I recently caught up with novelist and short story writer Shobha Rao during her interview for Bookgardan’s monthly series of Q&As with women writers, one of the exclusive features of our year-long mentorship & book cultivation program. It didn’t occur to me until after our conversation how appropriate it was for Shobha and I to be talking about the women writers who have shaped our lives and work, our literary mothers and sisters: though Shobha and I first met in Peter Orner’s fiction workshop at San Francisco State, we formed a lifelong bond — along with four other extraordinary women writers — during a week at Hedgebrook, the life-changing residency program for women writers on Whidbey Island in Washington State. Something magic and profound happened among all of us during that shared time, something lasting, our lives as writers and women and human beings entwined in a way none of us wants to ever come to an end.
My matchless tribe: Laurie Frankel, Victoria Redel, Kate Carroll de Gutes, Shobha Rao, Elmaz Abinader, and me on the beach at Useless Bay, Whidbey Island, May 2018.
And that’s what I dreamed of creating for the writers of Bookgardan, a twelve-month program that brings together all of what I do at Birds & Muses—one-on-one mentorship, editorial manuscript review and development, and small-group retreats—in one sustained and sustaining package. With Bookgardan, you don’t just get to work with me; you gain a small, intimate community of likeminded writers brimming with talent, curiosity, and generosity, because every writer admitted to Bookgardan has been carefully selected not just as a good match for my skills and expertise, but as a good fit for every other writer in their cohort.
Designed for an annual maximum of 6 writers of literary fiction and creative nonfiction, Bookgardan writers receive individual mentorship for twelve months and two week-long, intensive artists’ residencies with their cohort at Craigardan arts center in the Adirondacks, both residencies held in October, when the weather in the Adirondack High Peaks is just starting to crisp up and the turning of the leaves is at its chromatic, gold-to-russet peak. The first residency is designed as an orientation and endurance builder, equipping you for the commitment to your work and yourself over the next year; the second residency covers the business end of being a professional writer, including savvy and influential guest speakers from the publishing industry and literary field. This year’s cohort will be hearing from literary agent Ellen Levine of Trident Media Group, editor & publisher Amy Einhorn of Flatiron Books, and Peg Alford Pursell, founder & editor of Why There Are Words and WTAW Press, among others.
Bookgardan writers also receive a year of advanced craft curriculum, with monthly injections of guidance from established writers like Shobha, and a full granular assessment of their manuscript after a year of focused, guided writing. The final takeaway of the program is one of the most valuable assets any writer can have: someone (or six) who really gets what you are doing and supports you in prioritizing and reaching your goal.
Applications for the 2019-2020 cohort are now open and rolling registration has begun. As of this writing we have two spots left, one each in fiction and creative nonfiction. Interested? You can find all the preliminary details here.
And I can’t not let you hear what Shobha has to say in her incredibly wise and startlingly candid interview.