Like many of you, I’ve struggled for much of my life to find “a room of my own.” Growing up in a shoe box size Manhattan tenement apartment, my first writing sanctuary was the shared family bathroom. With a clamorous household crammed with sisters, my grandmother and a working mother, it was impossible to have more than five undisturbed minutes before the desperate hordes advanced on the porcelain bowl’s pearly gates.
Lacking the advantage of my own room, I anointed treasured New York hideouts as ‘June’s Dens’. My favorite refuge was the Cloisters – a medieval castle perched at the tip of Manhattan on a hill overlooking the Hudson River. On Sunday mornings, as Gregorian chants wafted through the castle’s cavernous chambers, I sat between sun-warmed marble columns pouring the secrets of my soul onto a child’s lined schoolbook.
My pattern was set – if not in stone, at least on dog-eared paper – that to write, I needed to leave home to find myself and explore creative visions.
It wasn’t until college, when I first encountered Virginia Woolf’s status quo busting A Room of Her Own, that a thunderclap of recognition struck; I was not alone needing to be alone to write!
"In the first place, to have a room of her own, let alone a quiet room or a sound-proof room, was out of the question, unless her parents were exceptionally rich or very noble….”
The idea of class and privilege as it relates to a writer’s process (and available opportunities) was something I was just beginning to understand. Raised by a single mother in a class typically referred to as working poor, I felt a failure (and lacking in discipline) because of my inability to write at home.
Historically, women have been denied access to space other than their tightly contained domestic spheres. Breaking out of her home’s confining walls, Virginia Woolf wrote in a converted toolshed. What refuge have you found to compensate for the dearth of creative space in your home? Perhaps, like me, you have sought the quiet of a library, the peace of a house of worship, or the rickety back table of a deserted coffee shop to hear your Muse.
A discovery I made in the late ‘80s opened an exciting new avenue in my quest for creative space. One harried, grey day in New York as I rushed from Teaching Job #2 to Teaching Job #3 - with an hour-long trek on the subway between the two – I opened a journal to pass the time.
An article about a new residency program in North Carolina hiring artists from around the country caught my eye; right then and there I decided to apply, and was accepted a few months later. Journeying to the American South and serving as a North Carolina Visiting Artist (for three years) was an extraordinary, life-changing experience!
Over the past three decades, I’ve explored different types of residencies in a plethora of places; many short-term (a few weeks), some, a couple of months, and a few, spanning years. Although I am fortunate now to own my own home with an attic-shaped office and an antique oak desk which I adore, writing habits are hard to break; I continue to seek out residencies to start or finish a new work.
There has been an explosion of artist residency programs around the world the last twenty years. Are you inspired by nature? Select national parks offer residencies! Would you enjoy writing in a deceased famous person’s house? Heritage sites (literary etc.) have programs.
Do you crave working in a collaborative environment? Yep, those residencies exist too. As I write this blog post, I am happily ensconced in a mountain cabin in Georgia at one of my favorite residency sites (Hambidge Arts Center).
Why do I love artist residencies (let me count the ways)! The best programs offer unique environments to explore and be inspired (whether on top of a mountain or in a vibrant urban setting); a place of one’s own to think and write; and – the super-fun part – the opportunity to meet incredible artists from around the globe.
“If we live another century or so….and have five hundred a year each of us and rooms of our own; if we have the freedom to write exactly what we think; if we escape a little from the common sitting room and see human beings not always in their relation to each other but in relation to reality...then the opportunity will come….”
Well, it’s been close to a century since Woolf’s revolutionary essay was published, and the challenges facing women writers unfortunately persist. If your writing journey is similar to mine, and you long for a room apart from your ‘real’ life to connect with your Muse, beg, borrow, or steal a room of your own, because the plays and stories you have to author are important! (FYI, a terrific resource for residency opportunities is the Alliance of Resident Communities.) Happy residency hunting!
ABOUT JUNE GURALNICK
For three decades, June has created works (plays, performance projects, multi-media installations) melding fact with fiction and portraying individuals caught – sometimes comically, sometimes tragically - in the intersection of politics and personal dreams. Her work has been performed at venues including the Kennedy Center (Washington, D.C.), Abrons Arts Center/Henry Street Settlement Theatre (NY), Spirit Square (NC), Equity Library Theatre (NY), Bethany Arts Center (CA), Burning Coal Theatre (NC), Southern Appalachian Repertory Theatre (NC), AS220 (RI), North Carolina Museum of Art – and beamed to the Space Station!
Plays include MEMORIES OF CHILDHOOD, CONTAINMENTS: THE HOME PROJECT Part II, IN GOLD WE TRUST (with Guy Nickson), ART TALES OF THADDEUS, WOMEN OF THE LIGHT (with Cynthia Mitchell), SPACE INTERLUDE, FINDING CLARA, ACROSS THE HOLY TELL, ON THE DREAMHOUSE SEA, and most recently, BIRDS OF A FEATHER: A COMEDY ABOUT DE-EXTINCTION. Selections from her plays have been published by North Carolina Literary Review, Playwrights’ Center (Monologues-Heinemann Press), Blackbird Press, Smith & Kraus and Left Curve; ON THE DREAMHOUSE SEA was published in 2017 and monologues from BIRDS will be published in Applause Books’ upcoming Best Women’s Monologues.
Awards and residencies include the Silver Medal-Pinter Drama Review Prize, North Carolina Arts Council Literature Fellowship, Southern Appalachian Repertory Theatre New Plays winner, Virginia Center for the Creative Arts Writing Fellowship, Hambidge Center for the Arts Writer-in-Residence, Writer-in-Residence at Wildacres Retreat, Artist-in-Residence at the Rensing Center, United Arts Council of Raleigh & Wake County Regional Artist Grant, Piedmont Regional Artist Grant, and Sewanee Writers’ Conference Tennessee Williams Scholar. In 2019, June has been awarded a writing residency at Hambidge Arts Center for rewrites on her work-in-progress (LITTLE ) as well as Runner-Up for the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts Tyrone Guthrie Writer-In-Residence Fellowship (Ireland).