In August 2018, Washington State Ferries (WSF) launched its first-ever “Writer-in-Residence” on the interisland route in the San Juan Islands. Lopez Island author Iris Graville was appointed to this role and is riding and writing aboard the M/V Tillikum between Lopez, Shaw, Orcas, and San Juan. She’ll continue over the next year as she works on an essay collection under contract with Homebound Publications.
In March, Iris approached her neighbor, retired ferry captain and Ferry Advisory Board member Ken Burtness, about her idea. “Having recently published my third book, the memoir Hiking Naked: A Quaker Woman’s Search for Balance,” she explained, “I was ready to embark on my next writing project. As a twenty-two-year resident of Lopez Island and a five-year commuter to Orcas Island, ferry crossings often afford valuable time for me to write.” Ken was enthusiastic about Iris’s plan to walk on to the ferry on Lopez Island with her laptop, journal, and research materials and then ride, read, and write along the route. He offered to connect her to WSF staff who might support the residency. When Hadley Rodero in the Communications Department of WSDOT heard about Graville’s proposal, she embraced it, too.
For many artists, a break from usual routines inspires creativity and contributes to productivity. In 2011, Amtrak offered writers’ residencies on trains, particularly long-distance routes. To celebrate the 50th anniversary of Seattle’s Space Needle in 2012, Knute Berger became writer-in-residence on the Observation Deck to research and gather stories for a book on the landmark. When the City of Seattle advertised its first writer-in-residence at the iconic Fremont Bridge, they were overwhelmed by applications. The three-month appointment of Elissa Washuta to this post coincided with the bridge’s 100th birthday in 2017. In June, the City appointed Paurl Walsh as the bridge’s first musician-in-residence.
Iris explains her overall project goal is to create a book-length prose manuscript consisting of personal essays. “Some of the themes and content I anticipate exploring include details about the Tillikum and its route, passengers and crew; effects of climate change on the Salish Sea; and description of my “office.” I expect other topics will evolve throughout the course of the project.” She also hopes WSF will continue the residency and expand it throughout the ferry system.
For more information about the Washington State Ferries “Writer-in-Residence,” follow Iris’s progress at www.writingtheinterisland.org.