A friend of mine, Emily H. Freeman, is co-directing a fantastic writing retreat late this summer in an idyllic setting right outside Missoula, Montana. Founder/co-director Chris Dombrowski and Emily have organized the debut of what is destined to be a perennially popular writing get-away, featuring eleven writers of fiction, non-fiction and poetry, including song-writer Jeffrey Foucault, who has been drafted, I hear, not only to educate but entertain. Writing activities will include craft talks, readings, guided writing exercises and opportunities unavailable in larger workshops to meet with and ask questions of prize-winning authors. On top of that, the accommodations are at the no-advertisement-necessary-and-yet-always-booked E Bar L Ranch, where a host of outdoor diversions unique to western Montana beckon.
Most of the Beargrass Retreat writer-instructors have some Montana connection and all are influenced by wilderness and the West. Alexandra Fuller is the author of the acclaimed Don’t Lets Go to the Dogs Tonight: an African Childhood (a New York Times Notable Book for 2002) and just out (2015) Leaving Before the Rains Come, a memoir of her later life, which includes divorce and a move from Africa to the American west. Nora Krug of the Washington Post says
[Leaving Before the Rains Come] is a deeply felt, beautifully written account of the emotional challenges of forging any kind of relationship — between husband and wife, boyfriend and girlfriend, parent and child. It also is…a raw chronicle about the double-edged sword of independence.
A New York Times Home and Garden feature on Fuller begins:
It is Alexandra Fuller’s belief that women in their 40s have two choices about how to present themselves: “They can take Xanax, freeze their faces and not rock the boat. Or they can behave badly.”
I like her already.
This San Francisco Chronicle review of Painted Horses by Malcolm Brooks, another writer/instructor slated for the Beargrass Writing Retreat, makes me want to pack up today for western Montana:
…breathtaking prose that expertly captures the raw essence of an American West known for its wide-open spaces and unbridled spirit…By the end of Painted Horses, it’s hard not to feel as though you’ve traveled to the end of the Earth (or beginning of time) and back in a whirlwind of dust and words.
And I have a special place in my heart for David James Duncan, whose delightful The River Why was given to me as a gift several years ago by my then-brand-new son-in-law. See the Beargrass Writing Retreat‘s website for bios and summaries of the work of the other writer/instructors in attendance.
In the FAQ’s for the retreat is this query and response:
Why can’t I find the E Bar L Ranch online? Does this place really exist?
The E Bar L relies primarily on word-of-mouth recommendations, and has no formal online presence. It’s functioned this way since the 1920’s, and it seems to work.
Yeah, it seems to work: Emily tells me it is the go-to destination for the likes of a young Prince William and Hollywood celebrities, and yet the owner-operator family is quick to point out that the E Bar L Ranch is not your run-of-the-mill luxury resort. At the E Bar L, they say, everyone’s part of one big ranch family. What you’ll find if you attend the Beargrass Writing Retreat is a beautiful log-hewn, stone-chimneyed lodge with a kitchen reputed to turn out first class fare. Small log-cabins, two private bedrooms each (furnished with a shared bathroom, hot and cold running water, electricity and wi-fi/cell phone service) cluster around the main lodge. Bordering the 8000 acre ranch are the Blackfoot River and Garnet Mountain range, playgrounds for retreat attendees: the four-day-long weekend includes options for many and varied recreational activities, some included in the retreat price, some for a little extra. Try yoga or fly-fishing; hike, river raft, go for a horseback ride–and then come back and see how your writing is transformed.
This year the Beargrass Writing Retreat will be held from Saturday, August 29 to Tuesday, September 1. The first day will include readings, Q and A’s, an orientation to the E Bar L Ranch and a bluegrass cocktail hour. The next two days are full of excellent writing content: talks on how to sell your book, writing for magazines, crafting the first-person voice and publishing poetry, among other options. The last day boasts a river walk writing exercise, a closing ceremony and optional tours of Missoula.
Sign up now for the 2015 Beargrass Writing Retreat, a unique opportunity to write and learn in a stunning natural environment. Don’t miss the inaugural season of what is sure to be a permanent and exceptional fixture in the writing-retreat lexicon. And please note: non-writing partners are welcome. I’m guessing they might be writing, and their writing partners newbie riders and/or fly-fishers, by retreat’s end.
Try a change in the world you see. Try a change in way you see the world, and maybe in the way you see yourself: come to the Beargrass Writing Retreat.