The Splendid Mola "All Voices" FellowshipPrevious Recipients
Alli is one of those people who walks into a room and instantly fills it with such a sweet and open presence that you can’t help but adore her instantly. She is a certified yoga instructor with a Masters in Management and a “queer, black, curvy yogi.” Mostly, she is all heart. She has had an extraordinary amount of loss and trauma in her life, and yet her heart just shines. I bow to beautiful strength of her spirit. Along with traveling, Alli is committed to bringing access to travel, fresh foods, and alternative holistic practices to her neighborhood in South LA.
Also, I love how Alli ended up at Splendid Mola. She had actually applied for the All Voices Fellowship for two previous retreats, and had been runner-up each time. She didn’t actually apply for this retreat, but both Sara Rutenberg and I couldn’t stop thinking of her. So we reached out to her to offer her a fellowship she wasn’t expecting!
From Alli: “When I arrived in Idyllwild for the Splendid Mola Retreat I initially thought to myself, ‘What the heck and I doing here!? I don’t know where I am, I don’t know anyone here, and to top it off… I am NOT a writer!!.
Within ONE weekend, I realized I had been tucking every story that I had in heart away, mostly because I knew those stories would be safe there. Safe, because, no one could touch them or hear them or judge them or even be inspired by them.
Before attending the retreat, I kept coming up against my life and stories that I tucked away about my losses, about my fears and about my family — which were the things that helped me to begin to understand my life journey. I knew I had stories that needed to be told, but I couldn’t figure out how to begin. I tried meditating more, journaling more…and although I knew my stories were inspiring, I could not get myself to share them with anyone except close friends and family. A friend who was inspired by what I shared in my journals forwarded me the Splendid Mola Fellowship application. Although I was hesitant, I still applied. I was not chosen as the recipient of the scholarship that fall, so I took it as a sign that the retreat wasn’t for me. Then ONE WHOLE year later, I received an email from Lori with an invitation to attend the retreat because she believed in my stories. I knew this was the Universes way of telling me… ‘It is time!’
A writer or not, the soul knows what needs to be said. The biggest ‘take-away’ from the Splendid Mola retreat was just that — I need not call myself a writer to write, but understand that every soul has a purpose that could impact others and benefit the greater good of humanity.
Spending the time in nature, being led in yoga and breath work by Lori, the ease of not having a care in the world and the inspiration of being surrounded by others who use the medium of writing to let their soul speaks – truly changed my life for the good, and in one simple weekend, I learned to trust my stories and let me words lead the way.”
From the moment I read Gulu’s application, I knew I wanted to bring her on retreat. Even in the “basic info” part of the application, it was clear she was highly conscious of diversity and inclusion (she self-identified as “cis-gendered,” which is, at this point, still not that common of a term). Next, she included a piece of writing about being Muslim in this country that was so powerful, intelligent, and heart-wrenching I read it about five times (here it is). In addition to this, she was clearly struggling with calling herself a writer…a struggle I and so many of us know so well.
Gulu lives in Chicago where she is a PhD student, and she and her husband are currently in the process of getting licensed to become foster parents (lucky kids!). In her own words, “I am only just owning up to being a writer. I’m more comfortable in my role as a doctoral student in education and design working with youth of color to tell their stories using documentary journalism. I am also Muslim and a second generation American Desi and on the taller end of short and a Potterhead and an unadventurous foodie and a Kentuckian and a reluctant Chicagoan and a sugar addict and a once-quilter and would-like-to-be ceramicist. In terms of what I do write, though, I’m a PhD student, so most of my writing is academic. Here, I have trouble being explicit about the types of educational injustices my students (mostly black, brown, and immigrant youth) experience and why alternative spaces for learning and thinking are necessary. I am also, as with the piece mentioned above, working on developing as a writer of creative nonfiction and poetry (maybe?) and have some ideas that I’d like to flesh out. Specifically, I’m working on one piece about coming to terms with my father’s strictness and culture.”
From the moment she arrived, Gulu brought with her a positivity and presence that infused the entire retreat, as well as a profound sense of someone stepping into who she most truly is. I can’t wait to see where she goes next!
From Gulu: “The Splendid Mola retreat was exactly what I needed, having just begun writing essays about my life and drafting ideas for my dissertation. The retreat was designed to give me time to write. I don’t think until I had actually that time did I realize how sorely I’d been missing it! More importantly, the combination of the beautiful mountain location, Lori’s meditation and yoga sessions, the amazing food, and the supportive group of writers, made me feel at ease about taking that time. Although the retreat is pitched as “distraction-free,” I have to add it’s also “guilt-free”—it’s a space where it’s okay to take care of yourself and your work. I came home with more than just strong revisions and a first draft essay, but with the knowledge that giving myself space and time to write and think exclusively (without worrying about dinner, chores, or errands!) is something necessary to my process. The entire experience was a perfect “refresh” button for my work. I can’t say enough to recommend the retreat, or to express my gratitude to Lori for the All Voices Fellowship. Her commitment to cultivating a space that’s rejuvenating and productive for people from all walks of life is inspiring.”
Danielle’s strength and kindness came through as loudly in her application as if she were standing right in front of me, and when I in fact did get to meet her, she was exactly as she seemed. Her energy radiated out and reminded us all why we were here in the first place: to write; to do the thing that we felt we were on this planet to do. Danielle came on retreat, in her own words, “seeking a community of like-minded writers for support. And for space and permission to write.”
She is working on, among other things, “a narrative non-fiction piece about Whitney Houston and the lineage of under-credited, unheralded genius soul and blues singers who preceded her. The piece is infused with stories of my own lineage of genius women (such as my grandmother, a former cotton farmer, blues café entrepreneur, and folk healer) who, because of some combination of being black and female, could not live full, productive, successful lives as the artists they were.” You can read an excerpt of this work at velamag.com/the-voice/.
From Danielle: “I came to Idyllwild, California on faith and a prayer, with the help of friends and Lori Snyder’s All Voices Fellowship. I was, to put it mildly, frayed at the edges by the seemingly incessant demands of my life. A New Yorker with a typical New Yorker’s frenzied lifestyle, I had been writing when I could, on weekends, early mornings and late nights for about nine years.
Just a couple of weeks before coming to Idyllwild, I completed a six-week-long advanced non-fiction writing seminar where I worked on the beginnings of a personal essay about my mother and the vibrant black southern community that nurtured my love of language and literature. The story, what I intended to communicate, felt intimate, exciting, and urgent. But I needed time to finish it, and the psychic space to play, to find the truest way to conjure up all the love and curiosity and creativity that had been given to me. Needless to say, my everyday life, which included frequent 60-hour work weeks, did not support this.
During my time with Lori and the other writers at the Splendid Mola retreat, I began to rest, to breathe in mountain air. From my room in cozy Idyllwild Manor, I got to gaze out into the lovely Southern California sun and notice how it lingered on and bounced off the lush shrubbery. I saw strange blue birds in a nest above a porch I sat on with my laptop and a rocking chair. I ate hearty meals that I didn’t have to trek across city blocks and underground trains to forge for and prepare.
I met writers who, like me, were fighting to find the time and resources to get their stories out. And I met others who were already living the writers’ life that has, more and more, become the substance of my dreams.
With all of the gratitude I can muster, I must also say that I worked feverishly and efficiently on my writing. And through the community of writers, and the restorative, healing space that Lori created, I found what I believe to be a turning point in my life, a clearing, that will inform and color my next steps and next drafts.
April 2016 marks the first retreat where an additional All Voices Fellowship is offered, due to the generosity of former SCBWI conference coordinator Sara Rutenberg. Sara chose Christina Gessler for the fellowship because Sara knows from her own family how incredibly difficult is to move through life with this kind of chronic GI illness. On her fellowship application, Tina wrote that she identifies with both the people who suffer from incurable or chronic illness and the families who go through that journey with them. She also added, “I am doing well now, but in my recent past I have not. In the hospital, the doctor could gauge my recovery by whether or not I was pestering the nurses for paper. If I was writing, I was fighting through. If I wasn’t, I was giving up.” Tina is currently working on a young adult novel that sounds amazing.
As for me, I was thrilled to have Tina on retreat with us. She has an incredibly smart, dry sense of humor and an underlying warmth and acceptance of everyone—as well as a plethora of really hilarious, yet true, tales about her life. (If you are ever lucky enough to meet her, be sure to ask to hear the story of how she met her husband, which had us all in gales of laughter.)
From Tina: “I’m wary of things that promise too much. But this experience was more than promised. And I’m not a fan of weekend vacations with the girls. But these ladies are the sort of people you feel honored to spend a weekend with. And I never went to a sleep-away summer camp. But Splendid Mola is what I imagined those camps were like: a chance to run away to the perfect place to be your best you.
I feel so fortunate to have gotten a writing fellowship to Splendid Mola. But I find it difficult to express what it meant in words, I think because Splendid Mola is something you experience, you inhabit, you breathe. The writing is just a bonus.”
In Carla’s application I saw every friend I have who, in taking care of so many other people, struggles to find any time for herself. Carla is Latina, born in Lima, Peru; her family left when she was eight due to political turmoil which made it unsafe for them to remain. A dedicated and loving single mom, she works as a Certified Expressive Arts Therapist in Orange County, CA and loves volunteering for her daughter’s class in their Reading Lab. She is writing a multicultural magical realism middle grade novel, all of which is also near and dear to my heart! Carla wrote in her application that she “loves yoga and chasing sunrises,” and she is exactly the kind of person that implies: grounded, overflowing with kindness and gratitude, and so joyous. Having her join us was a gift.
From Carla: “Four words: A dream come true. Not in my wildest dreams would I have expected any of what I experienced at The Splendid Mola Writers Retreat located in the woodsy peaceful mountaintop of Idylwild. Throughout the weekend, Lori provided a loving safe nurturing creative space for writing, healing, and creativity. Her attention to details for the group and each individual provided an authentic creative environment where it allowed genuine sharing, respect, and admiration. he stillness and healing through her blissful yoga and meditation inspired me to rework parts of my manuscript that I had been struggling with. It also rooted other ideas for my book. And our private chef fed us delicious nurturing and eco conscious satisfying meals.
As the recipient of the Diversity Award [Now the All Voices Fellowship], I am honored and grateful to have been in the presence of gifted group of writers of various levels–published authors, work in progress writers, and writers who were brainstorming a creative idea–who now I call my friends and community. I highly recommend The Splendid Mola Writing Retreat. It is truly a gift.”
Tanynya’s application really spoke to my heart, as she is involved with so many aspects of inclusion and diversity. She is a consultant and speaker in the those areas as well as in independent school admission, yoga, and mindfulness. She does much work with the National Association of Independent Schools (NAIS) and has served as a People of Color Conference Affinity Group Facilitator, a faculty member for the NAIS Student Leadership and Diversity Conference, and a member of the 2014 NAIS think tank The Call to Action. She served on the Assessment of Inclusion and Multiculturalism Team at the Westmark School assessing School Governance and Leadership, was a member of the Head of School Search Committee, and is chair of the Westmark School’s Advancement Committee and advisor for inclusionary practices.
Tanynya writes articles on topics such as Aging Mindfully, Black History Month, Blending the Authentic ‘You’ into the Workplace, Classism, Diversity, Education Access for All Levels, Health & Wellness, Inclusion, Microagressions, Mindfulness, Multiculturalism, Gender, Race, Navigating Hair and Aesthetics in the Workplace, Women, and Young Black Women. She’s also working on writing and compiling her life stories. In addition, she’s a certified yoga instructor and teaches across the greater Los Angeles Area. And as we all learned on the retreat…she is incredibly fun, kind, and full of life—a total joy in every way. I was so thrilled to have her join us as the first recipient of the Splendid Mola All Voices Fellowship!
From Tanynya: “The Splendid Mola Writers Retreat delivered what it promised—’distraction-free writing time with a yoga chaser.’ Peaceful Mountain Inn in Idyllwild was a rustic, peaceful setting that stimulated reflection, rest and writing. The chef provided a variety of healthy but hearty meals that nourished the body to inspire writing. Morning meditation and afternoon yoga created balance to the day encouraging creativity and calm. I recommend this retreat to anyone that needs or wants a jump start on their writing project. That is what this retreat provided me and I have been on a roll ever since. I left the retreat full of gratitude and gained a group of wonderful fellow writers. As the recipient of the Diversity Award [Now the All Voices Fellowship] I must add extra kudos to Lori for supporting the range of voices in the world and in turn supporting me.”