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Prof 'unplugs' at nation's leading artist colony

March 17, 2005

Photo of Toni MirosevichLast fall, Associate Professor Toni Mirosevich joined the ranks of Pulitzer Prize winners Thornton Wilder, Aaron Copland and Alice Walker as a MacDowell Fellow at the prestigious MacDowell Colony.

Founded in 1907, MacDowell is the country's oldest artist colony, with a long tradition of awarding fellowships to writers, artists, composers, filmmakers and architects. The colony nurtures the arts by offering creative individuals an inspiring environment at the colony's 450-acre woodland in Peterborough, N.H.

In her five-week stay at the colony, Mirosevich found the experience inspiring and was surprised at the amount of collaboration among the artists.

"Almost every evening there was a presentation, studio visit, or concert and the next day, it's almost as if the group working individually in their studios was in some way fueling each other," Mirosevich says, adding that she felt an instant sense of community with the other MacDowell fellows.

"I've never met such a lovely group of people, and all in one place and all extremely supportive of each other's creative work," Mirosevich says. "I didn't think that going to a studio visit to see Margie's new sculpture would have, the next day, a dramatic and immediate effect on what I was writing," says Mirosevich, referring to sculptor Margie Neuhaus, another MacDowell Fellow.

During her sabbatical from the Creative Writing Department last semester, Mirosevich also completed a residency with the Willard R. Espy Literary Foundation. As one of only four chosen to participate in the foundation's Writers Residency Program, Mirosevich spent a month writing in a cottage overlooking the beach and wooded forest in Oysterville, Wash.

To create a distraction-free environment, the colony does not allow televisions, e-mail access or telephones in the studios. Mirosevich saw that as a rare opportunity for a person to be "unplugged."

"I think that if you're in a world with a lot of interaction, with a lot of voices, that it can be hard to be unplugged," she says. Without the intrusion of phones and e-mail, "your own particular voice can rise up and you can write from that place," she adds.

In what Mirosevich calls a "deeply restorative experience," the fellowship offered not only solitude and uninterrupted time to write; it also meant a collaborative relationship that she sees continuing beyond the colony between the other MacDowell fellows and herself. Mirosevich hopes to bring the creative talents of the colony -- from music by composer Hyekyung Lee to video by Paul Rowley -- into her classes.

Since 1991, Mirosevich has taught undergraduate and graduate classes including poetry and creative process workshops. She is regarded by her colleagues and students as an exceptional individual, a talented writer and one of the best teachers in the department.

"In all my years, I've never seen a faculty member who has gotten such extraordinary praise from her students," says Paul Sherwin, dean of College of Humanities. "Toni has a very thoughtful and refined social and political sensibility, and there is a common touch to everything that she writes."

During the fellowship, Mirosevich completed a collection of poetry about how the lives of people who live on a street in Pacifica collide and intersect with the life of the world around them. The book, "Queer Street," published by Word Tech Communications, comes out in May and will be Mirosevich's third poetry collection. Her other two are "Trio" and "The Rooms We Make Our Own."

This summer, Mirosevich will head to the Santa Cruz Mountains to join writers and artists from all over the country at the Djerassi Resident Artists Program.

Mirosevich is continuing work on a memoir about growing up in a Croatian fishing family. She contributes to the San Francisco Chronicle Magazine and Zyzzyva, a literary journal for West Coast writers.

-- Student Writer Audrey Tang with Matt Itelson


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Last modified March 17, 2005 by University Communications