything I did. But in my current situation I wasn’t used to that much attention and professional regard for my creative ventures. I still was reluctant to call myself a writer. But I was determined to produce something worthy of this opportunity.

When I mentioned something about shrimp, Nancy drove to town and bought some. I was almost afraid to casually mention I liked something in fear she’d produce it. I soon realized we two were the only residents on the large property and she was the one dropping off my lunch and flowers. The workers came during the day and left. One day Nancy asked me if the gardener watering my flowers around my cottage was distracting. As a mother of 5 children, I had to stifle a laugh. At night, it was really silent in the woods. Since the woods are my favorite place to be, I was in 7th heaven. No responsibilities, no phone calls, no grocery shopping or anything to interrupt my writing. What a fantastic idea Nancy had imagined and brought to fruition!

Twenty years later, I returned to Hedgebrook for another week. This time there were four other writers. It was a very different experience as we had dinner together and then talked about the various projects we were working on. Nancy had given up her culinary duties and there was a cook and other workers around the property.  5 more cottages had been built. It was now a revolving community of women writers from all over the world.

My book had been published to good reviews. My communications business had taken off as well as my acting career. Writing was on the back burner again. My son had more medical challenges and lost all his sight. We had to deal with scary seizures from his epilepsy. Although he had a part-time job, he still needed daily help with most everything.  I had started another book and was grateful for this second time at Hedgebrook to solidify my objective.  Once again, the freedom that Nancy created took me out of my responsibilities in my everyday world. The nature and calmness of Hedgebrook surrounded me and helped me to believe in myself as a writer.

 

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Storyknife
Hedgebrook’s First Writer in Residence Jan D’Arcy