My first real writing job out of college was a part time position at my local daily newspaper. I called the cops twice a day in our county to see if anything interesting had happened in the past 24 hours and I wrote obituaries. Every now and again, my editor assigned me a light local story. One of my first assignments was about the MacDowell Club of Mountain Lakes, NJ, one of about a dozen remaining in the country.
The clubs were named in honor of the composer Edward MacDowell (1860-1908) and aimed to work for the advancement of the arts in their respective communities. Some also supported the MacDowell Colony, an artist’s retreat founded in 1907 by MacDowell’s widow, Marian MacDowell, herself a pianist. I was 22 when I wrote the article about the local MacDowell Club and I remember wishing that I could go to MacDowell Colony one day and wondering how I could ever be so lucky.
The colony gives you uninterrupted time, unfettered space (there are 32 cabins on 450 acres in the scenic Monadnock region of New Hampshire, and it’s easy to go all day without seeing anyone), wholesome (and delicious) meals, and a stimulating interdisciplinary creative community. Visual artists, composers, writers, and architects can all attend, sharing meals around the farmhouse table, and their work after around the fireplace just outside of the dining room.
Over its century in existence, many a MacDowell Colony fellow has reached acclaim. Playwright and novelist Thornton Wilder wrote Our Town in one of MacDowell’s studios and one of my literary heroes, James Baldwin was hosted at the colony in the winter of 1957-58, a few years before the publication of The Fire Next Time. Almost 60 years later, I stayed in Baldwin’s former studio, trying to channel some of his creative energy as I finished a draft of my memoir, Finding Josephine.
I haven’t gotten on the scale since I returned from MacDowell, but I’m pretty sure I packed on some pounds. Those, I can shed, but I hope the creative nourishment I experienced there will remain.
Thank you, MacDowell!
What long-held wish are you making come true?