Do you have a cookbook in you? A memoir of Nonna’s fusilli or a meditation on Pop’s pancakes? A study of herbal remedies or a compilation of Zen Buddhist koans matched with a vegan recipe of the day? Is your gluten-free baking or organic baby-food blog itching to become a book? Do you need peace, quiet, a gorgeous test kitchen and a hot dinner on the table for you? If so, I’ve got the place for you.
I’ve been a bit of an evangelist for the Writers Colony at Dairy Hollow in Eureka Springs, Arkansas ever since I spent my first month there in 2006, after reading its praises on my friend Jen’s excellent blog, Prepare to Meet your Bakerina. It’s a very special place in many ways, but for our purposes here, the most important one is this.
See that kitchen? When a food writer comes to the Writers Colony, he or she is assigned to this, the Culinary Suite. For all of you with placemat-sized countertops, feast your eyes on two wall ovens (with convection), a stove top with a pot-filling faucet, a dishwasher, insane amounts of pantry and pot-storage space, a massive fridge and freezer, a butcher-block island, and more, all just steps away from your desk, not to mention the lovely deck outside complete with swanky outdoor gas-powered grill.
Now, if you write about food, the application process for most writers’ colonies can be pretty daunting, even for longtime professionals. To be honest, my letter to Yaddo would have to read something like this:
I am not writing the Great American Novel in Satirical Verse, nor the Great American Philosophical Essay or the Great American Weighty Historical Tome, not even the Great American Poem. You see, I want a pleasant room, a desk with a view, and interesting dinner-table conversation to support my Very Important Work, which happens to be about…chutney. Or possibly pickles! Perhaps I’ll also be typing away on one of those kicky airport novels featuring a plucky caterer-turned sleuth, complete with a recipe at the end of every chapter. Would you also be able to provide access to a counter, a fridge, a sink, and a stove so I can perfect my cheddar-chive souffles and Bloody-Mary beans? Looking forward to the minions delivering those little bag lunches every day!
Yours in sugar,
Sadly, such places as Yaddo and the Macdowell Colony do not yet consider recipes for chocolate silk pie worth mentioning in the same breath as the Up-and-Coming Great Literature that they nourish so carefully, burnishing their reputations as top-notch literary incubators.
Well, as undisputed master of great literature John Milton might have observed, they also serve who only stand and wait for the butterscotch pudding to thicken. Enter the Writers Colony at Dairy Hollow, which accepts–nay, celebrates!– culinary writers as practitioners of a legitimate literary form, giving them a beautiful place to both write and cook. (This is the legacy of original owner and cookbook author Crescent Dragonwagon, who ran the place as The Inn at Dairy Hollow before turning it into a writers’ retreat.)
Now, I know what you’re saying. Arkansas? Really? Where will I find my organic rice milk? My iyengar yoga class? Well, as any denizen of Eureka Springs can tell you, this artsy little town considers itself the San Francisco of the Ozarks. And that’s not too far off; after all, it has steep hills, brightly painted Victorians, trolley cars, and out-and-proud gay people. And a nifty little health food store, the Eureka Market, a tiny but sweet local farmers’ market, and an opinionated local paper, the Lovely County Citizen. A nearby historic grist mill, the water-wheel driven War Eagle Mill, produces excellent cornmeal and grits.
All of this, of course, is secondary to the true point of the place, which is to support writers of all stripes. You fill out a simple application describing your writing past and your project of choice. Once chosen, you pay a very reasonable daily fee for board and lodging, and you book a flight to the surprisingly well-appointed Northwest Arkansas Regional Airport. (Retail giants Wal-Mart and Tyson Foods are nearby, and probably account for the bulk of the airport's commercial traffic.)
And then, peace under the tall, leafy trees, just beginning to turn in the crisp and cooling autumn. You can get up early or stay up late, write all day or take a walk through the woods, mumbling through your last chapter's dialogue, to end up to the (supposedly haunted) Crescent Hotel for a drink on the balcony. Monday through Friday, dinner's on the table at 6pm, a hot meal you didn't have to make, ready to be shared with your fellow writers, all a little starved for conversation after a day spent listening to the voices in their own heads.
So sign up now. The colony runs from March 15 to Dec. 15, and there's no better time than autumn in the Ozarks.