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Call to arms for artists poster

By Hedgebrook Staff

Standing in Solidarity

Recent news headlines have brought to the forefront, once again, the deeply ingrained systemic and institutionalized reality of racism in America. We are appalled and deeply pained by the deaths of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, and George Floyd, and we acknowledge the many who have fallen before them. It is past time for us all to take this seriously. As Hedgebrook’s Board of Directors, we stand with all those working to address these issues.

As a global community of writers, Hedgebrook is committed to raising the voices of those who have been historically marginalized—including, and especially, those of black women. The all-too-familiar nature of this moment calls for the sustained uplifting of women’s voices. We know that the power of women’s voices can inspire change in our society and now, more than ever, we cannot remain silent in the face of such horrific injustice. This is a moment in history where women’s voices need to rise above the hateful rhetoric and point to a path long overdue. Through our combined voices, we honor those generations that came before us and fought for justice as we commit to a better future for the next generation. Over the years, our alumnae have authored many works that we believe serve as useful resources in this moment. As such, we invite you to read the words of our alumnae, share them, and make sure this all-too-familiar pattern of events does not continue.  We also invite you to add your own unique story speaking truth to power on our social media:

Facebook | Instagram | Twitter

This moment reminds us all that we have work to do, and Hedgebrook is no exception. We must redouble our efforts on two fronts. First, we are not where we want to be in terms of diversity and inclusion across our organization and we commit to continued work on this. Second, we still have a lot more to do through our programs and residencies in order to better support the voices of the many women around the world that we wish to reach. This moment reminds us to redouble our efforts and our commitment to these goals. Our work is not done. 

Signed by the Hedgebrook Board of Directors:

  • Jessika Auerbach,
  • Judy Belk
  • Abigail Carter
  • Arian Colachis
  • Donna P. Hall
  • Sonora Jha
  • Sarah Ladipo Manyika
  • Sue McNab
  • Rachel Robert
  • Darshana Shanbhag
  • Eunice Valentine
  • Huong Vu
  • Shauna Woods

We invite you to check out these relevant articles, books, poems, short stories and plays by some of our alumnae:

Articles

Why there will be another Trayvon by Rinku Sen

For police accountability, look beyond individual racial bias by Rinku Sen

Op-Ed: Surprised that black people have a higher risk of death from COVID-19? I’m not by Judy Belk

Coming of Age in the Time of the Hoodie By Sarah Ladipo Manyika

50 Years Ago, Gloria Steinem Wrote an Essay for TIME About Her Hopes for Women’s Futures. Here’s What She’d Add Today by Gloria Steinem

Alicia Garza on How Women Are Battling Mass Incarceration

Poetry:

In Praise of Our Black Women Poets by Arisa White

Racism, Redacted by Minal Hajratwala

Books/Novels

So You Want to Talk About Race by Ijeoma Oluo (IndieBound Link)

Girl, Woman, Other by Bernardine Evaristo (IndieBound Link)

Boy, Snow, Bird by Helen Oyeyemi (IndieBound Link)

Black Imagination by Natasha Marin (IndieBound Link)

Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson (IndieBound Link)

Red River by Lalita Tademy (IndieBound Link)

Ordinary People by Diana Evans (IndieBound Link)

Queen Sugar by Natalie Baszile (IndieBound Link)

The Other Americans by Laila Lalami (IndieBound Link)

When we Speak of Nothing by Olumide Popoola (IndieBound Link)

An Imperfect Blessing by Nadia Davids (IndieBound Link)

Theatre/Plays

Yellowman by Dael Orlandersmith

In the Continuum by Danai Gurira and Nikkole Salter

At Her Feet by Nadia Davids

And so many more in our Farm House Library!

About our cover image

Our Cover Image was created by Hedgebrook alum, Courtney E. Martin, who wrote this call-to-arms for all artists in 2017. You can order the poster here.

By Gabrielle James

Hedgebrook Holiday Gift Guide

As the holiday season approaches, we’ve put together a Gift Guide for the writer in your life, whether that is yourself or a loved one. We understand that lives are busy, and not everyone can find time for extended creative ventures, but there are other ways to quiet the world, get in touch with creativity, and nurture the artistic drive.

We at Hedgebrook believe that giving even brief time to artistic efforts can spark life-long creative pursuits. With that in mind, here is our list of immersive, innovative opportunities to incorporate the Hedgebrook experience into your upcoming year!

ONLINE CLASSES

Throughout the year, we offer online classes designed to give writers space to focus on their work, supported by experienced, professional authors. Our classes offer the help writers might need to get a burgeoning project to take root, revive creativity, or give new life to a stalled idea, regardless of physical location.  In these seminars, you will learn from the writing techniques and practices of our teachers, and you will have extended access to the videos and exercises in order to incorporate them into your daily life with ease.      

VORTEXT

Each May, we host a weekend of workshops, keynotes, and open-mics on Whidbey Island. Immerse yourself in conversations about artistic practice and discussions about what it means to be a woman writer at work in the world. In small-group workshops, share insights about works-in-progress with peers and published authors, and experience the support and energy that comes with working in a community. Revitalize over meals lovingly crafted by our chefs and, in quiet moments, explore the natural beauty of the island.

MASTER CLASSES

The holidays are the time of year when we think most about the needs of those we love, and make resolutions about the changes we wish to see in our own lives. Consider applying for, or offering to sponsor, a spot on one of our Master Classes. Surrounded by either the striking landscape of Whidbey or the dazzling hills of Tuscany, enjoy the energy of intimate workshops, run by award-winning authors who will provide critique tailored specifically to the needs of you and your work. Leave nourished by the cuisine and the company of other innovative writers.

MAKE A GIFT IN HONOR

If you believe in the work Hedgebrook does, please consider making a donation this holiday season. Your generosity allows us to provide spaces for women writers and facilitate conversations about the work they create.

Let us know in the notes section of your donation if you are giving on behalf of another, and we will happily send you a card enclosure. (Please allow at least seven business days for delivery.)

As you look ahead, to holiday gifts and New Year’s resolutions, commit to spending time in the upcoming year in a creative space. Promise to allow yourself to access and embolden your writing, or to empower the voice of a writer in your life.

From all of us here at Hedgebrook, we believe in your work and look forward to seeing what you write in the coming year.

Happy Holidays!

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 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 Sharon Magliano

Fall into Writing With Women-Focused Writing Events

For writers, autumn can be a great time of inspiration. Days get shorter, the nights get cooler, and everything slows down. There is more time to nestle in with a favorite sweater, warm mug, and explore our creativity. It’s a wonderful time to come together with other women writers and revel in the gifts of the season.

While we are, of course, partial to our fall Master Class offerings, there are several women’s writing retreats, conferences, and festivals happening around the country for you to explore.

Festival of Women Writers

https://www.hobartfestivalofwomenwriters.com/

September 6-8, 2019

Hobart, New York

This Festival takes place in “the reading capital of New York State” and offers writing intensives, workshops, readings, and receptions.

Women’s Fiction Writers Association

https://www.womensfictionwriters.org/annual-retreat

September 25-29, 2019

Albuquerque, New Mexico

The Women’s Fiction Writers Annual Retreat will feature talks and interactive lessons from novelist, speaker, and journalist Nicole Blades.

A Workshop for Women Writers of Color

October 6-10, 2019

Pendle Hill

Wallingford, PA

Pendle Hill is a Quaker retreat that welcomes all for spirit-led learning and community. Led by Melchor Hall, a black feminist scholar-activist, this workshop offers strategies for writing alternative epistemologies into, against, and through the canon.

Women Writing the West Conference

https://www.womenwritingthewest.org/currentWWWConference.html

October 10 – 13, 2019
San Antonio, Texas

Women Writing the West is celebrating its 25th year with the theme “Writing to Remember – Remembering Why We Write”. The conference features workshops, pitch meetings, editorial reviews, tours, and a reading from 2018 Texas Poet Laureate Carol Coffee Reposa.

C.D. Wright Women Writers Conference

http://www.cdwrightconference.org/conference.html

November 8-9, 2019

University of Central Arkansas in Conway, Arkansas

The mission of the C.D. Wright Women Writers Conference is to recognize, promote, and encourage women-identifying writers with special emphasis given to writing inspired by or written in the south.

The conference includes writing workshops, panels, talks, and an editorial review of works in progress.

Fall 2019 Hedgebrook Master Classes

Master Classes combine Hedgebrook’s retreat experience with the unique opportunity to be in residence and study with a celebrated teacher on beautiful Whidbey Island.

We are offering several Master Classes for Fall 2019. Participation in each class is limited to 6-8 writers to ensure individual attention and create an intimate, supportive writing community.

Writing/Righting our lives:  releasing the fear and activating the fierce 

October 11-18

Led by: Amy Ferris

CLASS DESCRIPTION:

This is for all writers, all genres, all levels. This is for non-writers, or folks who don’t believe they are writers. This is for anyone. This class is not about the craft of writing, it is about the craft of living and telling our truth. Writing/Righting our lives: releasing the fear and activating the fierce. The stories we keep hidden, out of view, tucked away. The stories in diaries and journals scribbled on post-its and napkins that are in the back of a drawer hidden; the ones we are afraid to share. Those are the very stories we will bring to life and write about.

Apply here.

Beginners Mind: A Master Class to Turn Your Yearning to Write into Words

October 21-28

Led by: Heidi W. Durrow

CLASS DESCRIPTION:

This class is tailored for the person who has always wanted to write for a living and wants to grow their craft as a writer (focusing on character, voice, description, and scene) in addition to exploring how one develops their writing resume even before one publishes their first word. This class will emphasize generating new work through the use of writing prompts, guided in-class writing exercises and reading and discussion of literary models.

Apply here.

Take it to the Next Level

November 8-15

Led by: Erica Bauermeister

CLASS DESCRIPTION:

So, you have a first draft of your manuscript — now, what’s the next step?  This class will focus on the tricks and joys of editing, from the global (story arc and character development) to the lyrical (making those scenes/images/sentences sing) to the completely granular (commas and grammar and repetition, oh my). We’ll dig in, get messy, and find and polish the story waiting inside your manuscript.  Upon acceptance, students should arrive with a completed first draft along with an open mind, ready to receive and give constructive feedback.  Included will be a one-on-one session review of 30 pages of your manuscript.

Apply here.

Next Level Writing

November 18-25

Led by: Hannah Tinti

CLASS DESCRIPTION:

The solution to a piece of writing is always hidden just beneath the surface. In this editorial-focused workshop, we will dig deep, giving close reads to a piece of your writing (10-25 pages, max 6,000 words) and exploring each layer, from the seed of the idea that first inspired you to the places where you’re feeling lost or stuck. Together we’ll identify the strengths and weaknesses, shore up the structure, identify patterns and find ways to bring your work to the next level. 

Apply here.

Hedgebrook offers a variety of opportunities for writers to hone their craft year-round at our retreat on Whidbey Island, Washington. Click here to learn more. To learn about our online offerings, which brings our famous radical hospitality to you wherever you write, visit this link.

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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