Please contact E. B. Davis at for information on guest blogs and interviews. Interviews for October: 10/5 Carolina Crimes: Rock, Roll and Ruin 10/12 Alicia Beckman, Blind Faith 10/19 J. Woollcott, A Nice Place To Die 10/26 Carol J. Perry, High Spirits

Saturday, March 3, 2012

A Midwestern Gem for Writers

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.
I had a comfortable living space and workspace in a historic Art Nouveau home that is saturated with the peaceful energy of the more than a century of writers and artists who have sheltered and worked within it. Reading the guestbook for my writing space went back so many years and included entries by so many writers I admire. It was a joy to add my own to that long line of creators.

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.


E. B. Davis said...

I didn't know about the Ragdale Foundation, Linda. Thanks for bringing it to our attention. Have fun and write well!

Warren Bull said...

My four months in New Zealand was something like that, no phone calls, no house to maintain, just long hours when I could work and re-work, write and revise.
It was the most productive writing period in my life. Ragdale sounds like heaven.

Gloria Alden said...

What a wonderful place to be. I envy you. I went to Seascape in Connecticut last September and enjoyed it, too, but we spent more time in critiquing each others' work. I got a lot out of that, though. As for writing, I find I do my best writing at home alone.

I loved your poem. What a special experience it was to see that stag.
Even though I have deer in my woods, I rarely see them. But then I don't walk in the woods at night, either.

Ellis Vidler said...

Linda, how wonderful to spend a month at such a place! The mere idea of uninterrupted peace to think and write, with the encounter with the stag, sets me to dreaming. Love the poem too.

Linda Rodriguez said...

I'm finally on my way back from Chicago & able to get a little internet.

E.B., May 15 is the next deadline for admissions. They have three application periods during the year--Jan. 15, May 15, September 15. It's pretty competitive, but often easier to get in for the winter session (Sept. 15 deadline) because moat people want summer or fall. It's beautiful in winter, though, as you can see.

Did no writing at the AWP. I was salted for a panel and two readings, plus co-hosting the Ragdale reception and my poetry publisher's dinner. The rest of the time I was working the table in the book fair. (The life of a publisher's wife!) No time for any writing, but lots and lots of great friends stopping to visit & to have dinner & breakfast. Lovely but exhausting.

Linda Rodriguez said...

Warren, Ragdale really is writer's heaven. They are just finishing the 3.1 million dollar renovation of the historic landmark Ragdale House (where I was). I'll be up there on my book tour in June at an event they're giving to celebrate the opening of Ragdale House and the publication of my novel.

It has a fantastic history. Carl Sandburg wrote some of his best poetry there as a summer guest when it was still a family home.

Linda Rodriguez said...

Gloria, no critiquing. It's a residence rather than a workshop.

I'm glad you liked the poem. It was an amazing experience, eye-to-eye with the stag. I had seen them from the distance, but up close as big as a horse with the antlers added to that and a fierce yet shy look. And then the leaps--just incredible.

Linda Rodriguez said...

Ellis, thank you for stopping by. Yes, it is an amazing opportunity. Ragdale wants to open itself to a more diverse set of residents. Not just the same creative writing faculty (who may be fabulous and will always still be welcome), but also men and women writers who've worked hard to be good writers in the midst of other careers and raising families. The cost is very small because the foundation pays for most of it, and they have a number of full fellowships, including several specifically for women over 50 (a population usually ignored). Stays can range from 1 week to 6 weeks, though two weeks is the usual. They are also starting some weekend programs--creative sabbaticals--for people with demanding jobs and family situations.