Where Big Books Are Born: Tommy Orange on the MacDowell Colony

by
Tommy Orange
2.14.18

I got into the MacDowell Colony without knowing anything about it. I’d seen it listed in someone else’s bio and applied on a whim. I got in with an excerpt from my debut novel, There There, which I’d been working on when I could since 2011, while working full-time and becoming a new father. The month I spent at the MacDowell Colony in 2014 could not have been more important for the development and advancement of the novel as a whole. What I needed most at the time was time itself, and the colony provided that in a cabin in the woods of New Hampshire, with all meals provided, including lunch delivered to my door every day in a picnic basket. The novel first took form in this setting. And when I read a chapter to the other artists there at the end of my time I was encouraged in a way that gave me the momentum I needed to keep working when I got home.

MacDowell Colony: 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 meals. Next deadline: April 15. MacDowell Colony, 100 High Street, Peterborough, NH 03458. (603) 924-3886. www.macdowellcolony.org (Credit: Joanna Eldredge Morrissey)

Three Points of Productivity:
1. The residency respected each artist’s space and time, and didn’t require any work be shown at any point, during or after the residency.
2. Delivered lunch allowed me to work throughout the day without interruption. With novel writing particularly, for me anyway, or any longer body of connected work, sustained time is the hardest to get in real life. There were many days I didn’t leave my cabin at all and worked upwards of twelve hours at a time.
3. The setting itself, in the snow (it was January), in the woods, was like working in a dreamscape, which for me was inspiring.

 

Tommy Orange is the author of the novel There There, forthcoming from Knopf in June.