SAFTA Writers’ Coop: Tin roof. Porch. Woodstove. Outhouse. Sold.

Editor’s Note: As we move into summer, Litmosphere will appear less frequently. You can look forward to reports from the field like the following, where writers in our community report back on fellowships and residencies they experience this summer.  First up, this dispatch from Beth Gilstrap.

I first learned about Sundress Academy for the Arts at Firefly Farms through writer friends on social media. Most of my tribe is scattered across the country and if it weren’t for Instagram & Twitter accounts, I’d hardly know who was publishing where or what writerly adventures they had. I knew of Sundress Publications since they put out the Best of the Net Anthology, but also because they put out stellar work, some of which happens to be written by folks I’m lucky enough to call friends. In this instance, my poet friend Jim Warner spent a week at SAFTA’s new Writers’ Coop last year to finish his third collection, Actual Miles. He posted photos of an idyllic dry cabin nestled in a Tennessee holler on a working farm complete with a donkey mascot named Jayne. All it took for me to apply was one look at the place. Tin roof. Porch. Woodstove. Outhouse. Sold. Though the cabin is dry, it’s only a quarter mile from the SAFTA farmhouse, where all residents have full access to the amenities at farmhouse, including the best farm eggs I’ve ever tasted in my life.

With no electricity or running water and no obligations to participate in readings or teach workshops, I knew the cabin was the perfect place for me to finish my second story collection. To apply, I filled out the form on their website. The application also requires a brief project statement, two references, a CV, a writing sample, and an application fee of $15, or $10 for current students. The fee is waived for Coop applications. The Writers’ Coop is just one residency option. They also have farmhouse residencies, which include an element of farm volunteer work in the form of feeding livestock. My week at the Coop cost $150.00.

In the mornings, I woke to the sound of chickens and sheep and the sweet smell of the deep woods. I walked the short distance to the cabin to make myself eggs and coffee and then after charging all my devices, headed back to the cabin for the day. If nature inspires you, you can do like I did and drag a folding chair out to the little porch to write for most of the day. While I wrote, I watched butterflies and birds and even a Mama coyote and her pup. I laughed at a lizard trying to climb a piece of scrap metal, said hello to a salamander, and even spied a fox trotting along the valley below. The solitude and quiet was exactly what I needed. In the evenings, I read by lantern light until I fell asleep. During my week at the cabin, I wrote every day for hours and ultimately, did complete a draft of my new book. At the end of the week, I had the opportunity to mingle with a bunch of poets up for a retreat and workshop. Good conversation, food, and cheap beer after heavy summer storms was a perfect way to celebrate the work and being writers in the world doing our thing. I will be reapplying for the fall residency period.

Beth Gilstrap is the author of I Am Barbarella: Stories (2015) from Twelve Winters Press and No Mans Wild Laura (2016) from Hyacinth Girl Press. She serves as Fiction Editor at Little Fiction | Big Truths. Her work has been selected as’s Fiction Pick of the Week and nominated for storySouth’s Million Writers Award, Best of the Net, & The Pushcart Prize. She was also a finalist for both the 2018 Doris Betts Fiction Prize & the 2018 Best Small Fictions Anthology. She has been awarded several residencies including Sundress Academy for the Arts at Firefly Farms and  Oregon State University’s Spring Creek Project for ideas, nature, and the written word. Her work has appeared in Re: AL, Queen Mob’s Teahouse, The Minnesota Review, Hot Metal Bridgeand Little Patuxent Reviewamong others. She lives in Charlotte with her husband and enough rescue pets to make life interesting.