Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Hedgebrook: More than a Writers' Retreat

Hedgebrook is a Writers' Retreat in Washington state.  But it's so much more than a writer's retreat.  It is a community, a support group, a platform, and a lifestyle.  It is a place where women writers are sheltered in rustic but comfortable hand-crafted cabins, enjoy a beautiful natural setting in which to explore and connect with their muse, and are nourished by the bounty of a gorgeous and plentiful organic garden on the grounds.  

Hedgebrook was established in 1988 by philanthropist Nancy Skinner Nordhoff and writer Sheryl Feldman.  They bought and developed the land to provide a retreat for women writers because they shared Virgina Woolf's belief (which she expressed in A Room of One's Own, 1929) that "giving a writer a room of her own is the greatest gift of confidence in her voice." Beyond the physical space that Hedgebrook provides to women authors through their Writers in Residence program, Hedgebrook also provides Special Initiatives such as the Hedgebrook Fellows Program, Women Authoring Change, Hedgebrook Writers Series, and Women Playwrights Festival which help to connect writers with audiences.  They have also established two awards, the Adrienne Reiner Hochstadt Award and the Elizabeth George Award. 

I recently spoke with Kathryn Preiss of Hedgebrook and asked her if she could give us some tips about what a writer can expect and should not expect form a writers' retreat.  I also asked her what advice she would give to writers in order to increase their chances of being accepted-I had heard from other writers who had attended that if you are not initially accepted, one must keep applying. This was Kathryn's response:

Yes, Nilki, apply and apply again is really all the advice we can give.  It all depends on the pool of applicants that year - we are always looking for diversity, and that is always different from year to year.  In terms of expectations of a writers retreat, here is some information that we share with our residents:

With regard to the expectations here, we’ve found that one of the most difficult adjustments for many writers is dealing with the solitude of life at Hedgebrook.  The absence of distractions forces many women to face themselves as writers for the first time.  Experienced writers tell us that this undisturbed encounter of writer with self can be one of the most difficult passages to make; many also say that it is, ultimately, one of the most rewarding ones.  We hope that by telling you about it in advance, you’ll know it is a normal process, and be prepared for the commitment it demands.

Writers who try to maintain their usual responsibilities while they are here—attempting to keep up with news, correspondence, outside projects, etc.—have a much more difficult time connecting with the natural environment and the introspective benefits of residency, perhaps because interruptions diminish confrontation with self.  We ask you to eliminate such distractions while you are here, because the retreat aspect of Hedgebrook is one of its most valuable offerings.  

Kathryn also offered some really great thoughts from writers who have attended Hedgebrook:

"Hedgebrook is a place of concentrated support and nurturing for women's voices. It can't make up for millennia of silencing, but it does create a hope and standard for the present and future."

"Hedgebrook gave to me, generously, without judging that I was not a Published author nor did I have a list of literary achievements.  They listened to who I was and to the memoir that was leaking out of my heart.  So I give to them."

"Being at Hedgebrook taught me the preciousness of solitude and nurturing, inherent in the time and space the residency afforded me."

"The difference this makes in the world is to give as many other women as possible this opportunity. We shall never know what creative gifts have been bestowed upon us because of Hedgebrook."

"What difference does Hedgebrook make in the world?  In other words, it's nice for the women who go, but how does it help the rest of humanity; how do alumnae pay the gift of Hedgebrook forward?  It empowers women’s voices throughout the world, and values each and every voice."

"We are writers.  Our words count.  We need to get them out there.  Hedgebrook makes this possible."

"After so many years of feminism, it is still difficult for women’s voices to be heard, especially women’s voices that are not saying the limited truths the culture wants us to say. By valuing and supporting and nurturing radical voices of women, Hedgebrook acts for political justice and social change.  Hedgebrook’s work is essential in the work toward a just international community. You support odd voices, voices that don’t fit, voices of pain no one else seems to want to hear, voices stammering their way forward, hesitating on their way to fluency.  You are midwife to the birth of so many voices of women that would otherwise not be born!" 

Mark your calendars: Applications for Writers in Residence for 2011 will be available in June of 2010!!

For more information, please check out Hedgebrook's website at: http://www.hedgebrook.org

photo courtesy of blisster


  1. Great information. Thanks for posting it. I understand they have become so well know that they are receiving applications not only from around the country but from around the world.

  2. I just came back from a meeting with Latina workers and Senator Patty Murray in Seatte and the feeling around the room was strong and clear on the need of support for women by women with women. It is not an issue of race or ethnic background it is an issue of gender and women like philanthropist Nancy Skinner Nordhoff have been there leading the way for a long time. This is an extraordinary program that deserves full support from all.

  3. Hi Nilke! I met you on Latina Bloggers via Writer's Group. WOW! I have been looking for a place just like this...it was as though you described my ideal setting, the place I've been searching for to hide away and write.

    Thank you for this post! Abrazos, Patty

  4. Hi Chennifer and Patty and my anonymous readers! Thanks for stopping by and commenting.

    I actually had the opportunity to visit Hedgebrook one summer day a few years back and fell in love...

    It is a real beauty, physically and spiritually.

    Patty, you must apply and finish that memoir!!

  5. Stopped by from Book Blogs. I would love to participate in your Blog Tour (if you could tell me something about it). Having never done one before, I would love to hear more.

    I really love your blog - a nice spirit to it.

  6. Hi & thanks for stopping by Library Cat! I will definitely contact you when the details are confirmed-I actually have three book tours coming up so there should be something for everyone!make sure you drop me a note on bookblogs.

    Thanks for your kind words.


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