Cirenaica Spotlight: An Interview With Writer-in-Residence Holly Hughes


by Emilia Hurst

This summer the Chippewa Valley Writers Guild will be hosting five amazing writers retreat.  Over the next few months, we’ll be featuring one retreat in each of our newsletters.  This month, we’re excited to share a few behind-the-scenes details on our first retreat, “Words to Hold a Glittering World: Crossing Genres Mindfully” featuring Seattle-based writer-in-residence Holly Hughes. This retreat will take place from June 21-24.  

I recently had a chance to catch up with Holly and ask a few questions about her personal writing philosophy, as well as what potential participants can look forward to this summer:

Emilia Hurst: What do you feel is a unique experience or aspect about these retreats?

Holly Hughes: First, I appreciate the philosophy that I believe underlies Cirenaica: that we’re gathering to learn from the natural world as well as from each other;  that we’ll be combining writing instruction with time spent writing; and that the focus is on building a community of writers during the time we have together.  Writing workshops and retreats can feel intimidating, especially if participants feel that they’re in competition with each other.  I like to create a supportive atmosphere in which we’re all there to encourage each other to become the best writers we each can be.  And as a former seafarer, I love that Cirenaica means “siren of the sea.”  In my experience, the sea has provided a rich reservoir of imagery for creative work—and I think that can be true for the natural world in general.   

What part of the retreat are you most excited for?

I’m excited about all of it!  But I must admit I’m looking forward to returning to the Midwest for a few weeks—I grew up in Winona, Minnesota—so it’s a chance for me to experience the landscape of my childhood again.  Walking is definitely an important part of my writing practice, so I look forward to walking in a different landscape.   I’m also looking forward to experimenting with writing in different genres—and helping participants discover how crossing genres can feel freeing. 

What kinds of people would enjoy and benefit from this retreat?

I hope that my workshop will appeal to anyone who’s interested in words and place and how the two interact with and inform each other.  I also hope it’ll appeal to writers of both prose and poetry who share a willingness to write outside their comfort zone.  Finally, I think it will appeal to anyone who wants to experience a supportive writing community, where the focus is on exploring the craft of writing, though I will address questions about publication briefly, too.  

How would you say your latest poetry collection Passings is different from your previous publications?

Passings is unique in that it’s a chapbook focused on a specific subject:  extinct birds, an interest/passion  I share with BJ Hollars.  It’s also unique in that it’s a fine-art limited edition letterpress book—only 375 copies were printed. Like the birds, when they’re gone, they’re gone.  I hope it will raise awareness not only of the bird species we’ve lost, but those we’re in danger of losing as birds’ habitats and ranges are affected by changing weather patterns.  And finally, I included a short prose essay as a Preface to establish a context for the poems, so it’s an example of a cross-genre book.  

What can people expect to take away from this retreat?

Through the time-honored tradition of walking as a means of inspiration,   students can expect to take away a variety of strategies for connecting with both their inner and outer landscapes.  More specifically, they’ll also learn a few hybrid forms, such as the Japanese haibun, and do some collaborative writing, by working on a renga together.  I hope everyone will come to the workshop with an open, receptive mind—what the Buddhists call “beginner’s mind” -- and a willingness to try out new forms, all in an effort to hold the elusive beauty of our glittering world. 

What more could you ask for? Click here to apply today for this wonderful opportunity!