Many creative groups choose Camp Casey Conference Center for their retreats. Writing groups in particular find the location ideal for unleashing creative expression. Some choose the venue to get away from the disruptions of the city, and others to find inspiration from the refreshing, rustic surroundings.
For one writing program, the connection to Camp Casey is far more profound and provides an even deeper connection. Seattle Pacific University’s Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing (MFA) program holds its 10-day biannual writer low-residency program at Camp Casey, which the University has owned since the 1950s.
SPU’s MFA program focuses on three genres: poetry, fiction, and creative non-fiction. Starting at the March 2020 residency, the program will be offering a fourth genre option, young adult fiction. The instruction of the writing program is supplemented at each residency with an array of visiting writers.
For poet Anne Doe Overstreet MFA ’16, the Casey experience is integral to the MFA program’s allure. “The created world both stills and stirs my thoughts,” she said. “The particular physical setting of Casey — island weather and the restless Puget Sound and its birds — contributes something extra to the experience. It lacks the distraction of a city, making the residency feel more intimate.”
Doe Overstreet notes that walking is important to her writing process. The Camp Casey residencies afforded ample trails, beach front, and forested bluffs in which to clear her head of distractions and enter a state of receptive listening. She took notes of cloud types, tide levels, barnacle distribution by day, and stargazing by night. Several walks along Whidbey’s coastline inspired lines from her poem “Postcard 6 x 8.”
“Some of my best work came from the residency on Whidbey,” said poet and photographer Bob Denst, another 2016 MFA graduate. A resident of Arizona, he was drawn to the natural wonders and contrasting climate of Casey, a place “where a writer’s faith would find welcome.”
“Coming from the desert, Whidbey Island and Camp Casey were a balm for my soul and a place where I felt privileged to soak in the beauty of God’s creation in a sometimes chilly and cloudy March,” Denst said. “I had opportunities to walk along the shore and take photographs, often of the collected driftwood, and it felt like a spiritual exercise in observation as well as an aesthetic one.”
The MFA program will return in August 2019 and plans to continue its time at Casey for many years to come.