Writing residency programs: Tofte Lake Center at Norm’s Fish Camp


I understand why artists and writers residency programs become important to your writing career, if you’re lucky enough to get one. Recently I participated in my first week long (September 9-15) artist residency program at Tofte Lake Center at Norm’s Fish Camp fifteen miles outside of Ely Minnesota. Funded by the Jerome Foundation this year, eight emerging artists from Minnesota and New York came to work, play and collaborate in the beauty of the Northwoods. All women partook in this session and represented the visual, theatre and literary arts. There was no agenda but your own; in other words you could do whatever you wanted.

Liz Engelman, the director of the program, well-known in the field of playwriting and dramaturgy, transformed a former fishing camp into an artist retreat. Lovely rustic cabins with full kitchens dot the tree filled landscaped property and every cabin has a view of Tofte Lake. Other buildings on the property serve as a dance/yoga studio and work areas for visual art projects.  Activities for play range from paddle boarding (I tried), canoeing, biking, hiking and of course working on your artistic project.

During this residency I played but also completed drafts of two short stories, a revision on another, read a collection of short stories and reread poetry by Gwendolyn Brooks and did some character sketch work on a novel-in-progress. With no distractions from everyday chores, TV, Facebook, email and family responsibilities I found renewed creative energy.

So this fall, I’m back on track with my writing practice. While driving home with fellow artist, Bean Berg, a lone wolf about twenty feet ahead of us crossed the highway and disappeared into the forest. I know there’s a story there.