Twenty-Two of the Most Inspiring Writers Retreats in the Country

by
Various
2.13.19

You will always be the best judge of whether a writers retreat is right for you. You know better than anyone whether this conference’s programming or that colony’s writing cabins or this festival’s events or that residency’s schedule of seclusion is a good match for your own needs, experience level, and temperament. Scanning the websites of the more than three hundred writers retreats listed in our carefully curated database at pw.org is a great first step, but thanks to the power of our literary imaginations and the wonders of high-resolution, professional photography, let’s be honest: They all look pretty fantastic. Sadly none of us are lucky enough to be able to attend every one and formulate our own opinions based on firsthand experience, so the next best approach is to ask others who have been there to give their recommendations for which ones are exceptional. That’s exactly what we did while compiling this list.

Kachemak Bay in Homer, Alaska, the location of the Kachemak Bay Writers’ Conference. (Credit: Kevin Larimer)

We reached out to some of the most generous, supportive, inspiring, and discerning authors we know and asked them to recommend retreats that are among the best in terms of productivity, motivation, networking, or any other criteria that is important to them as writers. Many writers based their recommendations on the adventures they had as attendees, while others drew on their experiences as workshop leaders or guest faculty. All of them offer a personal take on what makes these retreats unique—and what rewards they offer those who make the personal decision to devote time and resources to concentrating on one’s art in a new setting, among new people, and working toward a new understanding of one’s writing. We added some practical information about each to help you decide whether you agree. 

 

 

Kaveh Akbar
BOAAT Writer’s Retreat

“The BOAAT Writer’s Retreat was a blessing for me early in my poet life. I was among the retreat’s first cohort of writers, applying after a number of factors caught my eye. I wanted to work with Eduardo C. Corral, a hero of mine, who was leading that workshop. It was a beautiful space full of good food, games, karaoke, time to write and read, and real substantive discourse with Eduardo. It was among the first times I was truly taken seriously as a poet, where I was in a community of writers not as student but as peer and friend.”

Weeklong residency and workshop program for poets in the mountains of Vilas, North Carolina. Tuition is $1,100, which includes workshops, lodging, and meals. Applications will open in June. www.boaatpress.com/boaat-writers-retreat

Alexander Chee 
Virginia Center for the Creative Arts

“When I went to VCCA it was a mix of established artists and new ones, with visual artists, composers, and writers—which, to me, is always good for the imagination—all set down in studios amid fields and hills covered in old roses. It’s an exceedingly gentle place, and I made good friends quickly with the artists and the staff and even found mentors I needed as I worked on my first novel. There’s a dorm atmosphere—we shared bathrooms—and my bathroom-mate and I are still friends. It worked out for us.” 

Residencies of up to two months offered year-round for poets, fiction writers, and creative nonfiction writers on a 450-acre estate at the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia. Residents are provided with private lodging, studio space, and all meals. Next deadline: May 15.

Virginia Center for the Creative Arts, 154 San Angelo Drive, Amherst, VA 24521. (434) 946-7236. www.vcca.com

Nicole Dennis-Benn
MacDowell Colony

“Prior to my summer at MacDowell, I had never been to a residency before, no doubt in part because I always maintained that one can get their work done anywhere with the right amount of dedication and discipline. However, what MacDowell offered me was a seemingly vast capsule of time and a rare opportunity to interact with artists from various disciplines outside of writing. That summer, I established my own relationship with the place and people—something that occurred over time during the evening dinners around a communal table full of food, drink, and live chatter. Meanwhile my creative juices flowed, recharged by my long walks through the woods and conversations with artists who later became friends. During the day my thoughts and ideas brewed under the blanket of quiet in my studio, which was completely surrounded by trees. I grew up in Jamaica—an island of land, wood, and water. So being around the trees lifted my spirit. I knew the hours when lunch would be delivered to my doorstep. I would listen for the sound of wheels crunching pebbles on the graveled path leading to my cottage, and if I was writing I learned that it was better to simply stop and enjoy a meal. Sometimes all I did was stare at the plaques with names of great artists who had been in the studio before me—renowned composers, award-winning authors. Jacqueline Woodson and James Baldwin were the two names that stood out to me. I worked day after day for the most obvious of reasons—to feel that I too belonged in the same place, the same studio where James Baldwin once stayed, slept, and created; and to honor the voices of my past that spoke to me in the urgent whispers of trees.”

Residencies of up to two months offered year-round for poets, fiction writers, and creative nonfiction writers on a 450-acre estate in Peterborough, New Hampshire. Residents are provided with lodging, studio space, and all meals. Next deadline: April 15. MacDowell Colony, 100 High Street, Peterborough, NH 03458. (603) 924-3886. www.macdowellcolony.org

Anthony Doerr
Kachemak Bay Writers’ Conference

“First you have to get to Homer, Alaska, at the southern tip of the Kenai Peninsula; then you have to get from the airport to the far end of the Homer Spit, a 4.5-mile treeless finger thrust into white-capped, glowing Kachemak Bay. At the end of the spit you reach a rambling hotel called Land’s End, and for a few days, beneath the midnight sun, you get to commune with readers and writers from all over Alaska—and all over the world—in classrooms, on the long rocky shoreline, and in the pages of poems and stories. I’ve heard that some years it rains the whole time, but the summer I visited we had heart-stoppingly beautiful weather: Day after day the bay glittered, otters floated on their backs outside my windows, rainbows hung in the distances, and eagles stood on the decks glaring in at us. Sure, you can meet an agent or talk with an editor, but what I most admired about the Kachemak Bay Writers’ Conference was the closeness of the community: You can close-read a poem one hour, talk about screenplays the next, then have a drink with somebody who lives in darkness most of the winter and who cares for her neighbors in a way not too many people in the Lower 48 do anymore. If you’d like to pay more attention to the land, make a bunch of new friends with life experiences different from yours, and get away from screens for a bit, Kachemak Bay is worth a look.”

Five-day conference from June 14 to June 18 for poets, fiction writers, and creative nonfiction writers at the Land’s End Resort in Homer, Alaska. The conference features workshops, craft talks, readings, panel discussions on the business of writing, and optional manuscript consultations with agents and editors. The cost of the conference is $395 before May 1 and $425 thereafter. Space is limited; registration is first come, first served. Kachemak Bay Writers’ Conference, Kenai Peninsula College, 533 East Pioneer Avenue, Homer, AK 99603. (907) 235-7743. writersconf.kpc.alaska.edu

Melissa Febos
Port Townsend Writers’ Conference

“I’ve taught at the Port Townsend Writers’ Conference many times and love the particular focus on craft and community. There are lectures and readings and activities galore, but the atmosphere is less career-focused than some other conferences I’ve attended. I’ve actually managed to get writing done there! It’s also in an astonishingly beautiful location in the Pacific Northwest—situated atop a set of bluffs in a state park overlooking the Puget Sound, with white-capped mountains in the distance.”

Weeklong conference from July 14 to July 21 for poets, fiction writers, and creative nonfiction writers at Fort Worden State Park, a turn-of-the-century U.S. Army base accessible to saltwater beaches, wooded hills, and the Olympic Mountains in Washington State. The conference features workshops, craft talks, readings, open mics, and time to write. Tuition ranges from $450 to $750. Room and board ranges from $350 to $1,150. Registration is first come, first served. Centrum Port Townsend Writers’ Conference, P.O. Box 1158, Port Townsend, WA 98368. (360) 531-1472. centrum.org/the-port-townsend-writers-conference
 

Sarah Gambito
Blue Mountain Center

“Blue Mountain Center is a residency that supports writers, artists, and activists in Blue Mountain Lake, New York. The center also serves as a resource for culturally based progressive movement building. You can feel the good juju as soon as you walk onto the property. Beyond delicious food—my God, even the freaking desserts are exquisite—and gorgeous surroundings, there is a charge in the air that makes you feel that the conversations you have there, and the work that you’ll create, will make a landslide difference. The staff is consummately committed to its mission and is composed of many artists themselves. When you wake up you see morning fog made incandescent over the lake. Tame deer regard you with fearless eyes. It is a magical, fortifying place.” 

Monthlong residencies in the summer and fall plus eight to ten weekend retreats for poets, fiction writers, and creative nonfiction writers in a turn-of-the-century Adirondack lodge in Blue Mountain Lake, New York, about 120 miles northwest of Albany. Residents are provided with private lodging, studio space, and all meals. Typical deadline: February 1. Blue Mountain Center, P.O. Box 109, Blue Mountain Lake, NY 12812. (518) 352-7391. www.bluemountaincenter.org

Leslie Jamison 
Jentel Artist Residency

“Jentel is an utterly magical under-the-radar residency perched in gorgeous big-sky country in Wyoming. The shared house is sleek, and the writing cabins are cozy and warmed by pellet stoves—your own small world, with views of the largest skies you can imagine. I remember walking through the thousand acres—a massive parcel of land owned by the residency, full of dramatic vistas and ancient fossilized bones—and sitting by the rustling heat of the pellet stove, feverish with that particular pleasure of being able to devote myself fully, in seclusion, to the work. Because there are only five residents at a time, there’s an intimacy to Jentel that felt unusual—it didn’t have the pretension or performance that can come with other residencies. We did a full-moon ritual under the stars. We hit the Mint Bar in Sheridan. We shared our work by the fire one night. But the biggest draw is the big sky. It’s unimaginably expansive; it makes room for dreaming.” 

Four-week residencies offered year-round for poets, fiction writers, and creative nonfiction writers on a cattle ranch in the Lower Piney Creek Valley, 20 miles southeast of Sheridan, Wyoming. Residents are provided with private lodging, studio space, and a $400 stipend. Next deadline: September 15. Jentel Arts Residency Program, 130 Lower Piney Creek Road, Banner, WY 82832. (307) 737-2311. www.jentelarts.org

Christina Baker Kline
Kauai Writers Conference

“The Kauai Writers Conference is truly unique. Kauai is the oldest and most ruggedly beautiful Hawai’ian island; the stunning locale and friendly, laid-back atmosphere attract a top-notch collection of authors, editors, and agents. Just look at this list of authors who’ve already signed on for 2019: Meg Wolitzer, Geraldine Brooks, Greg Iles, Paula McLain, Richard Bausch, Lisa Wingate, and Téa Obreht, among others. Participants have a lot of opportunities to connect with professionals—they can schedule one-on-one meetings with agents and editors, participate in intimate workshops with excellent teachers, and attend lectures and panels with their favorite authors. In addition there are a variety of events where people can meet in more informal settings. Most people come away with not only professional contacts, but also lifelong friendships. I know I did. Can’t wait to go back.”  

Three-day conference from November 8 through November 10 for fiction and nonfiction writers at the Kauai Marriott Resort. The conference features craft talks, author readings, small-group discussions, pitch sessions with agents, and individual manuscript consultations. The cost of the conference is $695. Four-day master classes, from November 4 through November 7, are also available for $695. Manuscript consultations are $95; agent pitch sessions are $50. Lodging is available for discounted rates at the conference hotel. Registration is first come, first served. Kauai Writers Conference, Kalapaki Bay, Lihue, Kauai, HI, 96766. www.kauaiwritersconference.com

Ada Limón
CantoMundo Retreat

“CantoMundo is unlike any other experience I’ve ever had. Listening to Latinx writers from all different backgrounds share their intimate life stories was both grounding and life-affirming. There is a care that’s given to both the head and the heart that feels unique to this space. This is an opportunity not just to find a community, but to build your own tools for survival.”

Four-day retreat in June for Latinx poets at Columbia University in New York City. The retreat includes workshops, craft talks, lectures, panel discussions, and a reading. Fellows receive daily breakfast and lunch. Lodging, travel, and dinners are not included. Lodging is available in shared campus dormitories for $90 per night. Typical deadline: December 31. www.cantomundo.org

Rebecca Makkai
Ragdale

“Of all the residencies I love, Ragdale is the closest to a major city. A fifty-minute train ride and you’re at the Art Institute of Chicago; it’s the most beautiful (period furniture in an architect’s own Arts and Crafts home, with miles of walking trails through tall grass prairie and woods); and it’s the most pleasantly haunted (by friendly ghosts who, I swear, have a sense of humor). It’s small and quiet, and the food is legendary. Go in winter for fireplace gatherings after dinner, or go in summer and the chef might let you help in the garden.” 

Residencies of eighteen or twenty-five days offered year-round for poets, fiction writers, and creative nonfiction writers on fifty acres of prairie in Lake Forest, Illinois. Residents are provided with private lodging and all meals. The fee is $630 for an eighteen-day residency and $875 for a twenty-five-day residency. Financial aid is available on a limited basis. Next deadline: May 15. Ragdale, 1260 North Green Bay Road, Lake Forest, IL 60045. (847) 234-1063, ext. 28. www.ragdale.org

Idra Novey
Millay Colony

“As there are only six artists at a time at the Millay Colony, the atmosphere is relaxed and low-key, and it didn’t take long for everyone to get to know one another. Four of us had rooms in a beautiful barn next to the edge of the forest, where at night we could hear the same persistent bear trying to lift the locked lid on the garbage. I ended up writing a poem about that bear. What has also stayed with me is the path with the poems of Edna St. Vincent Millay posted at intervals along a trail through the forest. For writers in search of remote, wooded places who enjoy getting to know artists in other disciplines, the spacious barn rooms at the Millay Colony offer a distinctive kind of light.”

Two- and four-week residencies from April through November for poets, fiction writers, and creative nonfiction writers at Steepletop, the former estate of Edna St. Vincent Millay in Austerlitz, New York. Residents are provided with lodging, studio space, and meals. Next deadline: March 1. Millay Colony for the Arts, 454 East Hill Road, P.O. Box 3, Austerlitz, NY 12017. (518) 392-3103. www.millaycolony.org

Naomi Shihab Nye
Tassajara Zen Mountain Center

“While Tassajara isn’t a writers retreat per se, it is definitely a place of deepest silence, order, and graciousness—with Zen meditation, hiking, and hot sulfur spring–fed baths. Official ‘writing workshop’ weeks happen sometimes only twice during the summers, sometimes more, but you could go any time and take your writing with you. It’s a place to recalibrate, calm down, revise your own intentions. Tassajara is seventeen miles from a paved road. Most phones don’t work. No Internet. For some of us, private writing and reading time—along with time for meditation and contemplation—is most conducive to our own writing or thinking about writing. I find myself reading whole books in a week at Tassajara and being called to the desk morning, noon, and night. Predawn zazen meditation circles are optional for guests in summer. Just hearing the gongs and very regular bells in place makes you feel more in place inside your being. There is a graciousness in a Zen Buddhist community—Tassajara is populated by serious, focused Zen students all during fall, winter, and spring and not open to other guests then—which is unlike anything else I have ever experienced anywhere. It feels safe, comforting, inviting, unintrusive. There is a fine little library above the zendo, open to all. The air, the valley, the large jays, the mountains towering above, the rushing waters of the creek, the sky, the stars at night, the utter perfect simplicity. Tassajara is home.”

Retreats of two to seven days from late April to early September for poets, fiction writers, and creative nonfiction writers at the Tassajara Zen Mountain Center, located inland from the Big Sur coast in a remote mountain valley within the Ventana Wilderness. The retreat includes workshops, talks, time to write, yoga classes, meditation sessions, and access to natural hot springs and hiking trails. Residents are provided with all meals. Lodging in shared dorms or private cabins ranges from $125 to $446 per night. Admissions are rolling. Tassajara Zen Mountain Center, 39171 Tassajara Road, Carmel Valley, CA 93924. (415) 865-1895. www.sfzc.org/tassajara

Benjamin Percy
Aspen Summer Words

“Some of the most storied conferences are a week and a half to two weeks long. That’s a big ask. You want to get away, of course, to properly tune out the world and worship the page, but you also have to consider work and family. Aspen is five days. Which feels like the perfect length of time. No one burns out. Everyone is high on words and altitude the entire stay. And it just so happens to take place in a ridiculously beautiful location. Literary Shangri-la. There is the standard schedule of workshops, lectures, panels, and cocktail receptions, but there is also plenty of free time to hike or read or write or wrestle one of the many black bears ambling through town.”

Five-day conference from June 16 to June 21 for poets, fiction writers, and creative nonfiction writers at the Gant, a resort in the mountains of Aspen, Colorado. The conference features workshops, panels, readings, and meetings with agents and editors. Tuition is $1,525, which includes some meals. Next deadline: February 28. Aspen Summer Words Writing Conference and Literary Festival, 110 East Hallam Street, Suite 116, Aspen, CO 81611. (970) 925-3122, ext. 1. www.aspenwords.org/programs/summer-words

 

Check back each weekday in March for recommendations by Tommy Pico, Dani Shapiro, Megan Stielstra, and others.