Photograph of writing in a notebook
Time to Write, hosted by Leah Stenson in Parkdale, is a free, supportive, relaxed gathering of writers.

Writers gather for creative support and friendship

By Drew Myron

At first, the house fills with the gentle click of hands across keyboards, a scratch of pen on paper, turning pages. The room glows in soft, warm light, with comfy couches and pastoral views.

Then, relief and release with laughter, tea, wine and sharing.

Welcome to Time to Write, a gathering of local writers.

Where are the writers?

A few years ago, Leah Stenson saw a gaping hole. The Columbia Gorge was chocked with visual artists—painters, potters, jewelry makers and more—but where, she wondered, were the literary artists?

For years, while living in Portland, she hosted a popular literary reading series and enjoyed connections with renowned poets. When she moved to Parkdale, she was surprised to find few events or opportunities for writers.

To her relief, she discovered the Pacific Northwest Plein Air, an annual event in which artists and writers visited locations throughout the Gorge as a way to spark creative expression. Hosted by the Columbia Center for the Arts in Hood River, the event evolved into Writing Up the Gorge, with a literary focus.

Still, says Leah, “I felt there was no way for us, the writers, to really connect.” So Leah opened her home, offered wine and cheese, and invited in writers. That single evening a few years ago was the first bloom in a garden of writing opportunities. From her Parkdale home, Leah hosts a monthly gathering of writers, along with writing workshops with Oregon notables. This month, she hosts Paulann Petersen, Oregon poet laureate 2010-2015, for a writing workshop.

“I see so much creativity in the area and it’s just going untapped,” says Leah, author of three poetry collections. “I want to help people feel more supported— more connected—and I want to get to know people in the community.”

Photograph of Leah typing on a laptop
Leah hosts monthly writing groups and workshops.

She and her husband, Bill, bought their farmhouse a decade ago and spent five years restoring the property. They now split their time among Portland, Parkdale, and Bill’s business in Tokyo.

Making Time to Write

Time to Write is a monthly meet-greet- and-write session that helps people make space in their busy lives to work on writing projects.

“There’s kinship and a kind of enthusiasm that’s contagious,” Leah says. “It’s just nice to be together in community.”

The monthly gathering is free, supportive and relaxed. Operating ona drop-in basis, one month may see 10 writers take part, the next month just four. Writers work in a variety of genres, from poetry to fiction, essay, children’s stories and more. Some are professional writers who get paid for their work, others are new to writing and seek support. Everyone, it seems, finds friends.

Photograph of Julie and Shannon typing on laptops on opposite sides of a table
Julie Hatfield, left, and Shannon Perry feed their creative spirits and connect with other writers.

“I laughingly tell people I have always been a writer in my head,” Audrey Mlakar says. “And now, with the encouragement of the writers in the group, I have found the actual page, which is so much better.”

With peer support, Audrey has dedicated more time and effort to the craft. In 2017, she earned the Writing Up the Gorge People’s Choice Award for her work of flash fiction.

Shannon Perry, a retired Westside Elementary School teacher and poet at heart, is working on a middle-grade novel about Japanese century farms in the Hood River Valley. After she shares a chapter from the book in progress, the other writers offer encouragement and suggestions.

“It’s fun to come to Leah’s house,” Shannon says. “She’s warm and inviting and makes us laugh, and it’s really great to have the camaraderie.”

Julie Hatfield, editor of the Gorge Literary Journal, agrees.

“Writing can be lonely,” she says. “It’s nice to be with others who have that same passion, and to be around people who get it. I feel very safe and nurtured here.”

Express Yourself With Local Events

Time to Write

A monthly gathering of writers meets at the Parkdale home of Leah Stenson. For info, email leahstenson@comcast.net.

Writing Workshop with Paulann Petersen

Saturday, June 30, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. at the home of Leah Stenson in Parkdale. The cost is $45. Space is limited. Register at paulann.petersen@gmail.com.

Writing Up the Gorge

An annual event sponsored by Columbia Center for the Arts, Sunday, August 19 through Saturday, August 25. For more info, go to www.columbiaarts.org.

Gorge Literary Journal

Published twice a year within the Hood River News and features writers living in the Columbia River Gorge. For more information, go to www.gorgelit.org.

Hood River Word’s Fair

Includes readings, book signings, storytelling and workshops Friday, October 26 through Sunday, October 28, at Columbia Center for Arts. For more info, go to www.columbiaarts.org.