Neighborly Knots

Has anyone ever heard [N.B. Link removed; no longer extant],” Laurel asked, “of an artists’ colony or retreat that will allow a writer with children to bring her children?”

I wrote her in an e-mail: “The new edition of the Artists Communities guidebook has a handy chart on p. 264, in the indices section, showing you which colonies allow partners and/or children and/or pets for visits or for the full stay.

“Hope that helps!” I said.

“It totally does,” she replied. “I didn’t know there was such a guidebook.”

Not just a guidebook, but a Web site, I wrote her back, which has detailed, and presumably up-to-date, information on all the communities listed in the book—although as far as I can tell, the indices, which cross-reference all one hundred or so entries by discipline, region, seasons of operation, stipends and fellowships that are available (or fees that are charged), and so on, are only available in the print version.

I bought the book right around when I graduated from NYU last year. I went through it systematically, entry by entry, eliminating any place that would not accept 1) applications (as opposed to a nomination-only process); 2) writers; 3) people at the beginnings of their careers; and 4) men. I also eliminated any colony that charged a residency fee of any kind, or that had an application deadline over a year and a half in advance of any proposed residency.

This left me, out of the original one hundred or so, with six places. (I might be missing one or two, because of the sometimes convoluted language communities use to describe themselves; I’m glad, of course, to hear that a particular colony honors and nurtures the exploring child within without obligation in the gift of the passionate and unfettered journey, but does it take writers who haven’t published a book?) Since then, I’ve applied to, and have been rejected from, four of those six. But on the positive side, I’ve had residencies at the other two. And during both those stays, I got more work done than I ever would have if I hadn’t gone.

Laurel’s post reminded me of what I believe is one of the most valuable things writers can find at a good MFA program, if they’re lucky: small and amicable groups of artists working in the same discipline, networks of peers (or, maybe more accurately, networks of networks of peers), and the aggregations of practical knowledge that only exists in, and can only be conveyed through, such networks. There are some things you can find on the Web, or stumble across on the Web, like this post on the blog of a writer named Claire Light, which is the most comprehensive single list of residencies and fellowships that a fiction writer at the start of her career is eligible for that I’ve ever found. But I never would have ended up on that page if I hadn’t already known the names of half the places she lists—many of which I would never have known about if it hadn’t been for conversations with other writers.

This is an insane pursuit. It helps to have colleagues in insanity.