“Radical hospitality” describes an act of startling generosity—when you give a stranger not just charity but the best food and comfort you can offer. The phrase has Christian origins, but the idea is common to major religions around the world. Such generosity is a guiding principle of the Catholic Worker Movement, founded during the Great Depression to offer food and aid to the poor and promote labor unions, cooperatives, and pacifism.
"It was the radical hospitality in the farmhouse each night that resuscitated my manuscript."
Today, in the farmland of Whidbey Island, Washington, a writers’ retreat called Hedgebrook offers a secular version of radical hospitality to help women artists do their most authentic, riskiest personal and political writing. Hedgebrook fellows stay in small, beautiful cottages in a quiet wooded setting that enables serious thought and concentration. They're invited to the retreat's farmhouse table each evening to share a home-cooked meal and conversation with other women writers who come to Hedgebrook from across the country and around the world.
Hedgebrook Cookbook: Celebrating Radical Hospitality takes the reader into the retreat's farmhouse kitchen, where the chefs use locally sourced ingredients and produce from their own organic garden. As you'd expect it features recipes—more than 90—but it also offers original essays on how generosity and good food feed the human spirit and sustain creativity. The 18 contributors are all notable Hedgebrook alumna, and include acclaimed novelists Karen Joy Fowler, Dorothy Allison, and Ruth Ozeki, award-winning poet Carolyn Forché, and musician Thao Nguyen.
The writer Rahna Reiko Rizzuto has written about survivors of the Hiroshima atom bomb and Japanese internment camps in the United States. Her contribution to the cookbook describes arriving at Hedgebrook and experiencing the healing effect of community and radical hospitality.
Shortly before I came to Hedgebrook, my mother died. I was with her in her final days, caring for her intimately in a way that I hadn’t since my own children were born. I also helped plan her funeral, package her ashes, reunite our extended family for her favorite holiday—Thanksgiving—and mourn with my two boys … .
I can only guess what I must have looked like when I arrived because I was taken directly to the farmhouse where Denise and the smell of fresh chocolate chip cookies welcomed me.
I was a motherless mother. It wasn’t until that moment, sitting at the farmhouse table with tea and a hot cookie and my luggage still unloaded in the car, that I felt it.
I spent the next three weeks alone in my cabin, with the sound of the frogs, and my crackling fire, and a novel that I had to either wrestle into shape or abandon. But it was the radical hospitality in the farmhouse each night that resuscitated my manuscript: the food made with love and just for me, and a new family of sisters around the table. Hedgebrook was my refuge before I knew I needed one, and the encouragement, support, and friendship I found there followed me home.
Hedgebrook Cookbook: Celebrating Radical Hospitality is available from www.hedgebrook.org. Proceeds support Hedgebrook’s mission to nurture a growing global community of women writers.