located in Oak Bluffs, is one of the few retreats for issue-oriented writers, writers of color and writers of social justice. The point of the program is to give artists "alone" time, away from their families and their jobs and the everyday chores that make up a life. This year, the Renaissance House has extended their fall program into October and have added a special program for Islanders including a reduced tuition and allowing them to stay on for as long as four weeks instead of just two.
The Renaissance House is a program of the Helene Johnson and Dorothy West Foundation For Artists In Need. Both Johnson and West were writers of the Harlem Renaissance and Island residents. West was a year round resident who worked at until Jacqueline Kennedy spotted her writing in the and gave her the opportunity to simply, in West’s words, "stare at the trees and do nothing." From that evolved "The Wedding," a best selling novel based on the life of Johnson's daughter Abigail McGrath who founded Renaissance House in 2001.
Residents are often artists who simply do not have the luxury of time. In addition to being given time to create, they enjoy sit down dinners with other residents and McGrath and her husband Tony. Joining them often are local artists who in the past have included Jessica Harris, Elaine Weintraub, Kate Feiffer, Robert Hayden, Marty Nadler, Nat Benjamin and Brooks Robards - as well as "imported" artists like Robert Pinsky, Janet Hill, Elisabeth Benedict and others.
McGrath, who is known for her cooking skills, also prepares picnic box lunches for attendees so that they can spend the day exploring different locations to create and be inspired on the Island. There are Silent Wednesdays in which nobody speaks all day and on Thursday a professional reader comes in to read attendees works aloud. On Fridays the residents present their work to the public as a result of their dedicated efforts from the week in a salon type setting, often with additional readings from invited guests.
As Helen Johnson said, “In order to create, a person needs time in which to do nothing. To simply stare out a window and let thoughts come to them.”
Those interested in applying to be a resident of the Renaissance House should send a hard copy sample of your work and a letter explaining why you think you need to get away to: Renaissance House, Attn: Abigail McGrath, PO Box 3048, Oak Bluffs, Ma. 02557 or you can email Renaissancehse@aol.com