I’m currently at the Associated Writers and Writing Programs (AWP) national conference in Chicago. One of the things I’ve done here is to co-host Ragdale @ AWP, a reception to celebrate the Ragdale writers and artists colony in Lake Forest, Illinois, just outside Chicago. Ragdale is one of the oldest and most prestigious writing programs in the country. Its peers in that regard are all located on the East Coast.
Yet I find that most writers I meet know nothing about Ragdale. They often know nothing about writers residencies, at all. Many of the great works of the 20th century were written at these residencies, especially the older ones like Ragdale. They offer those luxuries that are so necessary to good writing—time, quiet, and dedicated space in which to work.
I spent a month at Ragdale in early 2010. It was writer’s heaven. Their wonderful chef fed us all delicious and healthy food. Their staff went out of their way to take care of us and keep our environment conducive to good creative work.
Ragdale has the largest plot of virgin prairie left east of the Mississippi. The surroundings are inspiring. One winter evening while walking the few feet from Ragdale House to the Barnhouse where the dining room was located, I had an encounter with the muse in physical form. I wrote this poem when I got back to my rooms that night.
Walking the narrow path
through mounds of snow,
cold air stinging my nostrils,
waking up my lungs,
walking with the contentment
of a good day’s work swallowed whole,
heading in the dark frosty air
toward a bright-lighted room
with warm supper and companions,
movement on the periphery of vision
startles, something large.
I stop, turn slightly to my right,
eye to eye with a three-point stag.
One long, long half-second’s stare,
then strong legs gathering and leaping,
bounding four feet each time,
five amazing leaps across my path
vanishing behind a large tree, supporting shrubs,
probably running straight out now
back to his home on the prairie.
I stand, paralyzed, mute,
breathless laugh, wide smile,
breathing deep of the wild night.
© Linda Rodriguez 2010
In my time at Ragdale, I wrote the first draft of a third book of poems and finished my novel, Every Last Secret, which then won the St. Martin’s Press/Malice Domestic First Traditional Mystery Novel Competition and will be published by St. Martin’s/Minotaur on April 24. My stay at Ragdale jumpstarted my career as a novelist as it has for many other writers.
Visit the Ragdale Foundation website and check into applying for a residency. Donate to Ragdale Foundation, which underwrites most of the cost of residencies. Discover this wonderful resource for writers and artists that’s hiding right here in plain sight.