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Inspiration at Berrett-Koehler Author Retreat

The Berrett-Koehler Author Retreat is unique.  As far as I can tell, no other publisher has spawned a self-sustaining cooperative organization managed by and for the authors.  I publish with a handful of publishers and I can’t even conceive of such a thing. Over 65 authors attended the 12th annual BK Author’s Retreat at the Stillheart Insitute near Redwood City, CA. Over four days, the authors participated in a number of activities from workshops to community building exercises to dancing to a Zydeco Band.  Describing it like this makes the retreat sound similar to any number of writer’s conferences.  But it’s unlike any other conference I’ve been to.  What I love most is the quality of the cooperation.  Generosity is the prevailing attitude.  Some highlights:

BK authors browse the book table

I love the book swap.  Authors are invited to display their books on a table. It’s great to browse the books of other authors, learn about their work, and answer questions about my own. Toward the end of the retreat, authors get together to swap books. I especially appreciated getting John Graham’s memoir, Sit Down Young Stranger.    John  was just one of the new friends I made.

For the past three years, Devora Zack has offered a session on improvisational writing.  This year, she led five authors to a spot deep in the Redwoods and used the site to focus our attention. The goal of improvisational writing is to suspend our editors and let whatever is in our hearts flow effortlessly without deliberation.  Revealing–often startlingly so–writing emerges.   

One of her exercises asked us to get up, walk around, find something in the environment, and write about that.  I found a long, straight piece of wood and these are the words that came:

Pick me up says the stick.

I am straight.

I am true.

I will walk with you and share your burden.

I will protect you.

I will test the path and take your weight.

And in an unbalanced world, center you on a life’s journey

If only you will let me be your walking stick.

Elizabeth Doty (who with Ellen Augustine co-chaired the retreat design committee) facilitated a profound session on Personal Experiences with Transformation. A number of people told very powerful stories about how they “moved” organization to change.  The insight I had was that, yes, at first we own our stories, but then our stories own us.  I think we’re kidding ourselves if we think we can frame our experiences in stories and then pretend that the stories we tell have no power to control us.

Elizabeth Doty and John Graham in the Redwoods

The retreat ended on September 11, 2011, the tenth anniversary of that day so memorable to all of us.  Eight people attended a 9/11 Reflection I convened.  I invited everyone to share exactly what they were feeling at the moment and I was moved by the memories, tears, and reaching for hope.

It was a great retreat. Thanks to the organizers and all the facilitators.  I’ll blog more about other experiences. Meanwhile, enjoy the photos.

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