Those of us with hopes of a writing career have often thought how wonderful it would be to withdraw into a sanctuary with uninterrupted peace and quiet for work. Write On, Door County offers such an opportunity for authors.
In exchange for presenting a workshop or a program, writers have the use of a cottage for a week, enjoying the scenic beauty of the county while their creative batteries recharge and they make progress on a manuscript.
Poet Moheb Soliman took advantage of Write On’s residency program last June. A writer and performance artist, he offered his program “Circumnavigating the Great Lakes by Land and Writing” at the Door County Maritime Museum in Sturgeon Bay, an outgrowth of a project that took him on a summer auto journey from his then-home in Toronto westward on the Canadian side along the shores of the five lakes, before returning eastward on the U.S. side back to Toronto for the beginning of his school term.
The 34-year-old poet stayed with friends and family on the trip, sometimes in hotels or campgrounds, but always taking photographs and continually writing.
The project first bore fruit as “A Great Lakes Vista” presented at the Pillsbury House Theater in Minneapolis. Soliman’s program offered original poems inspired by the lakes, accompanied by the photographs that he had taken. As he is a performance artist as well, he prefers an old-fashioned overhead projector because it becomes a second character in the show, suggesting an old-time teacher, as he sometimes loses himself in its shadows or projects the images on himself.
The Maritime Museum presentation was a recapping of that earlier program, reprising parts but with an explanatory narrative. The ultimate goal of Soliman is publication of his Great Lake poems, which leads to his connection with Write On, Door County, co-sponsor of his Sturgeon Bay lecture-performance. The one-week residency at the facility on Juddville Road (between Fish Creek and Egg Harbor) afforded him the opportunity both to revisit the shore of Lake Michigan, and to focus on his writing project.
Jerod Santek was program director at the Loft Literary Center in Minneapolis for 19 years before assuming a similar position with Write On, Door County, an organization whose mission is to “nurture the work of writers, support readers and audiences, and develop opportunities that encourage broad participation.”
While the two organizations have much in common, Write On is unique in that it offers a residency program and is located in a rural setting.
“Right now,” Santek said, “we offer writers a weeklong stay in exchange for some sort of community program, often in the form of teaching a class or workshop. Sometimes it is something in the form of a public event, such as Moheb’s presentation at the Maritime Museum.”
As the residency project is relatively new, Santek has for the most part sought out participants, “talking with writers I have worked with over the years to see if they would be interested. I know their abilities and that they would be good and give honest feedback about what works and what can be be improved [in the program].”
In the future as Write On matures, he intends more authors to seek out the program, as did Soliman.
“A large part of the residency is bringing writers from out of the area,” Santek continued, “but we will have space for those in the county who want to spend time in this environment, a day or weekend working here.”
The first Write On residency brought writers Larry and Linda (Meyers) Shelton to Door County; she is a nonprofit consultant who conducted training for the board of directors.
Nancy Carlson, children’s book writer and illustrator, held a day-long class for emerging picture book writers as well as working with Gibraltar students.
Fiction writer Sonya Larson, who is director of special programs at a writers’ center in Boston, consulted with Write On.
Margaret Hasse, a poet from St. Paul offered a workshop at the center in conjunction with a hike on Land Trust property; non-fiction writer John Hildebrand from Eau Claire conduced a similar program.
Soliman, like many writers, has difficulty finding time in his busy life to work on his poetry collection. “I am a writer at heart,” he said, “and most of my work is text based.” Residencies provide a solution; prior to Write On, he had been a resident writer for the Banff Centre in Canada and the ISLAND Hill House in northern Michigan.
Now living in Minnesota, the author “is thinking about ways I can sustain myself as a Great Lakes artist,” because he is interested in the way geography, place and identity are influenced by those bodies of water. As someone who was born in Egypt and brought to this country as a child, he is fascinated by the experience of immigrants finding a way to belong to a community.
“As a minority, how do I fit?” he asks. “An Arab-American is only a piece of what I am, beyond race, class, gender. Place is how we identify. I’m interested in differences and how place can allow for differences. I want to be able to live a full life, not just as an ethnic person.
“Being here for a week allows me to have a modicum of belonging,” he continued. “People approve of me and present me to the community. I’m not just a person driving through, but I belong here because of the connections I have made here.”
From a creative perspective, Soliman said, “It is easy to write here, this home is so quiet. It’s more getting away from myself and my things – all my stuff demanding upkeep and maintenance.”
He looks forward to more local and regional projects, perhaps “people writing about their history and region – work that gets people to think about their part in the entire region, tying everyone together.”
Photography by Len Villano.