3 min

Writers’ retreats

Along with colourful leaves, fall is the season for artist retreats

A writer, hard at work in Andalucia.  Credit: Aefa Mulholland

Care to combine vacations with creative pursuits? Well, pick up your pen: there’s a growing group of writers’ retreats with an emphatic LGBT angle around the world, from Tuscan treats and short Scottish sojourns to Sapphic Spanish stays and retreats for the LGBT romantics among you.

The big name on the LGBT literary block, when it comes to writing retreats, is August’s Writers Retreat for Emerging LGBT Voices, offered by the Lambda Literary Foundation. This career-changing event is a one-week intensive that spans genres from fiction and poetry to nonfiction. It has been running since 2007. With faculty that’s included Dorothy Allison, Jewelle Gomez and Alex Sanchez, it’s little wonder that this prestigious, seven-day Los Angeles retreat rakes in the applications each year.

Another big hitter on the LGBT literary landscape comes courtesy of the Room of Her Own Foundation, the organization for women writers and artists. Their Retreat and Waves discussion series is held in New Mexico’s high desert every two years (the next retreat is in 2015, with applications due by the end of October 2014) at Ghost Ranch, Georgia O’Keeffe’s beautiful former home. The retreat and writers’ conference is a weeklong interdisciplinary event that allows 100 women to write, collaborate, be mentored, establish relationships with influential industry figures and discuss the contributions of women writers in general. Participants have included Pulitzer Prize–winning journalists, artists, lawyers, teachers and stay-at-home moms. The organization offers a number of substantial awards, fellowships and artist-in-residence positions for the retreat, including fellowships for transgender and LGBT writers.

Billed as the “must-attend” event for those who “create and celebrate” LGBT romance, the annual GRL Retreat — the GayRomLit Retreat — takes place every October and is running Oct 16 to 19 this year in Bloomingdale, Illinois. To keep things fresh, the event rotates to a different city each year. While parties and readings pepper the itinerary for all 400 participants, the day before the official retreat starts is one that authors won’t want to miss, as it features the writers’ workshop.

Saratoga Springs Retreat Center in Mendocino, California, is a respected retreat 20 minutes from Ukiah. The centre’s calendar frequently features LGBT writing getaways, such as 2014’s Writing from the Four Directions, a facilitated writers’ workshop and retreat for the LGBT community led by acclaimed poet and novelist Trebor Healey. The four directions in question are essay/non-fiction, memoir, poetry and fiction.

Flax Mill Creek Writers Retreat takes place on a farm on 180 acres in Upstate New York. Len Barot, author of more than 40 published books, masterminds workshops such as Exploring Erotic Elements in Same-Sex Scenes or Constructing Unforgettable Characters. She also offers online writing workshops for those who can’t make it to New York.

The Womonwrites Retreats offer yet more literary choices for the ladies. This twice yearly, volunteer-led, lesbian writing conference takes place every May and October (Oct 9–12, 2014, and May 13–17, 2015), and they offer a slew of extremely varied workshops and readings. Roughly 130 women attend each five-day event at a camp in central Georgia, approximately an hour from Atlanta.

Overseas, Scotland is the site of a one-day writers’ retreat that takes place in late July in atmospheric Edinburgh — a city with a rich literary heritage — as part of one of the energetic Scottish LGBT Health and Wellbeing group’s rich offerings. Just one of many creatively focused events on a packed calendar, this writing workshop offers lively conversation, writing, tai chi and storytelling, all with a Scottish accent. In September, other workshops focus on poetry writing and storytelling through performance.

Another overseas option — and one that tends to offer somewhat toastier temperatures than the top half of Britain — is the lesbian-only Annual Women’s Writing Retreat, held at lesbian-owned Bambu Resort, in gorgeous Andalucia, just outside the southern Spanish city of Malaga, each October. The retreat lasts for a week and offers workshops, writing time and constructive feedback from publisher Victoria Oldham, plus excellent accommodations, breakfast and light lunch. There are LGBT bars in the neighbourhood, and the city of Malaga is easily reached by train, bus or car.

Another creative classic is the biannual Tuscan retreat offered by Phoenix-based artist/writer/performer couple Angela Ellsworth and Tania Katan, next programmed for Tuscany in May 2015. Topography of Memory is an eight-day writing, walking and drawing retreat, held on an organic agricultural estate near Siena. Days are spent on creative exercises designed to “map stories, draw surroundings, and find the threads that connect past to present.” Meals are made from produce, meat, wine, olive oil and honey cultivated on the farm and prepared by a Bon Appétit and Condé Nast Traveller–acclaimed chef. Rooms are in the elegant Villa at Castello di Spannocchia. Those without drawing or writing experience are welcome to apply for this wonderful week.