09 December 2010

reside, write, repeat

Kerouac House
When I think of writers’ residencies, I don’t usually think of airports. Still, there’s something to be said for writing under unexpected circumstances. Last year, author Alain de Botton served as Heathrow’s first writer-in-residence. He set up shop in the middle of Terminal 5 and got to work, his writing appearing in real time on a screen behind him. Heathrow invited him, but he had some stipulations. He wanted generous access to the airport and authorities could not review the work that resulted before publication. A Week at the Airport, the book that came from this experience, was recently released in the United States. The residency experience may have much larger reverberations beyond this book. In an interview with CNN, Alain de Botton said of talking with travelers, “I could write many hundreds of novels based on what they told me.”

Heathrow invited Alain de Botton, but there are plenty of unique residencies writers can apply for. In a program that will continue for two hundred years, Andrews Forest Writers’ Residency invites writers-in-residence to visit specific study sites in the forest and reflect on and write about the forest and their relationship to it. The writings become a part of the archives at Oregon State University.

The National Parks Service currently has twenty-nine parks participating in the Artist-in-Residence program where artists, including writers, can live and work in the parks. Sites include the Grand Canyon National Park in Arizona, Devil’s Tower National Monument in Wyoming, Joshua Tree National Park in California and Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado.

As a former writer-in-residence of The Kerouac Project of Orlando, I can tell you Kerouac’s Orlando home is something special. Writers-in-residence spend three months in the house where Kerouac lived when he was writing The Dharma Bums. You can sit on the back steps, the very place where Kerouac curled up—severely sick and locked out of the house—upon his return from New York City after the publication of his most famous novel, On the Road. There are other residencies connected to famous authors. The Marguerite and Lamar Smith Fellowship for Writers includes a residency in a private apartment in the childhood home of Carson McCullers in Columbus, Georgia. The Thurber House Residency in Children’s Literature includes a month long retreat in James Thurber’s home in Columbus, Ohio. The James Merrill House Writer-in-Residence Program provides living and working space in James Merrill’s residence in Stonington, Connecticut for a half or full academic year.

Don’t limit yourself only to residencies that already exist. Why not initiate your own? I’ve long thought the Brooklyn Bridge would be a great site for a writer-in-residence. Or the red line of Chicago’s El. Or a currency exchange shop. Or the kitchen of a late night diner. Of course, it’d be worth getting the okay first. And you might only take up partial residency so you can catch your forty winks in peace.

1 comment:

Kenda said...

Whoa, a lifelong Ohioan here and I never knew the programs that the James Thurber house offers. Thanks so much. I'll have to look into this :-)