Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Writers at Soapstone: Anndee Hochman

Anndee Hochman was one of Soapstone’s first two residents, in 1998. She wrote this to us about her residency:

“It was a writer’s sweet, secret dream: seven days in a remote cabin with one like-minded companion and no distractions. It was also the stuff of my writerly nightmares: that, given space, time and no excuses, not a decent word would come. Besides, I’m a city girl, Philly-bred, and the woods make me jumpy.

“What I remember is writing—a lot, in longhand on yellow pads, following a voice that barged into my mind until it opened into a short story called “I Seen Some Stuf Horabl Stuf Lisen.” At night, Elissa and I read to each other and learned to find lullaby in the woods’ rustle. We had no cell phones. We were some of Soapstone’s pioneer residents, and I left feeling the way I imagine pioneers did—plucky, thoughtful, appreciative, alive. Back in Portland, the city seemed to be shouting.”

Besides “Horabl Stuf,” Anndee worked on other short stories at Soapstone that became part of her collection Anatomies: A Novella and Stories (Picador USA, 2000). Her first book, Everyday Acts & Small Subversions: Women Reinventing Family, Community and Home, was published by Portland’s Eighth Mountain Press in 1994. She has written for O, the Oprah Magazine, Marie Claire, Working Mother, Health and Cooking Light. These days, she freelances for The Philadelphia Inquirer, works as a teaching artist in New Jersey and Pennsylvania schools and teaches memoir to adults, including at her annual Heart & Craft workshop in Mexico.

You can find out more about Anndee on her website.


Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Writers at Soapstone: EM Lewis

EM (Ellen) Lewis was in residence at Soapstone for two weeks in early January, 2010. While there, she kept a daily journal of the experience on her blog, which gives a great sense of what it’s like to be a Soapstone resident and includes many wonderful photos. Following are some excerpts from her blog.

I woke up this morning to rain painting my window, making the trees outside look Monet-soft. Lovely. I haven't left the cabin today. I imagine one of the particular joys of a mid-winter residency here is how cozy the cabin seems when the wind is roaring through the trees, and the rain is pounding down, and the river is rushing past, high and fast and brown and wild. I am ready to sink deeper into my writing.

“I'm sneaking up on this play like a wild animal. It is deeply personal, and focusing on it has exploded all my previous notions. I discovered the heart of the play here, and began to listen to its music, and to get a notion of its trajectory.

“Words aren't the only thing I've found in these woods, though. I feel like I've found myself again, in a way. The world get
s so busy sometimes. All telephones and traffic. Sometimes I have trouble hearing myself think. I have rested here. Does it make me sound crazy if I say it helped me remember how to breathe? I have walked amongst the trees and let their strength and solidity make me feel stronger, and more solidly rooted in this earth. I have lifted my face to the rain, and feel refreshed.

“Thank you to all the people who have created Soapstone, and who let me come here to live and work for two wonderful weeks. It has been a great gift. I will cherish the memory of it forever.”

EM Lewis is a playwright whose work has been produced around the country. She won the 2009 Steinberg/ATCA New Play Award from the American Theater Critics Association for her play Song of Extinction, which premiered in Los Angeles. The play also won the Ashland New Plays Festival, University of Oregon's EcoDrama Festival, the Ted Schmitt Award for the premiere of an outstanding new play from the Los Angeles Drama Critics Circle, and Production of the Year from the LA Weekly Awards. It was published in Dramatics Magazine in January 2010, and will be coming out in an acting edition from Samuel French this year. Lewis also wrote the Iraq War hostage drama Heads (winner of the 2008 Primus Prize for an emerging woman theater artist). Her first full-length play, Infinite Black Suitcase (about grief and redemption in rural Oregon), didn't win any awards, but she likes it anyway. Lewis is a member of Moving Arts Theater Company, the Dramatists Guild, the International Centre for Women Playwrights and the Alliance of Los Angeles Playwrights. She lives in Santa Monica, California now, but she is originally from Oregon. You can read more about her on her website.


Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Writers at Soapstone: Barbara LaMorticella

Barbara LaMorticella wrote at Soapstone for two weeks during the summer of 2004.

She wrote to us afterwards: “It was a new and wonderful experience for me to be in an atmosphere which so completely valued and supported writing. I came away with a new dedication to the craft, with the beginning of a new book, and with pages of information about resources for writers gleaned from various publications on the shelves.”

“Praise and thanks. The whole world has seemingly been hijacked by militarism and psychopathic thuggery. A writing retreat specifically for women, sustained by a women’s writing community, has never been more evidently necessary than now—a sheltered space wherein the seeds of new vision and new life might germinate, sprout and flower.”

Barbara LaMorticella has a new manuscript circulating, The Great Dance: Poems 1969 – 2009. Her two poetry chapbooks are Even the Hills Move in Waves (Leaping Mountain Press, 1986) and Rain on Waterless Mountain (26 Books, 1996), which was a finalist for the Oregon Book Award.

In 2000 she received the first
Oregon Literary Fellowship for women writers, and in 2005 she was awarded the Stewart H. Holbrook Literary Legacy Award for outstanding contribution to Oregon's literary community. Her work is featured in many anthologies, most recently To Topos Poetry International: Poverty and Poetry (Oregon State University, 2008), Not a Muse (Haven Books, 2009), and Eating the Pure Light (The Backwaters Press, 2009). In 2009 she established a desktop publishing company, The Present Press. She has hosted a regular poetry program, The Talking Earth, on radio station KBOO in Portland since the late 1980s.


Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Writers at Soapstone: Shelley Washburn

Shelley Washburn was a resident at Soapstone for a week in March of 2006. She wrote to us afterwards:

“Instead of polishing the story I brought with me, I tore it apart and stitched it back together again. I am very pleased with it—I would say I had an extremely successful week.

“I was feeling anti-social when I came to Soapstone and didn’t think I would want to interact much with the other writer. I was looking forward only to getting back to my writing and to slowing down and having time to sleep, think, and listen to the stream. But that changed when I met her—she was funny, creative, smart and soulful. We found we had the same work habits and food preferences so we ate dinner together. We did dishes and chores together. We were so compatible that there was no need to discuss a process for living and working together.

“Every evening after dinner we read each other's work (she helped me see where I had extraneous scenes and characters in my story). Then we’d talk late into the night about our lives and writing and politics and how we could make ethical contributions to our community.”

Shelley Washburn’s articles and short stories have appeared in various publications, including DoubleTake magazine and two anthologies by the Crossing Press. In 2005, she won The Journal’s annual short story contest for her piece “When the River Lay Quiet with Snow.” She is the director of Pacific University’s Master of Fine Arts in Writing program.


Sunday, December 27, 2009

Writers at Soapstone: Jessica Lamb

Jessica Lamb just finished a week-long residency in December of 2009.

“I try hard to keep my writing alive while I’m teaching, but I typically end up without a lot of juice by the end of the term. The prospect of a week at Soapstone gave me a huge lift during those busy weeks when I wasn’t finding energy for much of my own writing–I thought about it every day all fall, looking forward to feeding my need for solitude and creative renewal. I was aware, too, having spent time on retreat in the past, that there’s a danger in pinning one’s hopes and expectations on a particular outcome.

“I was careful not to have any lofty goals for the week–I told myself I just wanted to read and write and walk–but what I forgot to factor in when I pictured being there was my exhaustion. When I finally arrived there was a big brain-dead part of me that frankly didn’t want to read and write at all. If I’d been home I probably would have watched a lot of movies and baked a lot of cookies. But the truth is, I would have been avoiding writing not just because I was tired but because it can be damn hard to start up after a dry spell. The enormous value of being at Soapstone for me was that I stuck with myself and kept writing.

“I spent a lot of time just watching the creek. The water was clear with ice on the fringes for the first several days. Every so often a piece would break off and float serenely away. Details of the surroundings began appearing in my writing immediately–the changing sounds of the creek, the ticking of the wood stove, the stirring of the wind in the alder branches. After a few days it began to rain–hard–and the creek was soon hurtling downstream at a frenetic rate. Being next to moving water made me very aware of my own pulsing circulating blood and the flow of energies and emotions and thoughts. When the writing felt most satisfying, I was responding effortlessly to that flow without trying to move it in a certain direction. But the days felt expansive enough to apply myself in many different ways; I did some very focused revision as well.

“I’m amazed at all the careful thought that’s been put into making this refuge for women writers, and I’m forever grateful for the chance to spend time there.”

Jessica Lamb has taught writing for many years through the Northwest Writing Institute, Portland Community College, and the Literary Arts Writers in the Schools program. Her poems have appeared in numerous journals, including Poetry, The Southern Review, and Willow Springs. Her first book of poems, Last Apples of Late Empires, was published in the spring of 2009 by Airlie Press, an Oregon publishing collective of which she is a founding member.


Saturday, December 19, 2009

Writers at Soapstone: Phyllis Thompson

Phyllis Thompson was in residence for a week in February 2004. In reply to our standard evaluation question, "How did being at Soapstone affect your writing?" she wrote: "A hundred details the Soapstone community has constructed directly supported my writing. The shape and size and arrangement of the spaces. The amenities provided (variety of chairs, rugs, blankets, vacuums, wood, fans, olive oil left by a previous writer, dishes, refrigerator, and on and on). The careful organization of the relationship with the other writer. Combined, these details created my own ideal conditions for work: A comfortable and convenient protected space where I could concentrate on writing only, yet providing opportunity for enough meditative activity (like wood hauling and feeding the stove, attractive places to walk) that I could stay healthy, and the option of unforced interaction with a congenial person when that happened.

"I was in residence with someone I didn't previously know, and it worked out wonderfully. We shared interests in hiking, birds, and China, and differences in the exact nature of our work and experience which made for interesting conversation. More important for me, however, was the complete freedom I felt not to interact with her most days and nights. I'm sure our compatibility was partly a factor (for example, we found it easy to agree to cut back on our water use and how to do that when Soapstone Creek started to rise). Also, the Soapstone guidelines cautioning us to come ‘without expectations for spending evening or other free time with the other writer’ made me feel quite free to stay in my room as much as I liked, and to take my adventures out of the womb alone."

Phyllis Thompson has just finished the manuscript she began during her Soapstone residency about her seven years living on a sailboat, The Journey: A Philosopher at Sea. She has been a creative nonfiction writer (also cartographer, archaeological illustrator, and intercultural communication teacher) since 1980. A particular interest of hers is the creation of dramatic readings of her own work which she has performed in Oregon, Colorado, and Arizona, sometimes in collaboration with other artists. The Six Voices and a Gong group, created to perform pieces from her book Dear Alice: Letters Home from American Teachers Learning to Live in China, won the International Association of Audio Information Services Program of the Year Award for Entertainment in 2006.


Saturday, December 12, 2009

Writers at Soapstone: Anjie Reynolds

Anjie Reynolds had a two-week residency at Soapstone in January of 2008. She came home to “kids’ birthday parties, house guests, my job, and a hubby stressed by dental school,” struggling with feeling frustrated that she didn’t get more writing done on her novel, but realizing that she had made headway, nonetheless.

“With all that thinking, I saw places where I needed to do more information-gathering and how the arc of the story should work.” Recently she headed to Eastern Kentucky, where the novel is set: “something I discovered I needed to do as I sat in the Wind Studio—I just had to get my husband through dental school and our family through a re-location to Ashland, Oregon, first.

“Since my novel wasn’t flowing, I turned to nonfiction. I sold 'Emergency' to NPR's San Francisco station, and it aired a month after I left Soapstone. It focused on a family health emergency that gave me a heightened awareness of the need for healthcare reform. Its airing led me to work with the Children's Defense Fund, MomsRising.org, and the 100% Campaign. Not long after it aired, I testified in Sacramento before the California State Senate Budget Subcommittee with my kids at my side, urging the state not to cut children’s medical coverage.”

Anjie Seewer Reynolds currently lives in Ashland, Oregon, where she teaches courses at ScienceWorks Hands-On Museum and writes. Her work has appeared in The Sun, is forthcoming in The Christian Science Monitor, and has aired on KQED, San Francisco's NPR affiliate.