Women’s Memoir Retreat: Madeline Island School of the Arts

“Because this business of becoming conscious, of being a writer, is ultimately about asking yourself, How alive am I willing to be?”
― Anne LamottBird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life

“Try to write in a directly emotional way, instead of being too subtle or oblique. Don’t be afraid of your material or your past. Be afraid of wasting any more time obsessing about how you look and how people see you. Be afraid of not getting your writing done.”
― Anne LamottBird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life


I had writing to do. What I needed was creative prompts and the structure of a workshop with involved, honest feedback from like-minded women—those who write the hard stuff of being a parent, too. It was pertinent that I travel quite the distance from my real life in order to stop, slow down, and reconnect with myself and nature so I could reflect properly and pour my memories out on the page. So, I went away for six days, a lucky participant in the Women’s Memoir Retreat led by author and writing instructor, Kate Hopper and hosted at the famed Madeline Island School of the Arts (MISA). Leaving my whirlwind life, dear husband and three kids behind to fend for themselves while I boarded a plane to Minneapolis/St. Paul in pursuit of a dream was a tough, yet necessary decision. One I would gladly repeat every year from now on. After landing in Minnesota, I indulged in a solo lunch—a special occasion for a busy mother of three—and delighted in a grilled salmon salad while reading on my Kindle without even one distraction.

Kate met me at the airport so we could drive together to our final destination and I was glad for the company. We spent the next four and half hours talking of writing, family, stress, books, projects, funny moments, and she generously included me in on what the upcoming week of writing would involve. After a slight, yet winding detour, we arrived in Bayfield, WI just in time to board the four o’clock ferry. Eager to stretch our legs, we found seating on the upper deck of the boat, glad for the sun and wind upon our faces as we searched for Madeline Island in the distance.

After driving off the ferry dock, we went less than two miles before arriving at MISA.  Immediately, I was enchanted by its prime location and knew it was a haven for writers. Nestled admist a peaceful landscape, the entire feeling and locale ignited my mind with creative expressions I knew were not possible on the mainland. Surrounded by a picturesque field of brilliant wildflowers and an abundance of eager butterflies (and the occasional friendly fawn), I was already delighting in the quiet beauty of this untouched island escape. Any doubt of my ability to write at MISA quickly dissolved.

The long day of travel was worth every effort. My writer’s mind was craving an intense adventure and Kate’s workshop seemed the only answer. Under Kate’s creative wings, the quantity and quality of my writing soared to new heights. Her effective workshop format was effortlessly balanced, providing daily creative challenges with a keen focus that molded and stretched my writer’s muscles with a gratifying intensity finally manifested on the page.

My fellow workshop attendees and I quickly formed a  bond of understanding and friendship—an unexpected, positive gain of attending such an intimate and focused retreat. Each of these women writers wrote with such fierce love and raw honesty, shared their masterful pieces, and exposed their lives, fears, challenges, and the complexities of love they face alone. This type of bravery is a bold magic I’ll never be able to forget. All of the stories we shared under the barn roof of MISA, so gently guided by Kate Hopper’s brilliance, will remain forever etched on my writer’s mind.

photo by purdywords
Madeline Island School of the Arts





1 Comment

  1. Sue LeBreton says:

    It is a special place and Kate creates such a safe writing environment. I am happy you found it to be so helpful. See you next year.

Leave a Comment

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s