Soapstone: Act II
Soapstone is a grassroots organization formed in 1992 to provide writing residencies for women at a retreat in Oregon's Coast Range.
The Soapstone property was sold in November of 2013 after placing a conservation easement on the property through the North Coast Land Conservancy, ensuring that it will be protected in perpetuity.
We operated from a grassroots model, on a shoestring budget (at its highest it was never more than $50,000 a year), relying significantly on volunteers of all kinds, from architects, web designers, landscape architects, lawyers, nonprofit professionals and database specialists to the many hundreds of people who came out to the land to put up shelves, stack wood, maintain trails, and wash windows or, in the years before the internet, stuff envelopes for mailings.
The energy for the project grew out of the women's movement of the 1970s and 80s. Our focus was on women writers, who face special obstacles in finding the time and space for serious writing. We liked the notion that a group of ordinary people could work together to make something important happen in our community, without a founding bequest or permanent benefactor, a fancy office, high salaries, or exclusive fundraising events.
Central to our approach, and not incidental, was that friendships were forged and writing groups were formed as many hundreds of people came together to create a beautiful place where women could devote themselves solely to their writing.
It is impossible to calculate the number of readers who are in some way nurtured, challenged, comforted and/or entertained by the work that was done there.
We are proud of what Soapstone has made possible over these past two decades and grateful to everyone who has participated in any way. Although maintaining the property and running the residency program proved to be too ambitious for our small organization, our passionate commitment to supporting women writers has not in any way faded. Nor has our commitment to fostering community. With the proceeds from the sale of the property along with a modest endowment we will continue to make a unique contribution to Oregon and Southwest Washington's literary community by offering small grants for ad hoc events and study groups celebrating women writers.
Judith Barrington and Ruth Gundle were honored with the Stuart H. Holbrook Award from Literary Arts for this and other work. In 2006 Willamette Writers honored Soapstone with their Humanitarian Award.