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By Judith Sornberger

Sacred Conversation

My friend Alison Townsend and I frequently evaluate how our days and weeks have gone based on whether we have “kept the appointment with the desk,” as she calls the time we spend writing. It’s not so much a measure of how much we have—or have not—accomplished that concerns us, but rather the quality of our lives that feel vastly diminished when we aren’t writing on a regular basis. It’s easy to discount the importance of our own writing in the lives of others. Yet, I don’t know how I would have survived as a writer—or, indeed, as a woman—without the essays, books, and poems written by Alison and other women writers whose work I love.

Alison and I met 28 years ago when we had residencies at Hedgebrook. Although we’d both had poems published in literary magazines and anthologies, neither of us had had a book published, so we could hardly believe our luck at landing residencies there.

I arrived at my Hedgebrook cottage just in time to walk down the hill to the farmhouse to meet the other writers for dinner. Alison, Joanne Mulcahy (the other resident), Dolores, the cook and manager, and I ate borscht followed by blueberries with cream for dessert. That night we three writers walked back to our cottages together, pausing to watch the lunar eclipse and, in the safety of darkness, speak more intimately of our lives. As soon as I returned to my cottage, I headed to my “desk” and began a poem for which Alison and Joanne were my muses.

During the long writing days, I sensed them writing away in their cottages, imagining us as religious sisters in a Medieval Abbey, each of us doing our work in our cells, each making our small contributions to communal life. Although the subjects on which we wrote and our writing styles were unique, our writing seemed a kind of collaboration, as though we were silently engaging in a sacred conversation.

In the evenings, we talked about how the day’s writing had gone and read to one another from the day’s harvest. Hearing that I’d never read Mary Oliver’s poetry, Alison lent me her copy of Oliver’s Twelve Moons. And we talked about our lives back home and the men we loved. The morning Joanne was to drive to the ferry, several days before Alison and I were leaving, we walked her to her car. Tears soft as the morning rain slid down my cheeks as I retraced my steps to my cottage. In just ten days, Alison and Joanne felt more like sisters than strangers—a bond formed by writing and the magic of the place.

A few days after returning home, I sent Alison a postcard of goats that reminded me of Ozzie and Harriet, the pygmy goats we helped feed while at Hedgebrook. In return, I received a six-page handwritten letter. I’d never had anything like it before—six pages of her thoughtful and lyrical prose just for me! Our long letters flew back and forth—often accompanied by poems or essays—for decades, sending encouragement, appreciation, and stories from our lives. We became close enough that those letters became crucial healing balm when we lost those we loved
When Alison’s father died in 1999, I wrote, “I wanted to send an image that would comfort you, knowing there is no comfort for such a loss, yet also knowing how much your morning glory card, your phone call, and the book you sent meant to me when my father died. The best image I could think of was a cottage from Hedgebrook. Those cottages seemed to me to be wombs, dens of renewal and comfort. I would wish these things for you, Alison.” Along with the card, I sent Mary Oliver’ newest poetry collection.

Eventually, our letters have turned into emails—less exciting than long letters in the mail, but far more frequent, and supplemented by phone calls during which we comment on each other’s recent poems and essays and comfort each other though calamities, great and small. Joanne and I continue to send letters and writing—less frequent, but still precious. The three of us also celebrate one another’s publications, all having published multiple books by now.

Bruce, my husband of 25, years died five years ago, and the things that kept me alive in the following months were talks with my sister and friends and writing poems. I was also sustained by the poems and essays Alison and Joanne sent, keeping hope alive in me if only the hope that the mail would bring more of their words. The poems I was writing were about Bruce and me—about our lives together, my loss and widowhood, and about reclaiming joy. Alison read each one, helping me develop and edit them, and sometimes crying with me on the phone as we discussed them. The book, those poems became, Practicing the World, will be published by CavanKerry Press in 2018.

When I arrived at Hedgebrook all those years ago, I knew that I had been given the amazing gift of time for writing in a gorgeous place and that this gift had boosted my confidence in my writing enormously. But I never expected that it would give me a sense of deep connection to the other two writers who shared that time with me, that they would become for me a community that would expand, in my heart, to all women who write, all those with whom I feel myself engaged in sacred conversation.

By Vero González

Rona Jaffe Foundation – 2018 Hedgebrook Fellowship

A Hedgebrook residency is a gift of freedom from duty, from physical and emotional labor, a stripping away of everything nonessential until you—the purest essence of you—are all that remains & you discover that you are not scared of the dark & that you do like dancing taking long walks waking up early & the taste of fennel, hand-picked with love in the lush Hedgebrook garden.

Hedgebrook sisterhood means all the petty, jealous, competitive feelings you have harbored about other writers are replaced by generosity, love, enthusiasm & this process can be painful because you have to confront those feelings in yourself—but no matter what comes up for you in the woods, Hedgebrook can hold it.

After four weeks of relentless gifts, when I thought Hedgebrook had given me all it could, it handed me a final one.

Being awarded the Rona Jaffe Foundation fellowship is a vote of confidence, an affirmation to repeat over and over when self-doubt creeps in, a light showing me I am on the right path, an advance to help finance a dream.

You will write.

But it is not about the word count or your deadline or your ego & its expectations.  It is about the rituals that emerge when your usual structures fall away.  The way the light drops rainbows on your cottage floor.  The way Hedgebrook continues to feed you long after your last dinner.

It is the community you didn’t know you’d been waiting for, reaching out to hold you across the distance.

By Hedgebrook Guest

Why VORTEXT is Better Than an MFA

The answer to how important a Master of Fine Arts degree is to becoming a fiction writer is, of course, not at all. The history of world literature is weighted heavily on the side of writers who put their masterpieces together without the benefit of two years of graduate school.” ~Ann Patchett, “The Getaway Car.”

For years I have agonized over whether or not I should get an MFA, but I could never bring myself to spend a ton of money or move to a new city in an attempt to earn a a real degree. On my blog, The MFA Project, I document the ways I now make up my own MFA—I am in a workshop that meets regularly, and I am constantly trying to read more widely. Since attending VORTEXT in 2015, the idea of a literary community is now a crucial part of this alternative to the MFA as well.

  Read more

By Hedgebrook Guest

Hedgebrook Vortext: An Uncommon Convergence

In this post, Hannah Lee Jones captures her experience from VORTEXT in 2015, describing the rich details she took with her and emphasizing the broad “genre, geography, life experiences, [and] thematic passions” of the workshop teachers who will return once again for a reinvigorating weekend of VORTEXT this spring.

For four years the forested lands of the Whidbey Institute at Chinook have been host in May to a conference of women writers from all over the country. The term I prefer over “conference” is convergence, and the convergence is VORTEXT, a three-day writing conference hosted by Hedgebrook which ended last weekend. And I remember each spring how lucky I am that the non-profit retreat for women writers and venue for women’s voices exists just down the road from where I live, here on gorgeous Whidbey Island.    Read more

By Hedgebrook Guest

My Hedgebrook Experience

For a few years in the 1990’s and early 2000’s I was the director of a writers’ festival in New Zealand. An annual literary event that featured well-known international writers, it enabled me to meet and mingle with some of my favorite authors; Jane Smiley, Joanne Harris, Frank McCourt, Tom Keneally, Margaret Atwood, Ruth Reichl and many more.   Read more

By Hedgebrook Guest

Ten Reasons Why Vortext is Indescribable

This was my second year attending the Vortext writing salon. I’ve attended a lot of writing workshops and conferences over the past four or five years, and this one is unique. Indescribable—everyone I spoke with agreed! But, here’s trying:

  1. Sisterhood. It’s all women so that makes it special right off the bat.
  1. Nature. There’s an almost magical quality about being at the Whidbey Institute for three days. It was like travelling back into a simpler, quieter time and being reminded of the quiet place in myself where I am the most creative.

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By Hedgebrook Guest

Experience Radical Hospitality

Gloria Steinem, who serves on our Creative Advisory Council, describes Hedgebrook this way: “It’s as if women have taken their 5,000 years of nurturing experience and turned it on each other.”

At the core of Hedgebrook’s Writers in Residence program, Master Classes and weekend writing salons is the philosophy that we have lovingly coined “radical hospitality.” This translates into comfortable lodging, delicious food and a setting that provides complete control over how she spends her time, a peaceful setting in nature, and the company of other women writers. In short: everything you need to nurture your soul and your creativity.   Read more

By Hedgebrook Guest

Will summer heat bring hope again?

I sometimes feel guilty when I wash dishes. I live and work in a rural town in a developing country in Central Asia, and there are people living near me who often struggle to feed their families. Wouldn’t it be better to always have a person who needs money wash my dishes, and I could be free to do something else such as writing? Work hours here are long: there is much need, and accomplishing tasks takes extra time. [We say: if it would take two weeks at home, it will take two months here.] I know that the efforts of my colleagues and I have real impact in the lives of our neighbors, so my work is meaningful. Sadly, writing often takes a back seat to donor deadlines, community projects, and trying to time laundry when both water and electricity are available.   Read more

By Hedgebrook Guest

Come for the Community

What’s special about the 3-day VORTEXT writing salon? Here’s some insight from workshop leaders for the upcoming 2015 session (May 29-31):

“Watching the weave of relationships created at Vortext, and the creative power generated and moved along into the world, is essential to re-charging my psychic batteries. It reminds me that the best creative work arises from collaboration and a sense of collective purpose. At last year’s open mic readings, hearing the women cheering each other on because they KNEW how hard it was to get up there was one of many truly moving moments. It reminds me how little (and how much) is needed to create a responsive environment for creative work. It’s all about intention, and Hedgebrook’s Vortext brings me back to everything I genuinely believe and value.”   Read more

By Hedgebrook Guest

Dani Shapiro’s Strategies for Giving Yourself Permission to Write

It’s hard to believe that Dani Shapiro, bestselling author of the memoirs Devotion and Slow Motion, as well as five novels and the craft book, Still Writing, has struggled with giving herself permission to write.

“Permission is something that everyone who creates has to find a way to access,” says Shapiro, who was raised in an orthodox Jewish home, where it was expected that, as a woman, she would marry an investment banker and raise kids in the suburbs. “Doctors don’t graduate from medical school wondering if they’ll practice medicine; people don’t graduate from law school needing to ask permission to be an attorney. But anything we do that’s about creating something from nothing, is bushwhacking in a way. The more we’re forging our own path, the more we feel the need to be granted permission to do so. And often, there’s nobody there to give us that assurance.”   Read more

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Sacred Conversation
Rona Jaffe Foundation – 2018 Hedgebrook Fellowship