DW Gibson, Director of Art Omi: Writers, talks about HBKU Press’ partnership with Art Omi for a second year – a collaboration that will sponsor an Arabic writer for a month-long residency program in New York
The first time I ever heard about a “residency” for writers was in college, and I nodded along with all the other students in the class even though I had no idea what the instructor was talking about. I think the one word that immediately struck me as inviting was “residency” – a place where you live – your home – but the word also confused me because it has a long term, if not permanent, feel to it.
So, what is a writer’s residency program? Not just how does it work, practically, but what does a writer get from it? It’s a simple question with a complex answer, and the COVID-19 pandemic makes it even more difficult to answer.
In 2005, I was hired as the director of the writer’s residency program at Art Omi, a non-profit based in the Hudson Valley, two hours north of the New York City. The organization has a 300-acre campus that includes a sculpture park, art gallery and café. Tucked away on the property, high up on a hill away from public access, is a cluster of cottages and a restored farmhouse from the 1830s.
This is where, during the warmer months of the year, the residency action takes place. Each artistic discipline gets use of the facilities for a set period of time: visual artists come in June, dancers in July, musicians in August, and writers bookend the other programs in the spring and fall.
Each year we invite writers from around the world to apply for a stay in one of our cottages. Most come for four weeks, and we have space for ten writers at a time. Everyone gets a room of their own with a work space; a fully stocked kitchen, which they share; prepared dinners, the only regularly scheduled gathering; and hundreds of acres to roam freely.
There is some programming, we host a few readings and we invite book editors and agents to come up to visit from New York City, but really the primary objective is to give each person time and space to focus on their work.
We invite writers working in any discipline that involves text: fiction, nonfiction, poetry, scripts, translations, and everything in between. Most residents come from outside the United States because our mandate is to bring together an international cohort – people from different languages and cultures and approaches to art. We only ask that each resident speak enough English to survive small talk, though this is not rigidly enforced – part of the goal, after all, is to push back on the hegemonic proliferation of English.
Last year, we proudly formed a partnership with Hamad Bin Khalifa University Press (HBKU Press) to bring a writer from an Arab country to our program. These types of partnerships are essential for our organization to make sure we reach as many worthy candidates as possible, in every region of the world.
This coming year’s edition has been modified to take into consideration all travel and safety precautions as set out by the State of New York. In fact, our safety requirements were designed in collaboration with our county health officials.
Despite all of these challenges, it has been heartening to see just how committed HBKU Press is to making this collaboration move forward as soon as conditions allow in the new year. We hope to welcome an HBKU Press sponsored resident in 2021 at a time that Art Omi is in a position to deliver on what it promises each writer it will provide.
There are still many unanswered questions when it comes to the immediate future of residencies, and they all orbit my very first question: what’s the real point of these programs? I’ve come to look at it this way: Art Omi thrives because we understand that successful writing requires time. And not just any iteration of time – only one type will do: fully supported, fully uninterrupted time.
Whatever the future looks like, I am certain that residencies will not go extinct. This isn’t just because they’ve been around formally for over a hundred years but because they’ve been around informally for the duration of civilized history.
Applications for the HBKU Press & Art Omi: 2021 Writer’s Residency are now open to any mid-career Arabic writer. For more details on the requirements, safely protocols in light of COVID-19, terms and conditions, and to apply for the residency, please visit the HBKU Press website. The deadline for the application is 15 December 2020.
DW Gibson is most recently the author of 14 Miles: Building the Border Wall. His previous books include the awarding-winning The Edge Becomes the Center and Not Working. He shared a National Magazine Award for his work on “This is the Story of One Block in Bed-Stuy, Brooklyn” for New York magazine. His work has also appeared in Harper’s, The New York Times, The Washington Post and The Nation. Gibson’s radio work includes co-hosting the podcast There Goes the Neighborhood, guest hosting various news programs for WNYC, and reading original essays for Live From Here as well as NPR’s All Things Considered. Gibson serves as director of Art Omi: Writers in Ghent, New York, and he co-founded Sangam House, a writers’ residency in India, along with Arshia Sattar.