The final weekend in September was a milestone for the Staunton Hill Center for Thought, Creativity and Production (SH). It was then that we hosted our very first workshop featuring Donna M. Lucey. During the past year, we have had several writers’ workshops—soft openings, if you will. But this was the first event with a mentor on premises and a fee attached to it.
Donna is a biographer whose books include Sargent’s Women: Four Lives Behind the Canvas, the New York Times bestselling Archie and Amélie: Love and Madness in the Gilded Age and the award-winning Photographing Montana 1894-1928: The Life and Work of Evelyn Cameron. Her work as a photo editor and writer has appeared in Time-Life Books, National Geographic Books, People, the New York Times Magazine, Garden and Gun, and Smithsonian. Donna was awarded two grants from the National Endowment for the Humanities, served as a 2017 writer-in-residence at Edith Wharton’s The Mount, and has written a feature-length screenplay based on her Montana book. She is the Winner of the 2018 Art in Literature: The Mary Lynn Kotz Award (Library of Virginia) and Finalist for Best Work of Nonfiction Library of Virginia Literary Award. She is the perfect mentor, kind, warm and insightful.
Five writers at all levels of experience joined us to work on memoir projects. They came from New York City, Philadelphia, Washington, DC and Charlottesville. Donna kicked off the weekend with an exercise on Friday evening following the welcome dinner. She asked the participants to write their impressions of two vintage photographs. The results were very interesting with an unexpected surprise in store for everyone.
After breakfast the following morning, the group convened in the conference room in Brooklyn, Staunton Hill’s former carriage house, now converted into a studio/ workshop building. Its name plays homage to the creative hothouse that is Brooklyn, NY, but it also has particular relevance to Staunton Hill as one of the villages that dotted the landscape of the original property was named Brooklyn.
The writers worked for two hours with Donna before setting off on their own to write. A couple sat outside, but most chose to work in their rooms, all of which are outfitted with desks and good lighting. Throughout the day, Donna met with each attendee individually to discuss their projects and their progress. After a gala dinner in the Staunton Hill dining room, readings were presented in the drawing room. Without exception, the work was well written, engaging and in several cases, brave.
Sunday brought more writing and more one-on one with Donna. The group broke up following lunch and headed their separate ways energized and encouraged and eager to continue writing. We were delighted by the evaluations. We had worked very hard to produce a weekend that was pleasant and conducive to creativity, but had never seen such glowing reviews. For some, the experience was truly transformational. That ineffable Staunton Hill magic is real and it cast its spell over our guests, inspiring them and succoring their creativity. We can’t wait to do it all again. Stay tuned for information about our next writers’ workshop!