What Are the Great Children’s Literature Writing Retreats?
This one’s for the writers, but could be of just as much use to those folks who want to be published authors and just haven’t gotten there yet. In my time as a roving children’s librarian I’ve spoken at two different but enchanting writing retreats. I should probably define my terms, though, so when I say “writing retreats” I mean places where authors, incipient and otherwise, pay a fixed amount to be inspired, edited, or taught by a knowledgeable staff. Bonus points if there’s pretty scenery. Extra added bonus points if you get good food.
Recently I was speaking at one such retreat (to be named below) and it got me to thinking. If you wanted to make a compiled list of all the children’s literary retreats in the States, where would you go? Well, you’d go here, to Vonna Carter’s website, where she keeps the most up-to-date list I’ve seen on all upcoming retreats. For my part, I’ll compile my own right now with some additional information and explanations.
If you can think of any that should be added (and specifically target writing for kids and/or teens) mention them in the comments and I’ll include them.
Literary Retreats for Folks Who Write for Kids and Teens
Name: Better Books Marin
Location: Marin County, California? The website is a bit spotty on that point.
Who’s It For? The motto is, “A Craft-Based Workshop for Middle-Grade & YA Writers”.
Number of Attendees: 25
What’s it like? This is a retreat for folks who want a good hands on learning and critique experience. As you can see from this schedule, the days are rigorously planned out. This is the kind of retreat where you get bang for the proverbial buck.
Name: Big Sur Writing Workshop
Location: Big Sur, California
Who’s It For? As their website says, the workshops are, “for picture books, early reader, middle grade & YA fiction”
Number of Attendees: From what I could tell, the maximum number is 100.
What’s It Like? It’s definitely focused on getting you published. Like the Pacific Coast Children’s Writers Novel Workshop and Retreat it has a continually updated list of “Big Sur alumni” who’ve gotten publishing deals.
Name: SCBWI Falling Leaves / Spring Leaves Retreat
Location: Silver Bay, NY
Who’s It For? The two retreats (Spring Leaves for the spring and Falling Leaves for . . . well, you get it) rotate genres. So there’s a little something for everyone.
Number of Attendees: 35
What’s It Like? Both SCBWI members and non-members are able to apply for this retreat. Compared to some other retreats this is an affordable option. Registration does not appear to be currently open for the next fall conference, but one suspects it’s just a matter of time before it opens up.
Name: The Highlights Foundation
Location: Honesdale, PA
Who’s It For? Boy howdy, you name it! Of all the workshops listed here, the Highlights Foundation’s is the one with the most workshops per year. Everything from science writing and nonfiction picture books to early readers and first chapter books are covered.
What’s It Like? I’ve spoken twice at Highlights with a third engagement is coming up in two months. Basically it’s just lovely. Adorable tiny cabins. Amazing food. Great speakers. It feels more low-key than some of the other retreats, but honestly you can find the workshop that fits your style.
Name: Kindling Words
Location: KY East is located in Burlington, VT. KY West is Marble Falls, TX.
Who’s It For? According to the site, “Published authors and illustrators and editors.” It is one of the very few retreats to give editors their own place to meet.
Number of Attendees: 75
What’s It Like? Well, it depends on what you want. Kindling Words is actually in three locations at the moment. You have KY East, KY West, and KY UK. Since this blog post is primarily interested in American sites, you’ll want to read up on the KY website about what each location provides. It’s one of the most popular retreats out there, with a lottery in place to handle the sheer hoards of folks attempting to attend. As Stacy Whitman put it, “It’s only for previously published writers and illustrators, which means it’s wonderful for mid-career mentoring, which is sometimes hard to find.”
Name: Oregon Coast Children’s Book Writers Workshop (OCCBWW)
Location: Oceanside, Oregon
Who’s It For? Everyone, insofar as I can tell. Anyone writing children’s books, anyway.
What’s It Like? This is the rare retreat where you can get actual graduate level course credits for taking the workshops and intensives on offer. Unlike other retreats this one makes no bones about what they hope to accomplish: “Getting attendees published is the end goal.” They do a lot of one-on-one coaching as well.
Name: Pacific Coast Children’s Writers Novel Workshop and Retreat
Location: Santa Cruz, California
Who’s It For? Authors of children’s novels primarily, but there is an additional teen component where teenagers themselves can attend. Or, put more clearly by Founding Director Nancy Sondel, “The Pacific Coast Children’s Writers Workshop (for adults submitting partial or full novel manuscripts for editor and/or agent critiques) dovetails with TeenSpeak Novel Workshop (a program for teen and sometimes tween writers with their own instructors; these writers also give articulate target-reader feedback to adults).”
Number of Attendees: 16
What’s It Like? You can’t write the word “intensive” without “intense”. Meticulously planned out, you can either engage in a personal retreat or something a little more scheduled and interactive. And it’s definitely the only retreat I’ve encountered that engages with teen writers to this extent.
Name: Picture Book Boot Camp
Location: Phoenix Farm, Western Massachusetts (in the Northampton area, I believe)
Who’s It For? It’s described as a Master Class for working picture book authors.
What’s It Like? Well, this one’s much smaller and more personal than a lot of the other retreats mentioned here. Authors Jane Yolen and Heidi Stemple started a boot camp at Jane’s 1896 Victorian farmhouse home in Massachusetts. There appears to be a lot of close attention paid to the attendees (which cap off at 12).
Name: The Speakeasy Literary Retreat
Location: Various. It moves around. Past retreats have been in San Francisco (2012), Fallen Leaf Lake (2013), and Portland (2014). The next one is slated for the Rivendell Writer’s Colony in Sewanee, TN
Who’s It For? That’s a bit unclear. To be a member of the Speakeasy Literary Society you must submit your application and be accepted. One assumes that folks who attend the retreats are also members.
What’s It Like? Informal and without an official schedule. As they (the Speakeasy Literary Society) say, “We have one mission: to encourage children’s publishing professionals to relax and commune in a variety of inspirational settings. Preferably with drinks.” Of the retreats listed in this post, this one’s probably the most laid back.
Name: Whispering Pines Writer’s Retreat
Location: West Greenwich, RI
Who’s It For? Hard to say. This is the rare retreat without a website. At the same time, with its connection to NESCBWI, it’s one of the most successful.
What’s It Like? Now in its 20th year, co-directors Lynda Mullaly Hunt and Mary Pierce are stepping down this year and will be replaced with Julie Kingsley and Cameron Kelly Rosenblum. Described as the kind of place where you “design your own retreat” but with plenty of speakers, games, and fun. Liz Goulet Dubois has recapped several years’ worth of retreats, so you should be able to glean how they go.
Name: The Writing Barn
Location: Austin, TX
Who’s It For? Everyone. Juv and YA alike. Picture books, novels, chapter books, you name it.
What’s It Like? The brainchild of author Bethany Hegedus, it’s just the loveliest space. Wild deer and foxes frolic about the cactus plants while inside the barn you’ve amazing and brainy folks talking about books left and right. I’ve only spoken there once, but it was just the nicest time. Busy? Heck, yeah! And fun.
I’ve heard a rumor that the Spruceton Inn, a bed and bar in the Catskills (run by Jon Scieszka’s daughter, the writer Casey Scieszka, and her author/illustrator husband Steven Weinberg) has the occasional writing and/or illustration retreat. So far there’s nothing to confirm this online, but I know they’re game so if you writerly types want to do an official retreat, think about contacting them.
Sidenote: Laurel Snyder mentioned that, “The Hambidge Center for Creative Arts & Sciences isn’t just for kidlit enthusiasts but they WILL fund YA and kidlit projects, which not everyone does.”
Actually, author Laurel Snyder also pointed out to me that most retreats are of an unofficial nature. As she put it, “I’m doing my third retreat this year, and all three have been DIY– a group of writers getting together in a house in the woods, just because they can!” So in lieu of going to any of these magnificent places, consider renting a cottage for a week and inviting some pals!
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About Betsy Bird
Betsy Bird is currently the Collection Development Manager of the Evanston Public Library system and a former Materials Specialist for New York Public Library. She has served on Newbery, written for Horn Book, and has done other lovely little things that she'd love to tell you about but that she's sure you'd find more interesting to hear of in person. Her opinions are her own and do not reflect those of EPL, SLJ, or any of the other acronyms you might be able to name. Follow her on Twitter: @fuseeight.
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