A few years ago Marybeth Holleman and I put together a panel for an AWP (Associated Writers and Writing Programs) conference that we called “Wild Writing Residencies.” With three other writers from around the country, we discussed our experiences with a variety of artist-in-residence programs that take place in national parks and other “wild” places. These kinds of residencies would seem to fit Alaskans particularly well—and there are now quite a few opportunities here in the state—so I thought I’d share some of what I know with 49 Writers’ readers.
In a typical writing residency, the writer—you—stays in a room, head down, writing. See a post I wrote about this some years ago. In a “wild” one, you will most often find yourself in a spectacular natural setting you’ll want to get out into. (You may actually be out in it for your residency, traveling by kayak or with backpack.) You may be asked to help with research or stewardship. You will generally be expected to produce some kind of writing that will communicate the values of the place hosting you. Most often, you will also offer some kind of “community service”—perhaps a reading or workshop during or after the residency.
In the last several years I’ve had these terrific opportunities:
- Denali National Park. In this program, artists, including writers, are invited to spend 10 days in a park cabin, with access to the entire park and to rangers and researchers working in it. (You can also bring a companion.) I did a lot of hiking and exploring. One highlight was spending a day with paleontologists, searching for, finding, and documenting fossilized dinosaur footprints. The essay I later wrote was published in a literary journal and has been used for educational purposes within the park. I also wrote a number of poems—a new discipline for me—and some of these are printed in a display booklet at the park visitor center. See my blog post about this.
- Voices of the Wilderness. This program based in Alaska places writers and artists in wilderness areas of parks, refuges, and forests each summer. In both of my residencies I collaborated with my photographer friend Irene Owsley—first kayaking and camping with a Forest Service ranger in Harriman Fjord (Prince William Sound) for a week and, this past summer, accompanying Fish and Wildlife planners to the far Aleutian Islands of Attu and Kiska. In both cases, Irene and I prepared photos and texts for exhibits, slideshows, and additional work for publication. The deadline for this program is March 1, 2018.
- Spring Creek Project, Andrews Forest Writing Residency. This program, operated from Oregon State University, places one writer at a time in a comfortable house at the headquarters of an experimental forest in the western Cascades. The forest has a long-term ecological research program, and the residency matches it with a long-term ecological reflections program. Writers explore, interact with scientists, and visit study sites. And write! I wrote both a long essay and a short story from my two-week stay.
- Wrangell Mountains Center. This non-profit in McCarthy runs a summer residency program known as the Meg Hunt Artists in Residence Program. For two weeks, each artist or writer has a place in which to live and meals prepared by the center staff. I can tell you that it’s very hard to stay inside and write when the whole of Wrangell-St. Elias Park and the Kennecott Mine ruins are begging to be explored! I’m still working from material and inspiration I found there.
There are also these other wild residency programs I’m aware of:
- Artist in Residence program National Parks Service. Denali, Gates of the Arctic, and Klondike Gold Rush Historical Park are all listed here, plus dozens in the rest of the country.
- AIR program National Parks Foundation
- Bureau of Land Management (BLM) artist residence program. This includes, this year, opportunities along the Dalton Highway and several scenic rivers in Alaska.
Take a look at whether any of these might give you a fresh look at our world—and a chance to share an amazing place with readers. Pay attention to guidelines and application dates. Summer’s coming (and some deadlines for this year may already have passed.) Have a wild writing time, wherever you go or may be!
Nancy Lord, Alaska Writer Laureate 2008-10, is the author of several fiction and nonfiction books including, most recently, pH: A Novel. She teaches in the UAA MFA program and the Johns Hopkins graduate science writing program, and she is regularly a member of the Kachemak Bay Writers Conference faculty. Her website is http://www.writernancylord.com.