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by Hedgebrook Guest

The year was 1996. I recently finished graduate school and had started teaching in the California Poets in the Schools program.

Desperate to complete my first book, I wanted to find time and space just to write. Though I lived alone in a small cottage by a creek, I was constantly teaching, reading, commenting on the poems of my students, making ends meet. I was involved with many friendships and embroiled in family matters. It’s an old story.

I needed to find sustained, unburdened-by-demands-of-real-life time to put pen to paper. I needed space and quiet to focus. So I applied to Hedgebrook. I applied for a six-week stay. I applied during the summer, when I wouldn’t be teaching. 

I had it all planned out. I imagined packing my suitcase, tucking in my favorite pens and books. I was that confidant my application would be accepted.

It wasn’t. I wasn’t.

I remember receiving the letter thanking me for my application but gently informing me….  I took that letter and walked to the grove of redwood trees at the end of my road. On a small wooden stage in the center of the grove, I sat and looked up at those sturdy ancient trees and cried.

I wanted to go to Hedgebrook. I wanted that peace and quiet and, okay, the legitimacy of a residency to write, to feel like I was a writer and not just a teacher of writing. In the middle of my little pity party, I suddenly realized that I could create a residency of my own in my small cottage by the creek.

If I was disciplined enough, I could write all summer if I wanted. So I talked myself out of feeling so blue and dejected (rejected) that afternoon, and did what I said I would do that summer. I wrote.

I also re-applied to Hedgebrook. Just for fun. I requested three weeks in the middle of January.  And the following year I packed my bags after Christmas and boarded a plane bound for Seattle. My new boyfriend came with me for the flight and rented us a car at the airport.

On the ferry to Whidbey Island I remember feeling a mix of fear and elation. Be careful for what you wish for, for you will surely get it. I was going to be alone writing, just me and my mind and rabbity heart for how long?!  My boyfriend delivered me to the front porch of Owl Cottage, said a longish goodbye, and then he left. And I stayed.

For an entire three weeks I wrote and re-wrote and relished every second of my alone time. My building my morning fire time. My finding the picnic basket of homemade soup, bread, and cookies delivered to my door each day at noon time. My walk to the farmhouse for dinner time. My long talks with other women writers’ time. My reading my poems out loud time. My sitting in the bathtub time. My lonely for my life back home time. My talking to the goats time. My wandering into town and on the beach time. My writing letters time. My feeling brave and powerful beyond measure time.

My residency at Hedgebrook time instilled in me a deep well of confidence and belief and desire to be a writer forever. My collection of poems was published in 2004. I found an agent in 2009. And my next three books were published in 2010; 2013; 2015 respectively by Shambhala/Penguin Random House.

I offer a bow to Hedgebrook and encourage women who have a story and a deep dream to write that story to apply. And then to re-apply.


Learn more about the Writers in Residence program.


About the Author:

Karen-Benke-Headshot_smKaren Benke is the author of a collection of poems, Sister (written while at Hedgebrook) and three creative writing adventure books from Shambhala/Penguin Random House: RIP THE PAGE! LEAP WRITE IN! and WRITE BACK SOON! Adventures in Letter Writing forthcoming this September. A fourth-generation Californian and long time Poet in the Schools, she teaches at Book Passage Bookstore and lives in Marin County with her teenage son, a magic cat named Clive, and their sweet rescue dog, Rasco Roon.  She’s currently finishing her first middle grade novel and can be reached via her website: karen@karenbenke.com




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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.

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