I was born in Alaska and raised on a 75-foot fish tender. I knew there had to be a warmer, dryer job out there somewhere, and found it in writing. I’m on my 30th novel at present, an historical novel about Marco Polo’s grand-daughter traveling the Silk Road west from 1322-1327, and having a lot of fun with it.
But. The first thing my writing ever earned me wasn’t an advance for a book. It was a residency at Hedgebrook Farm, a retreat for women writers. You know how your mom trains you to help clear the table when you’re invited to have dinner at someone else’s house? Well, that first evening at Hedgebrook I got up to help clear the table and Nancy Skinner Nordhoff, Hedgebrook’s builder and angel, barked at me. “Sit down!” she said. I sat down, with something of a thump, and she smiled at me. “You’ve already done your work for the day.”
It was the first time anyone ever acted around me like writing was a real job.
That single experience, more than my first book sale, more than winning the Edgar award, more than being named Artist of the Year for the Alaska Governor’s Arts Awards, was the single, seminal moment of my career. No one really understands the writer’s life, because no one ever sees us hunched over our keyboards, sweating out the next paragraph. Once a year we sign their books and then go back to work, out of sight, out of mind.
Women writers in particular could use a little help. We are still less published than male writers, we are still less reviewed, and we still earn only 65 cents of everyone else’s dollar so we’re not going to be able to afford to take time off to write. Which is why Amy at Hedgebrook tells me they have 1,000 qualified applicants for every 40 spaces. Six cottages isn’t enough.
Six more isn’t enough, either, but it’s what I can do. So I am building Storyknife Writers Retreat, modeled on Hedgebrook in fabric and function. There will be a main house with six cabins built on view property in Homer, Alaska. Residents will spend a minimum of two and a maximum of eight weeks in a small cabin with an idyllic view, there to concentrate on nothing but their craft. In the evenings all six residents will meet at the main house for dinner, there to talk shop about the craft and business of writing.
Storyknife will cost $1,000,000 to build. I’m chipping away at it as I can afford to, while waiting on IRS approval of 501(c)(3) status to begin major fund-raising.
It’s my legacy. It’s what I want to leave behind. Along with a shelf full of books with my name spelled correctly on the covers, what my dad always said was the most important thing. I know he’d approve of Storyknife, too.
To learn more about Dana Stabenow and Storyknife, go to:
And for more information about Hedgebrook, go to:
- And so it begins… (storyknife.org)