Letter from the Director – October 2023


When I travel, I take photos of the plants I encounter as I explore the land. I use an identification app to name them, and then I draw or paint them. This is a way I become more attuned to the environment, and more appreciative of my experiences. I love botanicals. If I truly want to understand a place, I study its plants as well as its civilization.

I’ve studied the plant life of Tennessee for a long time. I’m particularly drawn to wildflowers. I think of coneflower and black-eyed Susan, bergamot and passion flower,  iris and primrose – the plants I grew up with and recognize as part of my landscape. When I see beautiful plants from another region, I feel much appreciation and awe. When I see the Tennessee natives, I feel a sense of home. 

I feel embedded in the land and cities of this state. My ancestors are buried here, and my experiences and lifeblood circulate here. I am rooted in Tennessee, so deeply that I can’t imagine living anywhere else. Even though I’ll happily visit other places, my heart always longs for where I feel belonging. 

This connection is important to me. It gives me purpose and passion. The work I do here, I do with satisfaction, knowing it is meaningful work in a meaningful place. To be able to create here, to write here, in the place that holds such soulful connection is a blessing. I end all my correspondence (and these newsletters) with the word “blessings” because it fits so well the way I feel every day. Blessed to be able to do this work. Blessed to write. Blessed to meet writers and welcome them to the colony. Blessed to dream, plan, imagine, and have new ideas. All the wispy joy that comes with those thoughts doesn’t just float around untethered on golden wings. It’s bound, it’s rooted to something solid and deep. It must be that way. Roots and wings go together. One without the other makes for an unbalanced existence. 

When I think about my writing roots, many things enter my mind. One is my poetry mentor, Bill Brown. Bill taught me everything I know about writing poetry. I would not be the writer I am if not for him. I also feel rooted in the poetry of Mary Oliver and Robert Frost and the stories of John Steinbeck. I don’t fashion my writing after theirs, but I feel a connection with them for other reasons. When I was a child, my parents gave me a book club subscription for John Steinbeck books. Every month, I’d get a new book that I read immediately. They also gave me the collected works of Robert Frost, a book I still have in my library. Even though I didn’t understand much of Frost’s poetry at the time, I labored over those pages. The tentacles of belonging to the writing world were birthed from those gifts. They reach farther now, stretch into a landscape I’ve built at the colony, and wear the wings of dreams, but their roots are basic and unsophisticated – the way most roots are. 

This month, my wish for you is the awareness and appreciation for what holds you to this writing life. What are the places, the people, the circumstances, the memories that nourish and sustain you? It’s worth a nod in that direction, to acknowledge the roots that allow you to grow taller and wiser, that hold you to yourself, but also set in motion the desire to stretch and dream. May you find the blessing in your roots and wings.