Politics & Prose wants to inspire your inner Virginia Woolf.
The Washington bookstore has announced an innovative program to help writers get away from it all and find the space they need to work. The magic takes place in Ashland, Va., a bucolic small town about 90 miles from Washington. There, P&P has partnered with Phyllis Theroux, who owns the Writer’s Cottage near her home. For $750, this newly renovated cottage can be rented for a week of quiet composition. (WiFi and printer are included, so you just need to bring your laptop — or a pen.)
For $500 more, writers looking for feedback and instruction can work throughout the week with Theroux. A teacher and the author of several books (and a former Washington Post journalist), Theroux is an old friend of Politics & Prose. Long ago, she and P&P co-founder Carla Cohen scouted out Washington together, looking for a place for her to rent.
In the early 1980s, Theroux started Nightwriters — a name inspired by the fact that most of her writing students had day jobs and wrote in the evening. “My children were too young for me to leave alone at night,” she said. “Students would sit around my dining room table. Then, when they got a little older, I hired babysitters and used Politics & Prose as my classroom.”
Susan Coll, events and programs director at Politics & Prose, said, “Phyllis Theroux’s occasional journaling classes at the store always sell out quickly, and she has led writing retreats in both Sonoma and in Tuscany in partnership with the store.” A few months ago, when Theroux suggested a program built around her Writer’s Cottage, Coll went down to Ashland for the day and was “instantly charmed” by the idyllic community and the little house.
“Phyllis and I did a bit of brainstorming about different opportunities for using the cottage, both as a private getaway and as a place to hold writing retreats,” Coll said. “Having her nearby to facilitate this makes it all possible, and she’s the sort of warm person who will welcome writers into her home and help create other opportunities, such as readings.”
For writers who would appreciate a small-group setting, Politics & Prose is also offering seminars in Ashland, each led by a different author. The first five-day workshop (Nov. 7-11; $1,250) will be taught by Washington writer Howard Norman, a professor at the University of Maryland and the author, most recently, of “Next Life Might Be Kinder.” Eight students will stay at the Henry Clay Inn and gather for classes at the cottage.
“Writing is a solitary act,” Theroux said, “and for an extrovert, whose material comes largely from interaction with others, it helps to have some interesting people to chat with. I can run through this population [in Ashland] pretty fast. And the writers love it here. They feel like they’ve fallen into ‘The Truman Show.’ People wave at you from their front porch.”
She and Coll are already thinking about further plans for this partnership. “The cottage might be a good place for book groups to meet for a retreat, or one of our regular Politics & Prose classes could spend a week there,” Coll said. “We plan to offer a variety of options with different writers focusing on different themes, like poetry, nonfiction or mystery.”
Who knows what grand works might be composed someday in that little cottage. Maybe by you.