Where Big Books Are Born: Kirsten Lunstrum on the Mineral School

Kirsten Lunstrum
From the March/April 2018 issue of
Poets & Writers Magazine

When I lucked into a two-week stay at the Mineral School, I was struggling through a novel I’d been trying to write for years. I hadn’t been to a residency since becoming a parent, and I was anxious about leaving my young children to write, anxious about the mess of my novel draft, anxious about whether the solitude would provoke my creativity or my panic. But the Mineral School saved me from myself. The Mineral School is housed in an actual former schoolhouse in the remote and idyllic town of Mineral, Washington. From my classroom (yes, each writer sleeps and works in a converted classroom, complete with chalkboards, original 1947 paned windows, and vintage metal teacher-desk) I had a view of both Mineral Lake and Mount Rainier. The beauty and the stillness of this landscape was a gift. In it I could hear my own voice as I hadn’t in the chaos of life at home, and I could finally see the shape of my novel—which turned out to be a long short story. When I left Mineral, I had found the heart of my new collection, What We Do With the Wreckage, and a renewed sense of direction as a writer.

Mineral School: One- and two-week residencies for poets, fiction writers, and creative nonfiction writers in Mineral, Washington, overlooking Mineral Lake and Mount Rainier. Residents are provided with lodging, studio space, and meals. Residency fee: $250 for one week, $425 for two weeks. Limited fellowships are available. Next deadline: February 15. Mineral School, P.O. Box 214, Mineral, WA 98355. (360) 496-0368. www.mineral-school.org

(Credit: Anthony Koopman)

Three Points of Productivity:
1. The remote and beautiful setting. Think daily encounters with a doe and her fawn on your morning walk, mist rising off the lake like breath, evergreen silence, and the stunning alpenglow of sunrise and sunset on Mount Rainier.
2. The food is fantastic, local, and healthy. At the Mineral School residents dine well. Produce is sourced from nearby farms and CSAs, intern chefs from a local culinary institute regularly serve as school “cooks,” and writers leave knowing they’ll miss the meals as much as the writing time.
3. The Mineral School is a small residency (only four writers are in residence at once), so it is easy to get to know and build real connections with one’s fellow residents. Mealtime conversations and regular opportunities to break from writing with a hike at nearby Mount Rainier, a little Lewis County sightseeing, or just an afternoon swim in Mineral Lake offer residents a chance to get to know one another, to talk about work, and to share professional knowledge. The friendships made here are a lasting benefit of this residency.


Kirsten Lunstrum is the author of three books, including the story collection What We Do With the Wreckage, forthcoming from the University of Georgia Press in October.