Monday, August 31, 2009

Writers at Soapstone: Jennifer Culkin

Jennifer Culkin’s absorbing debut memoir, A Final Arc of Sky: A Memoir of Critical Care was published by Beacon in the spring of this year to much critical praise such as this, from Judith Kitchen: “I loved the stories, the language, the point of view, but what I loved most was the way this book was able to break my heartthen mend it.”

Much of the book focuses on Jennifer’s experiences aboard an emergency helicopter keeping victims of heart attacks and critically injured survivors of traffic accidents alive as they are being transported to hospital emergency rooms and the risks of being an emergency flight nurse—night flights, bad weather, human error—including dealing with the deaths of colleagues in helicopter crashes. A former neonatal and pediatric intensive-care nurse, she writes vividly of the tiny patients whose lives were in her hands.

Jennifer worked on A Final Arc of Sky during a two-week residency at Soapstone in the spring of 2006 and again for another two weeks in the winter of 2008. She wrote to us in March:

“I can't tell you how much the gift of concerted, focused, untroubled time helped metime that was completely untethered from the stressors of job and home. At Soapstone each morning I journaled purely for fun over coffee in front of the Queen, worked on the material for my book up in the cube from late morning until mid-to-late afternoon, spent the last two hours of daylight riding my bike to Nehalem or Manzanita and back, a wonderful 25-mile ride out to the sea past the woods and the farms of the area; after a quick dinner I continued to work on the book up in the cube until 1 a.m.

“I never write in the evening at homeI have MS and am exhausted by the time evening rolls aroundso this new capability surprised and delighted me. It was enlightening to discover how much I can do as a writer when the usual constraints and energy drains are removed.

“This gift of time is enhanced and heightened by the secluded beauty of the natural setting, by the house itself, and by your amazing management of the facilities. I love the houseit balances perfectly on the cusp between aesthetic and necessity. I love the natural materials, the simple comfort of the furnishings, the quirkiness of the Wind Studio. I love that it has absolutely everything one needs without any froufrou, and the same can be said of the Nehalem/Manzanita area, as well. The total environment you've created frees the writer to focus exclusively on the work and on forms of relaxation and inspiration that enhance the work.”

A 2008 recipient of the Rona Jaffe Foundation Writers’ Award, Jennifer lives on Bainbridge Island and is the nonfiction editor for Crab Creek Review. You can find out more about Jennifer on her website.


(Photo of Jennifer courtesy of Elisha Rain)