Monday, January 25, 2010

Writer-in-Residence: Whidbey Island

Today I am surrounded by the concrete, iron, and industry of Detroit. In what seems like worlds away, a mild wonderland of nature, bald eagles, and misty morning sunrises was my reality a little more than a week ago.

As guest faculty of the MFA residency for Northwest Institute of Literary Arts, I was spoiled. Yes, the students and faculty were a joy. Yes, the atmosphere of the residency was inspiring for my creative senses. But, oh, how I enjoyed those early morning and late evening strolls. The peace. The quiet. The mental space to create.

It may have been the too-good-to-be-true environment that inspired me to write while multi-tasking my stay, but it was definitely the students who motivated me. In hearing their own personal stories, in sharing meals and laughter-filled conversation, the MFA students at NILA are an incredible bunch. This was made evident by the wonderful student readings offered on two of the four nights during my stay. Hearing them share fiction, poetry, and personal essays was the highlight of the week.

I couldn’t possibly name everyone, for all were a treat to meet, but I must say it was a pleasure to make acquaintance with Charlotte, a fellow Canuck. Kobbie’s voice as she read – and indeed as she spoke – made it known she definitely has a long life of readings ahead of her. And it wasn’t just the students who delivered powerful readings.

I was madly entertained by children’s authors Bonny Becker and George Shannon, and equally impressed with Melissa Hart, author of the memoir Gringa: A Contradictory Girlhood. (By the way, if you haven’t already done so, please visit Melissa’s website and watch her very funny book trailer!) Overall, the entire faculty was incredible, warm, inviting, and a great deal of fun. Larry, Kathleen, and Carmen… I hope to spend time with you in the hallway lounge again sometime.

For the residency, I presented two workshops on the topic of Literary Citizenship. I plan on sharing some key points of these discussions soon. I am ever so grateful for the open minds and friendly faces that sat in on these workshops. It truly was a delightful bunch!

While in the company of many other talented guest presenters, I took advantage of workshops provided by Melissa Hart, Kelli Russell Agodon, and George Shannon. The interesting thing was I didn’t plan on writing much during my stay at the residency, figuring I’d be too busy with the schedule. As it turns out, I was very, very wrong. This was a very productive week for creative works and I was pleased to come home with a notebook full of ideas.

But… that’s the thing about a place like Whidbey Island. With just the right setting and the right kind of people by your side, the mind has a way of letting loose for long enough to let the imagination roam free.

If you’re in the area – or close enough to visit – there are some upcoming writing workshops hosted by Whidbey Island Writers Association. I definitely recommend attending a full-day workshop to see for yourself how top-notch the people, the program, and the atmosphere is. Visit the WIWA website for more info.

Lastly, I must extend a big thanks to Wayne Ude, Director of the MFA program, for inviting me to join in on this incredible week of activities. Thank you, Wayne, for your hospitality and conversation, and for introducing me to a fine group of very talented writers. It was certainly my pleasure.

Want to see more of Whidbey Island? Have a look at the post below to see some pics!


  1. What a glowing, lovely encapsulation of this residency. I'm printing this out and tucking it into my Whidbey Memory Folder. Aaah.

  2. Ah, thanks, Kobbie! It really was so great to meet you.

    I feel awful that I *still* trying to catch up on all my emails since my return from the residency. So many of you have been great in sending me notes of thanks and I'm trying real hard to get my replies out in a timely fashion.

    You're such a great group. I can't wait to visit again. Keep in touch!