2016 RETREAT: “Memory & Imagination”


Memory & Imagination Writers Retreat sponsored by JHU ODYSSEY Program. Retreat Site: Donaldson-Brown Center, Port Deposit, MD: Last Georgian-style mansion built in the US, 1935.


Entryway to the 40,000 sq.ft. mansion.


Wall of Donaldson Brown dining nook. Hand painted wall paper from 1930s.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERANational Geographic from Liz

“Libraries” everywhere.  Liz finds a collection of National Geographics from the 1930s.

group from Ann Feild

L-R: Deb Bors, Ann Petracek, Liz Hergenroeder Pepple, Lynn Taylor, Margaret Osburn


D.C. poet, Michael Whelan, guest writer,with Kathy Cooke, Ann Petracek, Lynn Taylor

1-group from Gail (2)Standing:  Macie Hall, Mary Azrael, Ann Feild, Natalie Prado

Seated:  Anne-Marie Race, Gail Johnson, Deb Bors (not shown: Kate Pisano)

1-group from Gail (2)

L-R: Ann Petracek, Dawnn McCleary, Lynn Taylor, Liz Pepple

Dawnn.Ann from Gail

Dawnn and Ann

2016 “Memory & Imagination” Schedule

May 1–Reading by Retreat Writers

April 30Morning Workshop/Prose w Margaret, Afternoon Workshop/Poetry w MaryEvening Reading by Guest Poet Michael Whelan, AFTER GOD, a memoir in narrative poems

April 29–After Dinner Reading/Discussion of Favorite Books

Favorite Books  — & Why

Liz: The Art of the Memoir, by Mary Karr (how-to by memoirist of Lit and The Liar’s Club). This is a book my daughter gave me when she realized that I am writing my story of growing up as the baker’s daughter. [One of 13 siblings working together in the family bakery, Liz started at age five]. I shared Karr’s 10 reasons Not to write a memoir.

Macie:  The Dead of the House, by Hannah Green (autobiographical fiction). Hannah Green was my father’s first cousin and my godmother. The book was published in segments in the New Yorker when I was in my teens, then published in whole in 1972. Memoir was less of a term then. It was published as fiction, but little other than the names were changed. I became aware of how thin the line between what is considered fiction and non-fiction can be, and the powerful role that memory can have in writing.

Dawnn:  Quilt of Souls, by Phyllis Lawson (memoir). The author was inspired to write  her memoir by her grandmother Lula Horn, the woman who raised her and gave her the courage to succeed in life.

Deb:  Honeymoon in Purdah: An Iranian Journey, by Alison Wearing (memoir/travelogue). I chose to read the passage I read because it spoke to me of the purpose of life and the spiritual versus nonspiritual path through life, with its temptations of superficial comfort that may keep us from deeper fulfillment. Another reason I picked this passage is that it addressed the issue of listening and being open, as opposed to closing our minds off to others; sometimes our ideas are so strongly held that we miss a layer of meaning/beauty/truth that is very valuable. I recommend this book for showing many sides of a culture that is quite different from most American cultures.

Gail: “On Impact,” by Stephen King from 2001: Best American Essays. I read from this essay because I love what he has to say about writing and how he wrote even through the pain [of critical injuries sustained from being run down by a driver in a van].

Natalie: An American Childhood, by Annie Dillard (memoir).  This is a book my mother lent to me as a teenager because she had read and loved it, and my sisters read it as well as they got older. It’s become a family favorite that we use when discussing [in shorthand] our own lives and childhoods.

Kate:  The Beautiful Struggle, by Ta-Nehisi Coates (memoir). It was an interesting narrative about the author’s dad telling his wife that he had a baby on the way with another woman. At the end, the author changes his lens 180 degrees. The book is pretty incredible.

Lynn: H is for Hawk, by Helen Macdonald (memoir). I chose it because it is beautifully written and honest. [Macdonald, a falconer, maps her journey “from crippling grief,” following the death of her father, to “something resembling grace.”]

Anne-Marie: Let’s Explore Diabetes with Owls, by David Sedaris (personal experience/ humor essays).  He can connect with people through his humor and touch them with poignant perspectives. He’s best experienced by hearing him present his work.

Ann F: Just Kids, by Patti Smith (memoir).  I read an excerpt about Patti Smith’s long relationship with photographer Robert Mapplethorpe and the following: “I had no proof that I had the stuff to be an artist, though I hungered to be one. I imagined that I felt the calling and prayed that it be so, but one night, while watching The Song of Bernadette, with Jennifer Jones, I was struck that the young Saint did not ask to be called. …It was the mother superior who desired sanctity, even as Bernadette, a humble peasant girl, became the chosen one. This worried me. I wondered if I had really been called as an artist. I didn’t mind the misery of a vocation, but I dreaded not being called.”

Kathy: I shared this quote from author Neil Gaimon: The point of Snow White is that when those who love you put you in an intolerable position, you can run, you can make friends, you can cope. This quote is meaningful to me because it is the most succinct way of telling my story that I could imagine. .. I want to tell my story. But I need more than 28 words.

Margaret: Excerpt, mother’s evensong of dreams, from the “Prologue,” The Prince of Tides, by Pat Conroy (autobiographical fiction). Prologues are used to set up/support the story before the story begins. Prologues can represent some of the best writing in the book. This prologue introduces readers to the cultural and spiritual connections the inhabitants of South Carolina’s Low Country (sea islands) have to nature. It also introduces us to the natures of the book’s main characters. Through brief descriptive characterizations that are exquisite representations of prose poetry, perfect in cadence, radiant in the specificity and beauty of images that beguile us in the natural world, Conroy uses these bright lit analogies, ominous, foreboding, to create understated suspense: “What is there to fear?…What will happen next?”

Mary: Inside Out and Back Again,  by Thanhha Lai (National Book Award-winning fictionalized diary in poems “for ages 8-12.”) My granddaughter told me I’d love this book, and I do. I want everyone of all ages to read it, for the pure beauty of the language and for insight into the life of an immigrant child and her family fleeing the war in Saigon in 1975 and learning American ways in Alabama. The poems are spare and quiet, funny and sad and full of images that bring her world to life.  Every word rings true to the voice and perceptions of this clear-eyed 10-year-old girl. Among many things, she writes about learning English (with all its inconsistent rules!) in a way that gives native speakers a taste and feel for what it was like for her to form words. In more than one poem, she struggles with all the hissing S’s:

Whoever invented


must have loved


dining room from Liz


Each writer had a room of her own in which to sleep–and write.

stairway from Liz


The mansion sits on Mt. Ararat, a 200-foot cliff above the Susquehanna River.

Photos Courtesy of Ann Field, Gail Johnson, Liz Pepple


A generous donor to Odyssey’s writing program made this weekend retreat with poet Mary Azrael and fiction/nonfiction writer Margaret Osburn possible for the cost of lodging and meals.  Writers spent a weekend within a cloistered writing environment where they spent time writing on their own as well as with others. Workshops on memory and imagination, discussions on traditional and hybrid forms of memoir, fiction, and poetry, a reading by poet Michael Whelan, and an open reading by retreat participants were featured activities. …The Donaldson Brown Center, the site of the retreat, is a 40,000 square foot mansion that sits high on a cliff overlooking the Susquehanna River. The mansion is equipped with modern meeting rooms, sumptuous writing and reading nooks and bountiful libraries. …The weekend retreat at the Donaldson Brown Center, Port Deposit, Maryland, included 2 nights lodging and all meals from Friday dinner through Sunday brunch.

Plans are to make this an annual event.  To learn about our 3rd annual writers retreat in spring 2018, FOLLOW this blog  (go to website’s home page, enter your email address in the right hand margin near page bottom, then click).

2017 Retreat is posted here:   https://margaretosburnwebsite.com/2017/05/09/2017-jhu-weekend-writers-retreat/

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