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by Hedgebrook Staff

If you’ve ever called the Whidbey retreat or sent an email asking about one of our programs, you’ve probably talked to our Program Associate, Julie O’Brien. Julie started working at the retreat this year, making sure our programs run smoothly, orienting writers, and baking vegan cookies in the Farmhouse kitchen.

We recently sat down with Julie to ask her a few questions.


1) You’ve been working at the Whidbey retreat since January. What have been some of the most memorable moments so far?

So many!!! Here are just a few:

• Playwrights’ Festival – where magic unfolds daily. Seeing works in their infancy change, grow, rebirth. Scripts flying around, pages tossed, new pieces penciled in. Edits on the fly as readers try out the words and authors hear them out loud for the first time.

• Songwriters’ Festival – there is a buzz like no other. These women stay up late into the early morn, sharing instruments, stories, whiskey. They bond instantly and the woods sing.

• Laughter pouring out of the Longhouse during Deb Harkness’ Master Class.

• Young Women Empowered Camp’s open mic – the stories, the confidence, the support they have for each other. Wonderful!

• Starting each week with a beautiful, fresh bouquet of flowers.

• Amazing, honest, respectful dialog about trans* inclusiveness. Yay Hedgebrook!

• Jake’s welcome in the mornings, just happening to be on the side of the path to the office whenever I got in. I’ll miss you!

• Dael Orlandersmith’s storytelling at Equivox – incredible!

• And so much more! It seems every day there are little wondrous happenings here.



2) You are often the first person that new residents meet when they come to the retreat. Can you tell us how the writers react to being shown to their cottage and experiencing radical hospitality in general?

Seeing the baskets that will soon be theirs for foraging the Farmhouse shelves, women grin ear to ear. Many times, Denise gives the kitchen orientation herself and she has their full attention as she describes the wonderful food they will be sharing and where to find the makings for breakfasts and lunches. They glance at the Farmhouse table perhaps anticipating the lively conversations they will soon be a part of.

We continue up the path to the cottages. Writers slow down into the land and find their own rhythms starting on that very first day, that first walk up the path.

New residents always, always express their gratefulness when we open the door to their cottage. When they see there is only one cup, one bowl, one plate, one fork, one spoon, etc., it’s clear they will only be taking care of themselves while they are here.


3) What are some of your favorite books?

So many! But my reasons for loving them are similar – strong women protaganists. No wimps! Quirky characters, complex relationships.

The Bean Trees by Barbara Kingsolver

The Color Purple by Alice Walker

The Shipping News and Heart Songs by Annie Proulx

Ya-Ya Sisterhood by Rebecca Wells

Sula by Toni Morrison

The Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole – I know, I know, this was written by a man, but the ONLY reason it ever saw the light of day was because his mother picked up the pieces after he left us and made it happen. I love this book!


4) How does supporting equal voice for women play a role in your life, both at Hedgebrook and beyond?

I support equal voice for women by:

• Providing support to our residents

• Sharing women’s stories with others

• Questioning history as written, going deeper

• Supporting women playwrights and directors by going to the plays, spreading the word, buying their works

• Supporting publications that feature women writers at the same frequency as their male counterparts.



5) How does Hedgebrook’s mission/activities speak to your passions or interests?

Many of the women who come here are writing about issues that speak to my passions. Immigration, domestic violence, poverty, mother love, broken relationships, fixed relationships, poetry that inspires, fires, hurts, rejuvenates. It’s a privilege to work here and get to be enablers of tomorrow’s truthsayers.



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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.

Hedgebrook Staff
About Hedgebrook Staff


  • Traci Hill Barela
    1:58 AM - 4 June, 2015

    I can’t stand it that there are no comments on this post. I love it! I really loved meeting Julie and being at Hedgebrook in a Master Class. In our words, it was THE MASTER CLASS! And as one of the laughees, we all were touched that Julie called that one of her most memorable moments. We (and they have no idea I am outing us) were touched deeply that Julie chose that moment as one of her most memorable. . Julie and Hedgebrook made one of the most memorable experiences of my life possible. Thank you!

    • Julie O’Brien
      9:10 PM - 7 July, 2015

      Thank you, Traci!! Your Master Class Pack is the best! I love seeing you guys show up for all the local Hedgebrook gatherings. Looking forward to our next encounter! xoxo

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