Djerassi is one of a handful of residency programs around the country that give artists precious time, quiet, and support to work on their projects, far away from the demands of everyday life. This is my second such residency (the first was at Hedgebrook in 2009), and it is once again a true gift.
Djerassi has a remarkable history. It was founded in 1979 by Dr. Carl Djerassi, who, along with his colleagues at Stanford University and the Syntex Corporation in Mexico, invented the Pill. The financial success of the first oral contraceptive allowed Djerassi to purchase the land I am on now -- a sprawling ranch in the brown rolling hills near Palo Alto, which he named, with all the literary inventiveness of a biochemist, the SMIP Ranch: Syntex Made It Possible.
Then, in 1978, Djerassi’s daughter Pamela, who was an artist, committed suicide. Djerassi himself discovered her body. Grief-stricken, over the next year he sought a way to soothe his own soul and honor Pamela’s. The result was the Djerassi Resident Artists Program.
At first, the program was only for women, and one artist a year came to live and work in Pamela’s old house. The women found it lonely, though, spending a year on the ranch by themselves. In time, the program expanded to accommodate more artists, and men were invited as well. The ranch's many-sided barn -- a visually striking building -- was converted into studio spaces and sleeping lofts for painters, dancers, photographers, and musicians. The ranch house became a residence for writers, and that’s where I am writing from now.
During the day, I write and run in the hills. In the evenings, the chef arrives to cook a meal that we all eat together up here in the writer’s house. Then we share our work. The other night, the playwright asked me to read a part in one of his plays; I was a soon-to-be out-of-work vaudeville actress from the 1930s. After that, I did a little talk on chocolate and led a tasting of origin bars, which seemed to please the other artists. None of them have edible work like I do.
I’ll share some of my writing as it comes along. Till then, here are some pictures of the ranch.
|Twelve-sided barn, where visual artists, dancers, and musicians live|
|View from the top of the hill where I go running in the afternoon|
|The ranch is dotted with sculptures by former residents. This is one of my|
favorites - maybe giant bowtruckles, or very small Ents?
|Family of stick people|
|Another favorite - giant wagon|