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  • Writer's pictureElzbieta Gozdziak

Fall writing retreat in Podstolice

Elżbieta M. Goździak and Katarzyna Byłów are reflecting on a recent writing retreat


Where do you like to write?

Recently, we asked our team members where they do their best writing and what they need to make the experience pleasurable. Some team members said they need to change the venue where they write, with one person indicating that her apartment is not always most conducive to writing and she needs to go to a library or a cafe. Others talked about listening to music while writing and seeping tea.

Elżbieta said she writes best in her home office, whether it is in Washington DC or in Poznań. She likes to be surrounded by her books, which is a bit tricky in Poznań since her book collection here is minuscule. She also like to have fresh flowers on her desk. On occasion, she listens to music, usually Korean OSTs or classical music.

We all bemoaned the fact that sometimes it is hard to find quiet time to write... with that thought in mind, we organized a four-day writing retreat for the whole team.

The venue

We chose a 19th century neoclassical country home in Podstolice as our destination. It is conveniently located a mere 30-minute ride by train from Poznań. Our hostess provided us with charming accomodations and fed us very well. All we had to do was work... and work we did.

Ethnographic writing workshop

During the team retreat, we allocated some time to ethnographic writing workshop led by Katarzyna. First, we read and discussed five anthropological papers: creative non-fiction by Shuhua Chen (Chen, 2023), a journal article on ethnography as a method by Alpa Shah (Shah, 2017), and an article about the transition from xenophilia, through indifference to xenophobia in the 2015-2016 'refugee crisis' in Germany (Borneman & Ghassem-Fachandi, 2017b), along with its critique by Heath Cabot (Cabot, 2017) and the authors’ response (Borneman & Ghassem-Fachandi, 2017a).

In our discussion of these papers, we focused on what kind of knowledge can ethnographic description communicate and how. Then, with this new focus in mind, we spend some time drafting an ethnographic description of a person based on the ethnographic material from our project. Our aim was to explore ways in which we can use ethnographic description in an informative, analytic, and engaging way to communicate our research findings, one that would invite readers to co-create new knowledge about human experience.

Further inspiration

To further insipre us to write and write well, we also perused a reading list of famous advice on writing compiled by Maria Popova, an avid reader and creator of the blog The Marginalian. The list features words of wisdom from such masters of the craft as Kurt Vonnegut, Susan Sontag, Henry Miller, Stephen King, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Susan Orlean, Ernest Hemingway, Zadie Smith, and more.

What's ahead?

Lots more work ahead of us, but for now we have submitted two articles for publication in peer-reviewed journals. Keep your fingers crossed and stay tuned for more blog posts.

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