Return from Rivendell Writers’ Workshop 2016

Rivendell 2016 grads

Rivendell Writers’ Workshop 2016 participants sport their new swag: “I’m A Writer” baseball caps.

From March 17-20, 2016, SFA gathered a small group of writers for our annual Rivendell Writers’ Workshop in Sewanee, Tennessee. Below, author Osayi Endolyn shares her thoughts on the experience.

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The morning after I returned home, following my long weekend at the Rivendell Writer’s Colony, I woke up briefly in doubt. Did that just happen?

I had spent the last three-and-a-half days at the Sewanee, Tennessee, mountain retreat, where thanks to the SFA’s mission, I was one of six awarded the opportunity to write and receive personalized mentorship on a book-in-progress. My mind was still electric with the spark of new ideas. During my brief stay, the fog of the early draft had risen to reveal my next steps, laid out in clear view. For that, the brilliant partnership between the SFA and Rivendell have my deepest gratitude.

Rivendell boasts an impressive literary legacy and the works of authors who’ve written there in recent years make up half of the in-house library. Were it not for the warm and welcoming rustic setting—deep leather sofas in a cozy den, a hammock overlooking the endless forest, decorative chairs sculpted in the likeness of birds—one might feel the ground too hallowed to create. But John T. Edge and Sara Camp Milam, as well as Rivendell director Carmen Thompson, combined their expertise and hospitality into an educational and encouraging experience that led me to new places in my work. In the telling of a story, a writer can find herself needing to be cared for, needing to be pushed, and needing to be left alone. Between the marked-up papers, contemplative writing time, homey dinners featuring beef and barley stew, and the whiskey-fueled discussions afterward, this weekend accomplished all of that.

Unexpectedly, I found community, too. For most, the biggest draw of a writer’s colony is the implicit solitude. Being tucked away in the woods provides the perfect setting to churn out multiple pages. But one of the many benefits of the SFA’s writing workshop was the easy partnership that grew from spending time with such a dynamic group of writers.

Now I crave to learn the Sichuan recipes Taylor Holliday counts as her favorites. I’m curious about Andrew Paul’s attempts at kosher New Orleans cuisine. Tanya Peres took me deeper into the roots of Native American culinary contributions than I’d ever known to look. Hayden McDaniel introduced me to the political power of the peanut. And Alex Van Buren left me moved by what it means to care for another with food. And they, too, offered me thoughtful suggestions on my narrative about the indelible impacts of West African culinary traditions in modern day American cuisine.

Days later, the tedious work of writing continues for all of us. Yes, I reassured myself the day after my return, that indulgent long weekend at Rivendell did, in fact, just happen. Perhaps, given the friendships I forged and the bit of spirit I caught, I can convince myself that it’s not quite over yet.

by Osayi Endolyn