Where Big Books Are Born: Amina Gautier on the Camargo Foundation

Amina Gautier
From the March/April 2018 issue of
Poets & Writers Magazine

I spent the fall of 2017 as a Core Fellow at the Camargo Foundation in Cassis, a small town in the South of France, where I worked on an untitled long-form manuscript partly inspired by Virgil’s Aeneid. Inspiration came from my magnificent view of the Mediterranean Sea, that ever-changing body of water—silvered over with sunlight in the morning, Aegean blue in the afternoon, black as ink on nights without a moon—and from the space, silence, and freedom of self-direction the fellowship affords. Each Camargo fellowship is at least two months long, which means that, unlike the typical two- or four-week residency, there is enough time to exhaust and replenish one’s creativity. Each fellow is provided an apartment and a food stipend, affording one the freedom to determine how personal  space will be used, and the autonomy to sleep, wake, eat, and socialize with the other fellows at the hours of one’s own choosing. At Camargo, my focus was on constructing scenes around which to reshape my project. I believe that scene is the heart’s blood of all fiction; that space, silence, and self-direction are crucial to the creation of scene; and that scene construction is a physically, emotionally, and psychologically demanding enterprise. Composing a scene is akin to playing the part of every actor within a play while simultaneously being the director, the stagehand, the wardrobe person, and the lighting and sound person. In my non-fellowship life I had to write in snatches, jotting down moments, lines, and snippets where and when I could. I gathered my scraps and files and pages and brought them to Camargo, where I flung them out to the walls and the tables and the desks, covering all the surfaces with words and drafts and research I had gathered and printed. Having the freedom to lay out all my research materials and compartmentalize my work space to correspond to the various stages of composition sparked my creativity, allowing me to move from one section of the workspace to the other to complete various tasks of drafting, revising, free-writing, researching, charting, and editing, and to see the accumulation of my drafts, the development of my chapters, and the growth of my scenes.

Camargo Foundation: Six- to eleven-week residencies for poets, fiction writers, and creative nonfiction writers in Cassis, France, on the coast of the Mediterranean Sea. Residents are provided with transportation, lodging, and a $250 weekly stipend. Typical deadline: mid-October. Camargo Foundation, 1 Avenue Maurice Jermini, 13260 Cassis, France. www.camargofoundation.org

(Credit: JoAnn Balingit)

Three Points of Productivity:
1. Autonomy and self-direction. The freedom from the schedules and routines of mandatory shared meals and set work hours allows you to write at times of your choosing.
2. Transparency. The residency’s required events, such as public presentations, readings, and receptions, are limited and clearly articulated, purposeful, and productive, or are nonexistent, so that with the exception of these few events, your time is uninterrupted and solely your own.
3. Space. Separate, non-shared living and working spaces are large, wide, and varied enough to encompass all of one’s creativity while leaving room for it to grow.


Amina Gautier is the author of three books, including the story collection The Loss of All Lost Things, published by Elixir Press in 2016.