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by Hedgebrook Staff

This week we sat down with Hannah Lee Jones, a local writer and the Marketing and Communications Manager for Whidbey Institute, to talk about retreat spaces and writing on Whidbey Island.

1) What brought you to Whidbey Island?

Here’s a very south island answer for you: dharma, I think. My husband and I were on Whidbey for a getaway in February 2010. It was mystery weekend in Langley, and we were moseying about on 2nd Avenue; the Coldwell Banker office was open, and so we went in, wondering: how much do rentals cost out here? Well, it turned out the housing market was so friendly we could straight up buy. We knew the decision was insane, but it also felt incredibly right – and so a shot-in-the-dark inquiry turned into a dramatic life change. We moved from Seattle to Whidbey only months later, on Earth Day 2010. As time goes by, I see the many ways in which our decision was “meant to be” – the people, the rich and supportive arts community here, the natural haven that is so conducive to the writer.


2) There are many retreat spaces on South Whidbey (Hedgebrook, Whidbey Institute, Earth Sanctuary, Aldermarsh, etc…) Why do you think that is?

The answer seems easy: it’s just so damn beautiful on this island. Though the personnel who steward these places consist of non-islanders too, in the words of WI associate director Heather Johnson, I think it has a lot to do with the awareness-based “center of gravity” of its residents, who generally seem to care a lot about personal development, spiritual renewal, and self-actualization. This often materializes in our working lives as a desire to hold space for others to flourish.


3) What is the most rewarding aspect of working for the Whidbey Institute?

Honestly, it’s the sense of family here. Cheezy as it may sound, my coworkers are brothers and sisters to me, and given that the work environment can be such a crucible for some of life’s biggest lessons and challenges, perhaps this should come as no surprise. The Institute also is a container for the kind of supporting and allowing that makes an employee feel as much a member of a staff as a human being, an individual with dreams, hurts, talents, and gifts of their own, not just the skills they bring to work – a container in which those gifts can grow. As a lover of language and stories, I have felt that this gift in particular has seen a lot of utilization in my role here, and that’s not something everyone can say about their job.

Mission-wise, I’m deeply fed by the sense that the Institute is a home and sanctuary for those pursuing their calling in the world and who are making a positive difference. Anyone who stays in our Farmhouse, or in Granny’s, or experiences the incredible food of Christyn Johnson, our chef, can attest to feeling like this place is a safe haven, a home where they are nourished and inspired to continue their work.


4) You attended our Winter Salon—can you speak to that experience?

I adored being there and connecting with everyone: the Hedgebrook staff, the incredibly talented women writers during the open mic. I loved the classes, the colorful stories with origins in far-flung places, both literal and metaphorical. I was especially stirred by the central lesson that threaded through all the workshops and conversations: tell the truth — your truth, and always beat the shortest, least overgrown path between you and the world you write for, which hungers to hear your message. I think the soul food of such a diverse and real gathering was enough to fuel me through countless lonely nights at the writer’s desk – and the fire continues to grow.


5) Since Hedgebrook is holding VORTEXT at the Whidbey Institute in late May, do you have any words regarding our partnership to make this happen?

As a home and convener for good work, the event totally fits with what we’re here to do. Personally, I am just excited Hedgebrook continues returning to this place – the place where I work – to foster women writers and hold space for creativity to happen. As two organizations with a very different focus, we don’t realize how much we crave cross-pollination of this sort until it happens.


6) In honor of National Poetry month, will you share a poem with us?

Sure – I’ll even share two. I got to read my poem, “Artemis Running,” at the winter salon and was so moved by the warm response. Lately I am also enamored of the poetry of Amy Gerstler. Her intense portraits of living beings inspire me to no end. Her poem “Bon Courage,” which appeared in the March issue of Poetry, was mythic and wonderful.


Photo by Jim Carroll.

Photo by Jim Carroll.


Hannah Lee Jones is the Marketing and Communications Manager at the Whidbey Institute. When she isn’t designing fliers or editing copy, she can be found in the garden or hunched at her computer adding to the bone pile that is her daybook, or composing verse. She is also at work on a book, Letters to Henry, an epistolary dialogue with American nature writer Henry David Thoreau. Her website is hannahleejones.com.








Click here for more information and to register for our Spring Salon, April 27.


Click here for more information and to register for VORTEXT, May 31-June 2 at the Whidbey Institute.



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

1 Comment

  • Val
    12:26 AM - 5 April, 2013

    Hannah is such an inspiration!

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