Courtesy of Ben Shattuck

A new writers’ residency arrives on Cuttyhunk.

Thessaly La Force
January 26, 2016

Cuttyhunk is the westernmost of Massachusetts’ Elizabeth Islands, and part of a pretty string of islets between Buzzard’s Bay and the Vineyard Sound. On Cuttyhunk, you can easily grasp the power of the Atlantic, and feel way the wind beats against the waves, how the sun glitters off the water’s surface.

The Elizabeth Islands on the whole are not often visited; all but two of them are privately kept by the Forbes family, and one of the more accessible islands, Penikese, has the unfortunate history of being a former leper colony. That leaves the surprisingly charming Cuttyhunk, with its pretty harbor and handful of inns. There are even houses you can rent out for a season, should you desire the strange isolation the island provides. Hydrangeas grow in big bushes in the summer, the ice cream by the harbor is delicious, and at the dock you can buy a dozen fresh oysters, shucked and served without much fuss on a Styrofoam plate. It’s all of New England’s charm—without the snobbery.

Courtesy of Ben Shattuck

And now there’s a new way to enjoy the destination: a new writer’s residency, held from June 7 through June 15, at the Avalon Inn, a century-old house located in the center of the island. The Avalon is the kind of inn rich with history, where the rooms have four-poster beds and claw-foot bathtubs. Its director, Ben Shattuck, first showed me the delights of Cuttyhunk two summers ago, and he’s signed on Pulitzer-Prize winner Paul Harding to be the first writer-in-residence and workshop leader for the residency. With 13 spots, it sounds like a delight, and there are even two full scholarships available, one reserved especially for Wampanoag Tribe members. Meals will be served by the award-winning chef (and fellow writer) Didi Emmons.

Courtesy of Ben Shattuck

 “With a year-round population of eighteen, and a one-room schoolhouse currently serving two students, Cuttyhunk has that feel of the bygone times on the Cape,” Shattuck explained to me recently. The native New Englander has made plans for sit-down dinners and nightly salons. “It will be as much a residency or workshop as it will be a retreat—lots of time to read and write and take walks. I think people will find that being on an island generates a potent sort of inspiration. You just have to experience it. And most importantly, there's horrible service out there, which will hopefully snuff out phones!”

Courtesy of Ben Shattuck

Applications are due February 1. Interested? More info, right this way.

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