Tree at Ragdale – photo courtesy of Barbara Terao

Poet and nonfiction writer Marcia Pradzinski has been a member of my Advanced Memoir Workshop at StoryStudio Chicago for a while, and was recently awarded a two-week residency at Ragdale. As part of my series on artist residencies, I asked her to share her experience:

Marcia: The Ragdale residency in Lake Forest, Illinois is set next to acres of prairie. The rural setting offers respite from the usual busyness of everyday life, giving the artists’ minds clarity in order to focus on their works of art. Yet the residence is not completely isolated from an active community; downtown Lake Forest is about a mile away. There are restaurants, a bookstore, other shops, and a train that you could take into Chicago, if you so desired. For me, it was a perfect combination of city and country.

I usually write at home in the middle of household distractions that win me over and interrupt my writing. Ragdale eliminated those disturbances for two weeks, and put me in contact with writers and visual artists whose work and ideas inspired me. During the mornings and afternoons, everyone worked on their own: the writers in their rooms at computers, the visual artists in their studios. If the residents were not busy at work, some might be wandering the prairie, while others might be chatting in the kitchen or the living room. In the evenings, everyone met for dinner, prepared by a fantastic chef, who stocked the fridge and the cupboards with leftovers for the next day’s breakfast and lunch.
Ragdale – photo courtesy of Barbara Terao

After dinner, the residents shared their work. One visual artist showed us her photographic compositions; another displayed her sculptures made from branches, twigs, stones and other things found. On other nights, we heard poetry, memoir shorts, and novels in progress. The presence of other artists and the interaction with them inspired me to read and write as much as I could. As a result, I put together the jagged beginnings of my book-length memoir.

At Ragdale I was in residence with others who wanted the time, space, and quiet to work. Our only chore was stacking the dishwasher. I didn’t get as much done during those two weeks at Ragdale as I had hoped to, but I did get much more accomplished than if I had been at home. It was my first experience with a writing residence, and I hope it will not be my last.