Faculty members spread out in Harnwell's Rooftop Lounge to work on their individual writing projects during the third annual faculty writing retreat.

Credit: Ayako Kano

Harnwell’s Rooftop Lounge housed a whole lot of words last week.

With most students gone for the summer, faculty members can finally focus on their own writing. Last week’s third annual faculty writing retreat helped instructors from the School of Arts and Sciences and the Graduate School of Education do just that.

Organized by faculty and funded by the two sponsoring schools, the retreat allowed 26 registered participants from 14 departments to focus uninterruptedly on their own writing. From 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. last week, participants gathered in the Rooftop Lounge of Harnwell College House where they spent each day writing with an hour break for lunch and socialization.

“It’s really nice to have this come right at the beginning of summer when you need something to kick off your writing,” Graduate School of Education professor and event co-organizer Betsy Rymes said.

GSE editor Jennifer Moore, East Asian Languages and Civilizations professor Ayako Kano and GSE professor Anne Pomerantz joined Rymes in organizing the retreat. Because of its unstructured nature, many of their responsibilities involved logistics, setup and cleanup. Also, they led each day’s 15- minute reflection session, during which participants discussed the their “strategies, triumphs and challenges,” Kano said.

Although the participants did not read each other’s work, Moore served as a writing consultant and editor on site off whom faculty could bounce ideas and meet with one-on-one.

“They can make headway on current projects when they’re done with grading and focus on their own research,” Moore said of the retreat. “I thought it was a special thing to be around so many people working so hard.”

Now in its third year, the retreat has come a long way from its inaugural setting in a McNeil classroom.

“It really felt like boot camp,” Kano said of the classroom atmosphere. “This year, because of the openness of the space, it felt more like a retreat — more relaxing and inspiring.”

Working alongside their colleagues, participants could also escape the isolation that characterizes much humanities research.

“In the humanities it’s very common that we work in isolation for our research,” Kano said. “There’s a lot of stress on doing your own thing. There’s relatively little collaboration.”

The retreat fostered productivity along with its social atmosphere.

She spent the bulk of the retreat revising a chapter of her manuscript about various forms of labor that women juggle, finally finishing on the last day. Rymes published a book this year that she began during her first faculty writing retreat.

The retreat’s benefits transcend manuscript pages . Working in collaboration, the faculty forged bonds over the week — one small cohort even walked up the 24 flights of stairs. Past years have produced “writing buddies” who have gone on to work together in rented library rooms and other venues throughout the year, Kano said.

This year, assistant professors, who face publication pressure in order to gain tenure, were particularly encouraged to sign up. “Repeat customers” from previous years also filled many spots. Next year, the organizers hope to see the event grow in scope, participation and duration.

This is a fairly low key and low expense way — but to me a very visible way — of supporting faculty,” Kano said. “It gives me joy to see it happen.”

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