Cultivating Pearls: A Writer's
Retreat Comes Home
An oft used African proverb by a well-known fiction author states, ’Where there is mud, there is water.’ Transfer an upstate writing retreat on the shores of Lake Champlain in Essex and Valcour, New York to Crown Heights, Brooklyn, and what is created in the process is the equivalent of an oasis-in-the making; it is a workshop experience with the balanced combination of discipline, reflection, and openness that artists crave.
The North Country Institute for Writers of Color (NCI), a collaboration between the Center for Black Literature at Medgar Evers College; the English department at SUNY, Plattsburgh; and the Paden Institute for Writers of Color will sponsor its fifth writing workshop and retreat (the second in Brooklyn) at Medgar Evers College this year. From February 26th to March 1st, 2009 a new group of talented poets and fiction writers will join together and experience what is quickly becoming one of the best kept secrets in city.
The last retreat took place in the Summer of 2008 and featured separate sessions led by fiction writer Victor LaValle and poet Gregory Pardlo, respectively. Four days later, participants from a variety of backgrounds joined together for personal critique, and the comfort in knowing that as emerging writers of color this shared space provided a forum where insights and perspectives in their work would be met with both sensitivity, criticism and understanding.
Originally started with support from the Nathan Cummings Foundation and the Winkel Foundation in 2004, the organizers of the first retreat who had participated in the Paden Retreat for Writers of Color in Essex, New York , formed the Institute and Retreat in Valcour, New York as a venue for providing writers of color with an opportunity to work on their craft and draw upon their experiences as writers in a racialized society. Likewise, the upstate retreat provided the broader New York State area with an opportunity to become knowledgeable about the issues and concerns facing writers of color. To this end, a roster of faculty mentors have taught and lent their support and talent to the program over the last four years. These include poet, Sonia Sanchez; fiction writer Indira Ganesan; poet, essayist, and children's author, Tony Medina; journalist, non-fiction and memoir writer, Patrice Gaines; novelist, Sandra Jackson-Opoku; poet and memoirist, Ethelbert Miller; fiction writer and poet, Jeffrey Renard Allen; and nationally renowned poet, Martin Espada.
The Medgar Evers College location of The North Country Institute (NCI) this month introduces a competitive workshop size and a uniquely rigorous experience for the value. Workshop faculty include Tonya Hegamin, an alumna of Cave Canem and the author of a young adult novel, M+O 4EVR and Pemba's Song: A Ghost Story and20Aracelis Girmay, a poet, essayist and fiction writer. She is the author of a children's art book, Changing, Changing and a former Watson and Cave Canem fellow. Girmay has published extensively in journals and literary magazines.
As a writing fellow, you are provided with a continental breakfast each day, (but lunch, drinks and lodging are on you!) and the borough's landscape, by no coincidence is one that retreat founders hope will shape the program and in turn, the program and its new alumni will impact the community at large. At present, only the title of the retreat remains ironic in light of its home (North of what?). A far cry from its origins at Lake Champlain, it is sure to become the new face of the writing retreat for years to come---only a few minutes walk from the subway.
North Country Institute for Writers of Color Website