Writers Emerging at Fly Ranch Reflection
In October of 2019, author Yodassa Williams hosted a four-day writing retreat for BIPOC women and non-binary writers at Fly Ranch (click here to view her Afro-Feminist novel and storytelling background). Over the course of four days, 34 writers gathered to connect with the land and participate in creative workshops. Yodassa is also a judge for the upcoming Fly Ranch sustainability design challenge. Below find an interview between her and Fly Ranch Director Matt Sundquist.
Table of Contents
- How the Vision Formed
- Retreat Overview
- Most Challenging/Rewarding Moment
- Visiting Pyramid Lake
- Lessons Learned for Future Events
- Considering Cultural Challenges
- Event Values
- Appendix: How did your participation in Writers Emerging impact you?
1) HOW THE VISION FORMED
Matt: You came to Fly Ranch in June of 2018 for one of our initial expeditions. That weekend you spoke about your vision for a writing retreat. Could you describe your process of coming to that vision?
Yoda: The vision for Writers Emerging blossomed from a convergence of transformational events I was blessed to experience. I attended a writing workshop exclusively for BIPOC writers in 2017. It was life changing. In previous workshops, I experienced white writers’ confusion and pressure against my perspective. Sometimes it felt like they were attacking my voice instead of hearing it. I left some workshops wondering if I could write things that mattered to anyone but me.
But for the first time, I was in a container that was reverential to the expression of culture and viewpoint. I was safe to express myself, and my true creative voice emerged. I was broken open by the writing I experienced. I can’t easily explain the spiritual charge from being with writers of color, but it exists and I tapped into it. Our writing had the power to heal generational curses. I felt it happening. At that workshop, I was just beginning my Burning Man memoir. My teacher and peers understood my emerging voice in a way that deeply encouraged and affected me. I left that workshop certain my writing mattered.
That experience demonstrated the importance and power of spaces for creatives of color. But there are fewer than 10 writing retreat/workshop programs exclusively for writers of color worldwide. And that just didn’t feel like enough. Who would serve the fresh, new voices we all need to emerge in our world?
In the next year, I got invited to Fly Ranch for an expedition weekend. That weekend was beyond incredible for me. I was so grounded in nature, in a way I never had before. I had never been “in the wild” like that. It charged my connection to the universe and I was filled with inspiration. We received notebooks on our first day. By that evening, mine was entirely complete with my overflowing thoughts. On the second day, there was a group hike, but I felt pulled to stay alone with a (new) notebook. There was just so much stirring inside of me! That first night, I saw the Milky Way for the very first time. I was shook. There were stars in the sky that the city was hiding from me my whole life? I had so many thoughts about that!
I realized, if I felt inspired by the land, so could other creatives. I felt a drive to share what I had found with my tribe. I already knew that writers of color, especially those of marginalized genders, needed creative spaces to ourselves to reach our creative apex. I started to imagine a writing workshop where instead of being in a city, writers were in nature and inspired by the mountains and geyser. I began to have a vision of an intentional event around creativity and healing for BIPOC writers. So on the last day of the June retreat when there was an invitation to speak to any ideas for what the land could host, I shared my vision that Fly Ranch could be a container for a wilderness writing retreat.
2) GENERAL RETREAT OVERVIEW
Matt: Overall, how do you feel about how it went?
Yoda: I feel so grateful and astonished at the outcome of Writers Emerging. It was so much better than my wildest dreams! I had solid fears around safety precautions and practical issues. What if someone got too cold overnight or became hurt somehow on the land? We hosted members with special health needs. I didn’t want anything bad to happen and prayed hard to my ancestors to bless the event and keep us whole. My base hope was that everyone would stay safe and not feel so overwhelmed or uncomfortable that they wanted to leave early.
Beyond that, I hoped the attendees would feel inspired. I hoped that they would feel this experience was rewarding, either in the adventure of being outdoors or in the work on personal artistry. The land is a powerful portal. If you let it, it can show you what’s possible. I hoped that if we hit the right tone with care and intentionality, an elevated experience could happen. I hoped that the attendees would see their potential reflected in the space and the community.
So I had moderate to high hopes. At least half of the 34 participants had never camped in the outdoors. I was holding space for some of the participants to simply hate it. But to my delight, everything was received in the highest praise. The meals, the workshops, the accommodations, the care packages, the banja, the trip to the Pyramid Lake Paiute Tribe Museum museum. We planned for all needs to be cared for so participants could expand in their spiritual evolution. And that definitely happened. Every single thing that was envisioned and executed was met with excitement and gratitude.
I am deeply appreciative of the amazing support that formed, allowing this vision to become a transformational reality for our participants. We adored the kitchen trailer Roger Wu provided. It was perfect for storing and cooking our vegan meals. We decorated it with lights and it became the central hub for nightly hangouts. The housing that PlayAlchemist and Camp Epic provided was beyond what I had dreamed for our event. For months, I was hoping we could be gifted shift pods for the retreat like the one I had stayed in on my first trip to Fly. But when the colorful sturdy housing trailers landed, I honestly cried, it was too excellent. The bunkhouses had mattresses, mirrors, doors, and were comfortable and cute!
Fly Ranch was new to every single one of the attendees, but it is a perfect place to expand in creative power. We hoped the attendees would fall in love with the self that emerges through being one in nature. The kitchen and housing upgrade and other intentional care items, like thoughtful healthy meals, headlamps and notebooks and hand warmers, were all very important elements towards this result.
One of the participants shared that she grew up wanting to but never attending a summer sleepaway camp. But she beamed as she shared that on the first night, she couldn’t even sleep and just kept giggling like a kid, it was so exciting to finally, finally, be at camp!
Through the care and collaboration for this event, we were able to bestow deeply healing gifts. I am so grateful for all of the partnerships and support that came through to make the retreat possible.
Our pre-planning advisory team, and event staff of volunteers and teachers were wonderful allies in executing this vision and their efforts are what truly made the event a success. Maya Sisneros, Nikita Prakash, Sarahlynn Pablo, Valerie Haynes Perry, Kiara Boyd and Mary Ann Thomas each stepped up in beautiful service and leadership for our participants. These amazing individuals gave so much time, energy, and dedication into making sure our participants had loving and intentional experiences, from start to finish.
The organizational efforts for Writers Emerging began months before the physical event. These incredible allies gathered their best in crafting our mission statement, organizing our logistical framework, to developing applications and selecting and contacting participants. During the event, these allies gave selflessly and were inspiring to learn from in their actions. From their passion to clean and serve beautiful meals, to their care in delivering quality craft advice, I saw constant moments of love in action. The care that came from everyone who had a hand in this event was on another level. The participant’s wants and needs were exceeded, and this is through what we, as a complete advisory and event staff team, provided for this experience. I will be forever grateful for the partnerships that arose to achieve this event safely and lovingly.
I am so grateful to Zac Cirivello and John Stockdale who supported our build and the logistics of the event. I will never forget Zac’s absolute glee when he found the perfect tabletop we could use for building our altar. And John was incredibly clutch, problem solving the luggage and participant arrivals from Reno and even finding a late arrival who was lost along the road! And I can’t say enough about my gratitude for The Steamology crew. They provided a magically healing experience with the banya that everyone was talking about all weekend. Every one of these partners was on board for the vision of the retreat and brought their best.
And finally, Lisa and Mike Nash, Tim Billings, Garrett, and others from the Burning Man Work Ranch helped and supported our vision to generate magic. The vehicles the Auto Shop loaned us and the bus from Steve LeCam made it possible to pick up and drop participants at the airport and take us to our visit the Pyramid Lake Paiute Tribe Museum. The Burners Without Borders and Milk + Honey solar arrays provided power for the kitchen and banya so we didn’t have to use generators, which meant we were able to talk and play music without the background sound of machines. The EcoZoic compost toilets gave us a sustainable way to use the bathroom. And they didn’t smell and were easy to maintain. Such a serious blessing when hosting an extended large gathering outdoors!
When we crafted the application, we asked questions to note which participants were more introverted or who had never camped before. Could these participants overcome discomfort and feel welcomed in the wild with others? Yes. I saw these folks blossom over the days at the retreat. Honestly, I have never been so in tune with others in my life, but I could feel it happening. Everyone was engaged. Everyone was talking deeply, going into the banya and healing, writing and reading aloud. Skipping from the kitchen to the cabins. Laughing around the fire pits. The light that emerged from everyone that attended that weekend astounded me. One participant shared with me on our final day, she had always felt she wanted to write something big, but it just wouldn’t come. But since she had stepped on the land and taken the workshops, she had been filled with ideas and visions, and now, there was this novel inside of her brimming to emerge.
So yes, from vision to reality, the retreat went way better than I thought or hoped it would. Everyone was fantastic. The energy was gorgeous to be in and to witness. I remember, one woman stepped in manure during a group walk, and we all just laughed and together crafted a spontaneous poem inspired by the phrase “shit happens”. The whole weekend was like that. Just beautiful. Self love and community love on the highest levels.
3) MOST CHALLENGING/REWARDING MOMENT
Matt: What were the best and most challenging moments of this experience?
Yoda: One of the best moments for me was our first group visit to the hot springs. The air was cold and the water was steaming. We were guided into water yoga moves by our movement instructor, Kiara Boyd. People were giggling and doing salutations as the sun was setting around us. And then everyone began expressing and manifesting what they wanted for themselves, creatively and personally. And the group was pumping each speaker up, like, “Yes, you are a goddess and you will do that!” It was like a cauldron of magic.
The pre-planning was definitely the most challenging part of this experience. It was a year and half of proposing the event, gathering support, crafting the application, marketing, fundraising, etc. I had no professional project management or event planning experience before leading this. I did not have any mentorship in crafting transformational events. But it was an unmissable opportunity to share a power I knew was life changing, so I pressed forth as bravely as I could. This journey, from start to completion, stretched how I see myself. I found myself expanding in skills and abilities I never tested before.
I meditated deeply on the type of leadership I hoped to display. I thought about the workshop experiences I’ve had and what I could bring to the retreat. I researched feminine leadership and processed modeling strength alongside compassion, grace, and patience. I was raised by an exceptionally independent black woman. But I realized I needed to be someone who could both ask for help and delegate with trust. I learned how to ask for support while fighting for the best for my tribe. This vision was so much bigger and more important than me that I felt duty bound to step up as selflessly as possible. I began to find my voice as a leader emerge through this journey. But it was incredibly challenging. Executing something of this magnitude and not falling apart under the pressure was a huge blessing but challenging! I am determined to evolve and become a stronger leader and collaborator for future service to the universe.
4) VISITING PYRAMID LAKE
Matt: You all visited the Pyramid Lake Paiute Tribe Museum and Visitors Center. Why was that important and what was that like?
Yoda: The respect that we were guests on Northern Paiute land emerged at the very start of envisioning this event. We were conscious about shifting away from a colonized view of the world. We wanted to connect with the land as universal land. As we were converging as storytellers, it would have been a huge oversight to not acknowledge where we were standing and what had happened there. We aimed to celebrate our own culture and history, thus it felt essential to honor the culture and history of the land. And further, bond with the spirit of the land and its purpose. So, as opposed to seeing it as land owned by Burning Man, we saw ourselves as visitors on Northern Paiute land, and honored it as such.
During the planning phase, you (Matt) suggested I get in touch with Billie Jean Guerrero, the Pyramid Lake Museum director, to see if we could coordinate a visit. She was so kind, and I was grateful we were able to schedule a tour for our group. This became the first official thing we did as a group on day one, after the attendees arrived the night before. Visiting the museum was a completely rewarding experience. It was essential in helping us all ground in where we were. It also demonstrated the importance of carrying your culture’s story.
Billie Jean personally gave us a 1.5 hour talk about the history of the lake and land, what different tribes believe, and the origin story of the Northern Paiute people. She held the attention of our group the entire time. I could see everyone soaking in what she shared, from the tragedy to the triumphs. One of our craft workshops was on storytelling, and this was a pitch perfect demonstration of powerful storytelling and holding your culture sacred. It felt important that we were able to connect with the Northern Paiute culture in a personal way and greatly enhanced the feeling of belongingness and appreciation to the land.
I strongly recommend that future programs incorporate elements of honoring the Northern Paiute history and culture. I understand that some folks come to Burning Man or Fly Ranch for the look or experience, without thought of the history. That used to be me. But then, I realized the spirit of the land belongs to the universe. And the universe wants it’s people who lived and worked, loved and fought on that land to be honored in the past, present, and future. In moving away from a colonial mindset, we talked about concepts like the spiritual wellness of the land. We discussed honoring the culture, and what we could add to the space, as opposed to just what we were taking away from being there.
5) LESSONS LEARNED FOR FUTURE EVENTS
Matt: For similar events in the future, what should we do?
Yoda: For the June weekend I attended in 2018, we had an open schedule. You could go to some events, all, or none. I really liked that flexibility and empowerment to design the experience you needed. We modeled that type of invitation for our Writers Emerging event. Nothing was mandatory, so participants could feel free listening to themselves and get what they needed from the land. Some of our participants were night owls. I could see it was healing for them to talk and stay up by the fire till sunrise. And when I didn’t see those folks in the morning, I trusted that they were getting what they needed by sleeping in. Since some of our participants definitely wanted to go to everything, the museum, the workshops, the hikes and hot springs, we made our schedule so that nothing overlapped and participants could attend everything offered.
I really loved that the attendees felt the invitation to explore the land. Some of the participants really roamed! A group of five decided they were going to walk out to the Hualapai playa from Baba Yaga, but then they couldn’t hear us when we were heading back to camp. We tried to signal them and holler at them to no avail, they were out too far! Eventually, we sent a small group down to the playa to get them. They were just having an adventure and lying on the ground looking at the clouds. I was excited they felt so free to wander! But I also realized we really needed a plan for when the group separates across the land. If I were doing it again I would have better communication with people who are wandering and some sort of way to signal.
The housing units were incredible and they settled nicely to create a little nesting area. Some participants still wanted to camp in tents, so it was nice to have a blend and have the housing feel flexible for attendees. The volunteers and staff landed early and together we cleaned and prepared the space for the event. The love and excitement for what we were co-creating was at a high. I’m grateful that everyone was open to giving their best in creating the space and energy of love.
From the inception of this retreat, the aim was to create consistent comfort for our attendees. We crafted spaces that invited liberation and connections once the event started. For example, we set up pillows and hammocks in the lecture tent, and lined colorful lights around the main areas that were on each night. We had snacks available at all times, and easily accessible by the kitchen. We also had a little alter space and participants ended up doing prayers and leaving items there. The nested fire pits and benches created a wonderful night ambiance. This area became the nightly story sharing hub and helped foster intimate moments. We experienced really cold nights that weekend, and gratefully we had extra blankets and hand warmers donated. Some additional fire pits would have been great to create added locations of warmth and increased usable nighttime space.
The banya was absolutely an amazing element to the weekend. I had a powerful experience doing it my first visit to Fly in 2018, and knew that our event needed this healing experience available. I am so grateful to Sasha for supporting my vision of having the banya led by an all femme crew as this created sacred energy. There was one moment where everyone cried together in the banya. The woman who was leading the steam realized there was tension in the air and invited everyone to cry if they wanted to, and everyone did! I’m so grateful that we had that space of healing and release. Quite a few of the participants had never experienced a sauna or anything close to the banya ceremony, so it was really impactful to have this offering. Some of the participants were writing about their experiences in the banya and the dreams that arose while they were in there, so it was its own powerful zone of creativity and inspiration. I am deeply grateful we had its use and the guided ceremonies for our event.
The planning and marketing of this event brought surprising challenges. I was not prepared for the negative feedback that arose in response to this vision, but honestly feel it only highlighted the importance of what we were creating. There were racist and harmful comments made in reply to the Burning Man journal blog and FB post announcing this event. Individuals came to my page with attacks directed to me. I was forced to block profiles on Facebook and Instagram for racist threats. As the host of a BIPOC event, I desperately wanted to feel like I was creating a safe space. This feedback felt especially painful because it was (supposed) members of the Burning Man community protesting that this event was against the Burning Man ethos. In my opinion, you should not be able to be a white supremacist and a Burner. You shouldn’t be able to hold those two beliefs as one. I’m grateful for the support and the opening of dialogue around the Burning Man community being a safe space for BIPOCs to find liberation, too.
6) CONSIDERING CULTURAL CHALLENGES
Matt: Do you have any specific challenges you’d like to share around this?
Yoda: In January 2019, you presented about Fly Ranch at Manny’s and I did a short verbal introduction of the retreat. I explicitly said this was an event for BIPOC women and non-binary writers of color. Very promptly once the talk was over, a caucasian gentleman in his 40s stepped up and said how exciting it was. He said he really wanted to attend, and couldn’t understand why he wouldn’t be able to. He wasn’t hearing what this was or who it was for, and was instead only focused on what he wanted.
I encountered this energy again after a spring 2019 blog post announcing the event. Dozens of commenters stated the event was racist, or that it is against the Burning Man spirit. Darker, threatening statements were posted and I had to report them for abusive language and email the communications team in request for stricter moderation. This entitlement of ego took me by surprise. I had truly not experienced this shadow side of the Burning Man culture before stepping forward with this vision. The event’s entire purpose was to generate necessary healing and creativity. It felt frustrating to see members of my own community twist the purpose of this event because they wanted it to cater to their needs instead.
The BRC Census reflects the glaring discrepancy of whites to BIPOCs within our community. Knowing what I have gained from attending Burning Man, that it helped save my life, makes me committed to helping it grow as a safe space for BIPOC seeking liberation. I felt deeply protective of the vision of this event and the possibility of transformation for those attending. I focused on building with others who shared this spark, and blocked out the ‘white colonizer’ energy that felt if something was happening within the Burning Man sphere, it should be for their claiming.
I’m honored that my proposal was accepted, that we were able to launch the first ever BIPOC retreat at Fly Ranch, and that the attendees feel so strongly that the event was a success. But I also feel this event revealed deep introspection, learning, and healing needed in the Burning Man culture related to racial inclusivity and supporting voices of BIPOC individuals. Que Viva has done deep work in this realm and hosted the first Black Lives Matter march on playa in 2019. Knowing the need for healing that exists within the BIPOC, and specifically Black community, make me hope for evolution.
In the year and half of planning this event, I felt increasingly disconnected from the Burning Man community. Perhaps it’s the “radical self-reliant” strategy set by the Org, but it felt like a “hands off” approach to supporting a delicate new project. I would have loved to feel this vision was more supported by the Org, including firm defense of the program when attacked from within the community. In the future, it would be wonderful to have more mentorship and support in event production. A booklet with advice and contacts to reach out to within the community would have been amazing.
Overall, seeing this vision through to reality was very challenging. But when I think of the feedback from the souls we served, I feel every sacrifice and stretch was worth it. I’m so grateful we indeed generated magic and healing with Writers Emerging.
7) EVENT VALUES
Matt: You used your own values for the event. Where did this come from and how did that inform the event?
Yoda: In May, I visited Fly Ranch again, and brought two writer colleagues to experience the land with me. The three of us had a shared history of attending a writing retreat for BIPOC that started strong yet unfortunately became toxic. That weekend was used to envision what was needed to make the Writers Emerging retreat possible. We spent a good amount of time discussing language and tone around retreats.
We knew what healing and being part of a positive community felt like, and that includes being valued for more than just your productivity. We didn’t want participants to have to burn themselves out to get what they needed from the event. That aggressive energy — push yourself, write all the time, you can only become transformed through pain — was not at all what we wanted to emulate. We discussed how to model something different. For example, if a participant needed to sleep in, that would be ok. We talked through setting up a community that reflected the value of wholeness, wellness, and of respecting self and others. We found inspiration for our values by reviewing the statements made by East Bay Meditation Center, WTF Bikexplorers, and Sins Invalid.
One of our first values stated was to acknowledge we are guests on tribal land. It was important to connect with and to relate to the land in a healthy, uncolonized way. We aimed to honor the history where we would be staying and the way people existed on the Fly Ranch property in unison with nature. We also deeply discussed emotional safety within a community. My Burning Man camp Gender Blender underscored the importance of spaces that allow oneself to show up however they feel is authentic and not be questioned in comparison with “normative” culture. When the event occurred, we wanted an already existing understanding of respect and consideration for one another. The value statements helped us shape the remainder of the logistics for the retreat as they made the framework for the energy we were manifesting.
The overall values we decided on were:
- Recognize Wholeness. People have inherent worth outside of productivity. We acknowledge the necessity for rest, self-care, and self-exploration.
- Work Towards Collective Understanding. We encourage compassion as a tool for the wellbeing of ourselves, each other, and our environment.
- Don’t Assume, Let the Individual Share. No policing of identities or assumptions about gender, race, ability, skill level, or knowledge.
- Leave Shaming Behind. We come from a variety of experience levels, financial access, and opportunities. Avoid ableist, ageist, racist, or gendered language.
- Trust Intent, Acknowledge Impact. Stay conscious of the energy you carry into each space you enter. Listen to others when you may have caused harm.
- Share Your Voice, Make Space for Others. If you tend to be quieter, consider sharing in this space. If you tend to speak often, consider making space for others.
- Listen Out Loud. Practice active listening, give the type of attention you would like to have when sharing your truths.
Executing this vision has been one of the biggest act of service and love that I have had the honor of producing. I feel so much joy at the feedback of the participants and hope to see future events that generate space for healing, creativity, and connectivity for those in great need.
9) Appendix | How did your participation in Writers Emerging impact you? (Recaps from participants, one year later)
Lupita Chavez: First night: All the brown girls in my bunk realizing that this was the summer camp experience we never got when we were growing up because every time we mentioned that our white friends got to go, our mamas gasped in shock that their mothers must not love them.
Following days: Tears flow as we discover that when we share our stories with other beautiful brown faces, we nod and can finish each other’s sentences and no one questions our truths.
Final night: Dancing with my new sisters, spirit lifted by acceptance and love and the holy shit! The experience of discovering that I might just be a poet.
Andrea Martinez: Writers emerging was the first time that I experienced such an overlap and integration of my identities as a woman of color, who enjoys burning man, nature, and writing- it was validating and restorative. Being in such a well facilitated space, with great mentors, made me realize that this is something that I was missing- it filled a need that I hadn’t even fully realized that I had- or was allowed to have. A year later, I have maintained contact with many of the folks from this experience, and I feel empowered to seek and create this community in the future.
Elizabeth D. Foggie: The Writers Emerging residency has inspired me to finally write the books lying dormant within me.
Valerie Haynes Perry: Never have I felt more in my element─both as a creative and in relationship to nature─than during the days I was part of the Writers Emerging community. Fly Ranch is one of few places I revisit vividly in my mind, and I go there often. The image of storytellers in the desert, sharing under the nighttime sky, around a comforting and healing fire, is beautifully etched in heart and memory; I remain profoundly grateful for this experience.
Olaitan Callender-Scott: Writers Emerging helped me understand what I want to write, why and how writing has meaning in my life process. It brought things home.
Kathleen Tan: Writers Emerging was a powerful and inspiring experience. Not only did they teach us different techniques to share stories, but they also provided a supportive space that enabled me to recognize, celebrate, and honor my unique voice. So often, society calls for assimilation — but at Writers Emerging, we celebrated our different perspectives, our different upbringings, our different experiences that make all of our voices so unique!
Dena Rod: We all know there’s something special about Black Rock Desert. But even as a Burner, I found unique tranquility while on the land at Fly Ranch, especially communing on the land full of nonbinary and women of color. I found myself inspired and furiously writing characters I’d been struggling to define for my YA novel for the first time in years thanks to the Fly Ranch Writer’s Emerging Retreat. I cannot wait to go back to this land again.
Michelle San Pedro: I came to the Writers Emerging retreat as a ball of anxiety. White folks and gatekeepers gave me negative feedback and had skewed expectations about my work. The experience made me think of writing on my own terms. These gatherings helped me feel more grounded and connected; I actually looked forward to writing again and dreamed about possibilities. Women of color need an opportunity to recharge in community so they can continue to resist others and share counter-stories. I still continue to speak to one of the facilitators of the poetry workshop.
Shephali Patel: Writers Emerging was one of the most impactful experiences I’ve had as a writer, woman of color, and lover of wild natural landscapes. The most vivid and inspiring memories of 2019 that buoyed me up over wave after wave of intensity and crisis in 2020 came from my time wandering through the desert and mountains, relaxing in the hot springs, and then bringing my expanded and open mind and heart to refine my craft with other brilliant women of color. It was, while I was there and continued to be long after I left, medicine. The Writers Emerging program epitomizes the highest and most multi-faceted potential of what your organization and it’s resources can do.
As a writer, my craft and imagination is overwhelmingly inspired by the natural world. However, as a woman of color and as a daughter of recent immigrants I never felt truly confident or safe in American wilderness for many reasons. It is a paradox experienced by many BIPOC folks. I was raised with cultural traditions that have deep reverence for Nature, but did not grow up with access to the means, skills, or knowledge of living in the more remote, wild, and often spectacular natural spaces of this land. The Writers Emerging Program @ Fly Ranch was a gateway of many firsts for me. It was my first time experience the wonder, freedom, and intensity of camping in a stunning desert landscape and doing so in community and collaboration with strong and brilliant women of color. It was my first time walking in the desert at night, hearing howling coyotes early in the morning, and witnessing the dignity of feral horses and bovine roaming the land. One of the highlights of the program was learning more about the Paiute people and the connections and stories that bind them to the land. It brought the land we were living on to life in an even deeper way. It was also the first time in a long time I had the opportunity to restore and reflect away from the intensity of my work as an activist and educator. Hot springs cure everything!
It was also the first time I was introduced to Burning Man. Burning Man, both the organization and event, never seemed like it was aligned with the values and visions I prioritized. I can honestly say that I would never have gotten involved with anything Burning Man if it wasn’t for the Writers Emerging program and the women I met there. This program epitomizes the highest and most multi-faceted potential of what your organization and it’s resources can do. Because of the Writers Emerging program, I learned about the LAGI 2020 competition and am going to submit a proposal. Please bring back the Writers Emerging program in 2021 and the original participant cohort to reestablish it and help build an even better experience for others. Please support and subsidize it to increase access to the folks that could benefit from it the most. Please continue to build more pathways that lift up and support BIPOC and queer women to gain wilderness and self-sufficiency skills and knowledge that they can transform through creative and restorative expression. I would love to collaborate and assist in any way I can with all or any of this.
©Photos and videos included are courtesy of Yodassa Williams and Elizabeth Foggie.