Sunday, January 12, 2014

A Room of Her Own: Memories of a 2013 Writing Retreat and Upcoming Opportunities for Women Writers

Olga García Echeverría

2014. It's a new year to envision, write, and submit. For women writers out there who are looking for "homes" for their unpublished poems, fiction, and creative non-fiction, I'd like to recommend A Room of Her Own (AROHO).

If you are not familiar with  AROHO, here are a few words from the foundation's website: "AROHO is dedicated to furthering the vision of Virginia Woolf and bridging the gap between a woman’s economic reality and her artistic creation. We bridge this gap by offering generous financial support to women of diverse artistic expression—the written arts (fiction, creative nonfiction, poetry, and playwriting), as well as the visual arts (painting, sculpture, and photography). We further Woolf’s vision by providing moral support and professional guidance to independent creative women who are committed to their art."

On a more personal note, I'd like to say that over the course of this past year, I have come to love AROHO. In short, I appreciate their commitment to empowering women writers everywhere, and I especially respect the fact that they are funding women of color.

Bravo Florencia Ramirez!
Bravo Ire'ne Lara Silva!
Last year, two Chicanas were finalist in AROHO's 6th Gift of Freedom Award. Both Florencia Ramirez of Oxnard, California and Ire'ne Lara Silva of Austin, Texas were awarded $5,000 in their respective genres. Seeing these two women as finalist on AROHO's website was truly inspiring. How often do we see Latinas winning mainstream literary contests? When I'm considering applying for anything that requires an application or reading fee, I always scan the list of past winners and judges. I'm not suggesting, of course, that we never apply to some of these "racially exclusive literary clubs," and there are some problematic underlying assumptions (names, for example, don't always accurately reflect ethnicity or race). But why would I spend my money on a press or an organization that shows no past record of publishing or supporting artists of color? 

AROHO Retreat: Ghost Ranch, New Mexico

Aside from being inspired by Florencia and Ire'ne, I was also personally impacted by AROHO this past year. Feeling that the organization was a good fit for me, I forked out an application fee and applied for a fellowship to attend AROHO's week-long summer writing retreat in Ghost Ranch, New Mexico. Shortly after, I was awarded the Touching Lives Fellowship, which was sponsored by Marsha Pincus. The fellowship allowed me to attend an awesome retreat in August that I would have otherwise not been able to afford at the time. Nature, women, art, and words. What a gift!

Ironically, the majority of us who attended the A Room of Her Own retreat didn't actually have a room of our own. C'est la vie. Instead of a solitary dwelling space, I shared a small room (known as La Casita) with a fellow poet whose last name is Muse. We were a great match and true to her name, la Muse inspired.

Casita Dwelling at Ghost Ranch

I felt very at home in La Casita. Yes, it was very rustic, but what East LA mujer isn't going to feel at home with a clothesline and ganchos outside her door? There was also a magical broom by the door (in case the Muse or I wanted to take to the skies at night). A Broom of Our Own.

And every casita had its own wooden ladder that led to the Cosmos.

There were bunk beds too, just like back in the day. When I first laid down on the bottom bunk in La Casita, I saw a note scribbled in black marker on the bed frame of the top bunk. It said, "Joe, I slept in your bed while you were in Colorado. It's comfy. Love, Paisley." Other visitors had also tagged their names or drawn billowy clouds, lightning rods, and happy faces. Writing on bunk beds was one of my  childhood addictions, and while at the AROHO retreat I struggled to resist this primal urge.

The Cumulus Clouds of Ghost Ranch, New Mexico
I didn't actually write much at the AROHO writing retreat, but I did do a lot of gathering of literary seeds, which I consider equally important. I also met many amazing women. Each day was full of enriching activities. I went to morning yoga, took magical walks, read poems (my daily bread), and attended the evening poetry readings religiously. I also took a class on transformative blogging with Tania Pryputniewicz, visited Georgia O'Keeffe's house, and watercolored New Mexico's horizon and the ever-shifting cumulus clouds. August 2013 is long gone now, but that little room I shared with la Muse and that week-long respite keeps giving and giving.

The next AROHO retreat is scheduled for the summer of 2015 and the guest of honor is literary extraordinaire Maxine Hong Kingston. More information on this upcoming retreat will be shared as it becomes available. For now, I leave you all with a list of current AROHO literary opportunities for women writers. Happy writing, mujeres, and best of luck!

AROHO’s Orlando Prizes
$15 application fee for each Orlando Prize. Submission includes a $5 tax-deductible donation and the applicant’s name in AROHO’s Gallery of Women Writers and Artists. Winners will be published in Los Angeles Review

Short Fiction
$1000 + publication
Deadline 1/31/14
Unpublished short fiction
1500 words

Creative Nonfiction
$1000 + publication
Deadline 1/31/14
Unpublished nonfiction
1500 words

Poetry Prize
$1000 + publication
Deadline 1/31/14
Unpublished poetry
36 lines

Flash Fiction Prize
$1000 + publication
Deadline 1/31/14
Unpublished flash fiction
500 words

For submission guidelines and more information on AROHO's Orlando Prizes:

To The Light House Prize
AROHO’s To the Lighthouse Poetry Publication Prize will be awarded for the best, unpublished poetry collection by a woman: 48 to 96 pages. There is a $20 reading/entry fee. The award amount is $1000 and publication of the poetry collection by Red Hen Press. The judge for this competition is C.D. Wright. Deadline is 4/1/14  

For submission guidelines and more information on AROHO's To The Lighthouse Prize:


Anonymous said...

Once again, you have been the real muse. Although I likely won't submit or have my beautiful picture posted in your blog, this Xicana is picking up her dusty journal and meeting paper with pen. Thanks for sharing!

Anonymous said...

Blessings to you and yours Olga for the New Year. I appreciate your time in sharing the information and your experiences. I also search to see who wins these literary contests and often feel reluctant to submit for lack of my Master's and really a load of self-imposed worries. I also have an Anglo surname from marriage and sometimes think not to use. I agree with Adriana that you are a muse to all of us out here looking at the new year with promise of pushing out and ahead. Feeling like a cowardly lioness needing courage and always searching for our own comforting room yet knowing that if we don't submit, no one will read.
So thank you Olga for sharing your courage.
Wishing you and all of us a great year of submissions and views!
Diana Aviles Shields

Olga Garcia Echeverria said...

Thanks for your thoughtful comments, Adriana and Diana. I really appreciate them. The most important step, I believe, is always meeting paper with pen (or dedos with keyboard). I would venture to guess that for most of us it is difficult to send out our work (for so many reasons that I will not delve into here), but more and more I am seeing it as a mere exercise in the overall writing process instead of a necessary validation. Of course, validation rocks, but contests and awards and the publishing world cannot dictate what or how we write. That has to come from within. Keep writing, mujeres. Our words/stories/realities matter. And they should matter first and foremost to ourselves. I leave you with one of my favorite Virginia Woolf quotes. It reminds me where the focus of that meeting between paper and pen should always remain: "So long as you write what you wish to write, that is all that matters; and whether it matters for ages or only for hours, nobody can say. But to sacrifice a hair of the head of your vision, a shade of its colour, in deference to some Headmaster with a silver pot in his hand or to some professor with a measuring-rod up his sleeve, is the most abject treachery..."

Anonymous said...

Wow! Thank you kindly for your thoughtful response. The reason I said that is out of respect for those that put pen to paper consistently. Still, I gather that lime so many others, I am sometimes my worst critic. ...A work in progress. Adriana