Fairhope Writers Cottage program drawing international attention, applications increase

By Guy Busbyguy@gulfcoastmedia.com
Posted 4/8/22

FAIRHOPE — Each month, a writer from around the country, or beyond, spends a month working on their craft in a small century-old cottage tucked away behind the Fairhope Public Library.

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Fairhope Writers Cottage program drawing international attention, applications increase

Posted

FAIRHOPE — Each month, a writer from around the country, or beyond, spends a month working on their craft in a small century-old cottage tucked away behind the Fairhope Public Library.

The Wolff Cottage has been the home to the Fairhope Center for the Writing Arts Writer in Residence program since 2004.

"The purpose is really to produce a place for writers to come and have a place where they can complete what they're working on or start something new," Skip Jones of the center said.

The program closed for about two years during the pandemic, but recently resumed. In March, writer Laura Wolfson, who lives in New York, has been living in the cottage working on her latest project. Wolfson's debut essay collection was "For Single Mothers Working as Train Conductors."

Jones said she has also worked as a Russian translator for Hillary Clinton and has also translated for many Russian-speaking authors.

The April writer will be Julia Claiborne Johnson, who lives in Los Angeles. She is the author of the novels "Be Frank with Me," and "Better Luck Next Time."

"I understand she has two kids and said that she's looking forward to having some time away where she can write," Jones said laughing.

He said authors are asked to have one meeting with a community group during their month, but no other commitments are required. "The idea is to give people a quiet place to get away and work, so we don't ask much more than that," he said.

Jones said writers have come to the cottage from as far away as Croatia. Some writers have come back to stay, he said.

"They're surprised sometimes by what they find here," he said. "It's a place where you can get just about anywhere you need just by walking, to the store or anything else. Many of them have liked to walk down to the bay."

The small cottage on School Street was built in the early 1920s next to a pecan processing plant that was known as the old nut factory. The city acquired the property where both buildings were located and announced plans to tear down the structures to construct the new library in 2002.

The house had been vacant for several years and needed major repairs, Jones said.

Local author and publisher Sonny Brewer proposed renovating the cottage and using it as a venue for writers. He proposed that the Fairhope City Council allow the Center for the Writing Arts to lease the house for $1 a year and to renovate the cottage.

"The house had been abandoned since 1995," Jones said. "We probably raised $40,000 to fix it up."

After some city officials questioned the idea, Brewer arranged for Pulitzer Prize winner Rick Bragg, author of "All Over but the Shouting," and other works, to become the first writer in residence.

The city of Fairhope still owns the building. In March, the City Council voted to extend the lease with the center. The city has also announced plans to repair the roof of the cottage.

From 2004 to 2017, two or three writers a year used the cottage, sometimes staying for two or three months. By 2018, the cottage was listed in the Association of Writers and Writing Programs listing of residencies around the country. Since then, the program has had more applicants than time available and writers now stay for one month.

Jones said that with the number of applicants increasing, center members have considered concentrating the program on Southern writers, with an emphasis on authors with a connection to Alabama.

The program is supported by members and community donations. The center is a 501.c.3 charitable non-profit organization.

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