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ImageI love this picture of Irene McKinney enjoying an evening with other writers at the Aurora Project Fall Writers Retreat a few years ago. Irene loved the idea of the Aurora Project—a residency program for artists, where they have time and space to create, free from distractions. She generously donated her own time toward making the Aurora vision a reality, even while she was battling the cancer that took her from us in February of this year.

“I remember going to MacDowell Colony after four hard years of graduate school and teaching in a prison in Salt Lake City, and weeping in gratitude when they brought my lunchbox to my studio door,” she told me in an e-mail message. “I sat there in that quiet place looking out at the pines and feeling: someone thinks what I do is valuable enough to take care of me for a while.”

The Aurora Project Fall Writers Retreat takes place this year November 1-4. If you have attended a past retreat, you know what a wonderful weekend this will be: time to work on your own creative endeavor, fellowship with other writers in the evenings, beautiful surroundings, and wonderful food. Someone taking care of you for a while.

In past years we have invited a well-known writer to join us and give a public reading. Irene was our guest three years ago. Maggie Anderson and Anita Skeen have also been featured. This year we’re devoting that public evening to the poems of Irene McKinney. Everyone who attends the retreat will be invited to share, in a reading open to the general public, one of their favorite Irene McKinney poems.

For more information and a registration form, e-mail info@auroraproject.org.

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This is a typical morning sky at Ghost Ranch in New Mexico. That flat-topped mountain on the left is Pedernal, one of Georgia O’Keeffe’s favorite painting subjects. Needless to say, this landscape is still among the most inspiring, and not only for painters.

Each October, for the past few years, I have had the privilege and joy to lead a workshop at Ghost Ranch. It’s happening again this year, from October 10-16. “Read-Aloud Writing: Shapely Short Essays” is the title of the workshop, and that’s what we’ll be writing: short, shapely pieces that are meant to be read aloud. The class meets every morning for a week, and afternoons are free for writing, hiking, thinking, visiting with new friends.

And, each October, I am amazed by the quality of writing that emerges. There’s something magical about the camaraderie at Ghost Ranch, the awesome landscape, the collaborative process, and perhaps the students’ willingness to revise, revise, and revise some more.

Last fall, in fact, I thought that some of the essays my class wrote were so good that, when someone suggested publishing a chapbook, I agreed to edit it. The resulting booklet, published by Village Books Press (Cheyenne, OK), turned out beautifully, as you can see:

The fine cover photography (and Photoshopping) are the work of one of the class members, William Graustein, who also took this picture of our group:

Can you tell that we bonded? I can’t speak for the students, but I would have to say that this one of my all-time-favorite experiences as a workshop leader. I won’t promise a chapbook every year (in fact, it WAS a lot of work), but I do promise you’ll meet some fine people and do some writing of which you can be proud.

There’s something about Ghost Ranch. If you have a yearning to write short essays, to spend a week with a congenial group of fellow writers, and to experience the place that has inspired Georgia O’Keeffe and so many other people, I hope you’ll check out the Ghost Ranch website and search for “Read-Aloud Writing.”

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