In the late 1980s, on 30 wooded acres overlooking Useless Bay on Whidbey Island, Nancy Nordhoff built six little cottages surrounded by gardens, ponds and the music of burbling water, and began inviting female writers to spend some time there. She figured that by providing the women with a serene environment, a good mattress, a wood-burning stove, a reading chair, a desk, and all their meals, they would have the freedom they needed to write. The muses could take care of the rest.
Twenty-five years after Hedgebrook opened, “There’s not a darn thing I would do different,” Nordhoff says, looking back over her experiment. “It’s really amazing: The values we put in place then are still the foundation and values they are operating under.”
Each year, from more than 1,000 applicants, about 40 promising candidates are selected for residency; roughly half are women of color. Established writers have been invited over the years, too, among them famed feminist Gloria Steinem, poet Carolyn Forché and screenwriter Robin Swicord. From across the U.S. and 20 other countries women have traveled to Hedgebrook for a quiet, supportive sanctuary to do their work. So far, more than 1,400 resident writers aged 18 to 83 have passed through the program.“Some have never stayed alone before and that’s not just young women, but older women, too,” says Nordhoff. “They’ll leave saying, ‘Now I feel I’m a writer.’ ”
This Sunday Hedgebrook celebrates a quarter century with Equivox, a day of food, friendship, storytelling and fundraising, led by Hedgebrook alumnae Karen Joy Fowler—author of six novels, including The Jane Austen Book Club and Sister Noon—and Ruth Ozeki, novelist, filmmaker and Zen Buddhist priest, author of My Year of Meats, All Over Creation and the newly released A Tale for the Time Being.
Nordhoff says she never wanted to be a writer herself. Instead, she had an urge that “wasn’t really a dream but an idea. Maybe it was a vision. I wanted to help women be able to go further in their lives.”
Through Hedgebrook, she has found fulfillment. “Self-esteem, affirmation: all the very basic things we need to grow as an individual can be found there,” she says. “I’m pretty proud of that.”
March 17, 11am–1pm, $125 (includes wine); $1,000 (table of 7)
Herban Feast, SoDo Park, 3200 First Ave S
Hedgebrook Rising: Carolyn Forché and Local Poets Raise the Roof
Apr 9 at 7, $10–$15, Town Hall