Interview with Katie Woodzick - Actor, Poet, Person Extraordinare

Katie Woodzick 

Katie Woodzick is Hedgebrook's External Relations Manager involved in all aspects of Communications and Development. Katie was kind enough to answer the questions I had for her after my Women In the Arts class at Highline College started wondering about what was going on for women artists today. It seems some students don't think the problem of gender inequity still exists.

In August 1988, Hedgebrook opened to its first session of writers. Over time, more than 1500 writers have lived and worked in Hedgebrook’s cottages, generating thousands of novels, poems, plays, screenplays, memoirs, works of non-fiction. Literally millions of people have experienced the work that has been generated in our cottages. Our Farmhouse library is full of their books, and we happily promote every new release to our community of avid readers.

We call the care and nurturing writers receive in residence “radical hospitality,” since it enables a woman writer to go to the places she needs to go, however dark or challenging, to tell her story. The impact of this gift is manifold: everyone who encounters this writer and her work is a recipient of her experience—of being recognized and valued for her work.

1. Hedgebrook is a writing retreat particularly for women. Why is the Hedgebrook experience only available for women and not men?
Nancy Nordhoff bought the 48 acres that would become Hedgebrook in the 1980s. She originally purchased it to live on herself, but found that the land spoke to her and wanted to be something else. It wanted to be a place to support women artists. I believe there was an aspect of practicality that was taken into account: visual and performance artists need more tools and space than writers do. Hedgebrook was founded with the belief that if you give a woman writer the gift of time to write away from the distractions of everyday life and let her know her voice is important and needs to be heard, she will write extraordinary things.
I am hopeful that gender roles and expectations will continue to evolve as time goes on, but for the most part, women are the caretakers in society. There are multiple studies that show that women still take on the majority of housework and childcare ( (Links to an external site.)) Hedgebrook is a space where they don't have to do any of that. This philosophy of taking care of the caretaker is called radical hospitality. 
I'm struck by the story of a writer who came to Hedgebrook last year and left her child with her husband. Her parents came to stay at their house to help her husband. (Already, look at that math, right? It took THREE people to replace the amount of housework and childcare for which she was normally responsible.) Ultimately, the husband and his in-laws couldn't get along, and the husband asked the in-laws to stay at a hotel instead. But tried not to tell his wife for as long as possible--not because he was worried about her being upset at the conflict, but because he was worried that she would come home early.
Giving women writers a cottage of their own to write in away from the responsibilities of daily life is a revolutionary act. That's the simple answer. 

2. In 2015, don't women and men have equal opportunity in the publishing business?

In my opinion, there are two answers to this question:
1: If a woman submits her work to a publication and gets a response along the lines of "this wasn't quite what we were looking for, but we'd like to see other work," she's more likely to consider that a rejection and wait a while to send more work in, or even submit at all. A male writer having that same interaction will most likely submit other work by the end of the week. I don't have a study to link for this part of the answer, but I do have anecdotal evidence from half a dozen editors. And it makes sense: in Lean In, Sheryl Sandberg cites a study about job searches: men will apply for a job, even though they don't have all of the qualifications, whereas most women will only apply if they feel they have a majority of the desired qualifications. 
This is all to say that sometimes women get in our own way when it comes to submitting. I have a friend who jokingly says the following to me when I'm being timid: "Now, Katie, what would a mediocre white man do?"
It goes back to the cultural expectation of girls being "sugar and spice and everything nice." From an early age, women are often socialized to be pleasant and quiet. (Have you ever been told that "it wouldn't hurt you to smile more"? I know I have...) I love the story from Tina Fey's book Bossypants, where she remembers a situation in the SNL writers room where Jimmy Fallon was taken aback by Amy Poehler swearing and said "Stop it, I don't like that!" And she whipped around and said "I don't care if you like it!" 
It's not the truth for everyone, and I am hopeful that the tides are changing--I am inspired by writers like Ijeoma Oluo and Lindy West who are fiercely authentic and unapologetic. I don't feel like I had role models like that growing up and I'm happy that the next generation has these examples of feminist firebrands. 
So, overall, it seems to me that women aren't as aggressive in submitting their work, which is part one of the problem...BUT:
2: Readers are unconsciously biased to prefer works written by men. 
Alumna Joy Meads wrote this fantastic article recently for American Theatre: (Links to an external site.) Studies show that the SAME PAPER is judged more harshly if the readers believe the writer to be female. This is further corroborated by Catherine Nichols, who sent out her novel query under both her name and a male pseudonym: (Links to an external site.) She writes: "He is eight and a half times better than me at writing the same book." Same manuscript. Same query letter.
I wish I had a magic wand and could tell you what the solution is. I think it's helpful to start with the numbers. Organizations like VIDA ( (Links to an external site.)) are great resources. It's hard to get mad AT numbers. But if you show an editor or publisher the numbers, they may start to examine their biases more carefully. Social media has been extremely helpful in spreading the word about publishing inequalities and it's a great megaphone for audiences to use. Express that you want to see more books, articles, plays, films written by women. Let publishers/theatres/journals/producers know that you NOTICE inequalities and expect to see positive change. 

3. In your time at Hedgebrook, can you tell us about the kinds of transformations that happen for the women? Perhaps one story of how a retreat for women created change?

The phrase I hear most often from Alumnae is "Hedgebrook was the first place where I considered myself a writer." 
By definition, a writer is anyone who writes., but it can be challenging to claim the name of writer. We're hesitant to do it until we've been published. Truthfully, I didn't consider myself a writer before I started working at Hedgebrook ( (Links to an external site.)). There's something magical about the place: the huge writing desk in the cottages and a community that keeps asking "What are you working on right now?" 
Last year, we had a writer who came to Hedgebrook and had never submitted any of her writing for publication before. Writing had been a private avocation for her. With the support of her community at Hedgebrook, she submitted to short story contest and WON. 
When a woman leaves Hedgebrook, there is no doubt in her mind that she is a WRITER.

4. Do you believe women write different books than men do?

I think that each writer's process is unique and that I haven't noticed gendered differences in the writing process itself. That being said, I believe women can have more impediments than men overall to find time and space to write. 

5. What have I forgotten to ask you? What else might you like to share about Hedgebrook? Are there opportunities for young writers?
I want to reinforce Hedgebrook serves writers working in all genres at all levels of experience. You can apply for a residency if you're 18 or older. Yes, the application process for the Writers in Residence program is competitive, but your writing has an equal chance of advancing through the selection process. You never know who will be moved by your work.
I think that's a great philosophy to keep in mind as a writer (or any artist): share your work, because it may inspire/delight/save/heal someone. With both my writing (Links to an external site.) and my podcast (Links to an external site.) I have found that weeks or months after posting something, I'll have someone reach out to say that that poem, essay, interview was something that was important for them to experience. 
We live in a world where technology allows us to be more connected than ever, and yet we still yearn for authentic connections with other humans. Making art is one of the last brave things we get to do. I'll close with a fantastic mantra introduced to me by actress Angela DiMarco: "Don't wait, create." 

Writer's Cottage at Hedgebrook


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