— Jenny Neill

Writer Residencies: Oh the Places You’ll Go

The Hedgebrook Alumnae Leadership hosted a panel discussion about writer residencies and conferences at Hugo House on Wednesday, October 24. Many Seattle Writergrrls were among those who packed the room that night to hear advice from Susan Rich, Donna Miscolta, and Claudia Rowe. While much of the discussion covered retreats, the speakers also touched on finding grants to help offset costs for programs that don’t offer a full ride.

Susan Rich, an accomplished poet, has attended over 10 residencies all over the world. Novelist Donna Micolta has already participated in more than half a dozen writer programs despite having started writing seriously later in life. Claudia Rowe is presently in the Jack Straw Writers Program and left New York City to move to Seattle after her residency at Hedgebrook.

Each panelist spoke about how to find residency programs and how to prepare for the experience once accepted. Rich encouraged us to reach for our dreams while treating the search for the right placement like trying to get into grad school. She stressed staying organized, creating a cohesive narrative, and conducting research because no two writer or artist communities have the same mission or culture. Talking to past residents is a great way to decide whether and when to apply.

Miscolta delved into the nitty gritty details of the application process. Most only allow two pages for a resume and eight pages or less for writing samples. Also, review panels are often comprised of jurors from multiple genres or artistic disciplines. She advised imagining writing for a lay audience. Leave out literary or academic jargon and avoid the temptation to include “extra” samples. Miscolta acknowledged the difficulty of assigning a monetary value to retreat writing. A realistic budget, including allowable expenses, is part of being awarded many of the most coveted placements.

Rowe shared her approach to finding funding resources. In short, she told us “Don’t brush off any opportunity.” Continuing on that theme, she suggested looking for less obvious monies. Often, foundations have grants available for writers. Rowe regularly reviews a number of listing services for writers, artists, and organizations that support parents or women as part of their missions.

The closing discussion with attendees reiterated many points made earlier in the evening:

  • Woo the jury: Over and over again, the theme emerged that to sell yourself and your project shaping a narrative in the application itself matters.
  • Be creative in your search: Private foundations, the national park system, and archives are among the alternatives to being accepted to a writer’s residency. Or, apply for a grant to fund going on a solo writing getaway.
  • If you fail, try try again: Ask for feedback and keep applying. Rich relayed a story of doing just that. Sometimes, as she said in reference to juries, “It just wasn’t your panel this year.”
  • It takes a village to raise a writer-in-residence: Workshop your applications the way you do your works-in-progress. Panelists and audience members alike reported relying on coos of “there-there” and cheers of “hip hip hurray” in this as in all writing endeavors.