Yalitza Ferreras is a 2014-2015 Steinbeck Fellow at San Jose State University. She received an MFA in Creative Writing from the University of Michigan where she won the Delbanco Thesis Prize. Her writing appears or is forthcoming in The Colorado Review, Wise Latinas: Writers on Higher Education and Daring to Write: Contemporary Narratives by Dominican Women.
Did the retreat meet your expectations?
It exceeded my expectations from the moment I arrived and was greeted by Director of Hospitality, Julia Lander. Julia and the rest of the staff made me feel so welcome! I really got a kick out of being introduced as the “artist in residence” at a winery. People were very curious about my work and asked me lots of great questions.
How did the vineyard setting inspire you and/or your writing?
In general, the vineyard setting was inspiring because it was beautiful and serene. But, the setting inspired me in a concrete way as well when it came time to tackle some of the more rural settings of my novel. I had been writing city scenes for a while but being amongst the vineyards helped me transition into writing about the farmlands of the Dominican Republic (where part of my novel is set).
What was the most unexpected part of your stay?
The wine is really really good! Seriously, I have been to a number of wineries all over Sonoma, Napa, and Amador counties and Moshin wines are now some of my favorites. The gracious hospitality, comfort of the accommodations, and beauty of my surroundings made this an amazing residency, but to also have access to great wine was just great.
What was the most enjoyable aspect of your retreat?
I enjoyed the walks to the secret picnic table up on a hill amongst the vineyards. Sometimes I wrote but other times I just stared at the beautiful and mesmerizing view of the valley and vineyards. I also enjoyed taking myself out for some nice lunches in Healdsburg. For dinner, I took advantage of some of the great markets in the area and cooked myself great dinners in the suite. I worked hard and ate well.
What did you work on during the retreat?
I mostly worked on my novel, “The Lady of the House,” about a Dominican artist who goes to work in Spain as a domestic. When I got stuck I switched gears and revised stories in my short story collection.
No one can write 24 hours a day! What other activities did you do during the retreat?
One of my favorite places around the winery is on the walk to the Russian River just across the road from the vineyard. There is an enormous oak tree that seems as wide as it is tall, with a sign on it that says: “Laurie’s Oak.” I don’t know the story behind the tree, but I found it so inspiring that I stopped by on my daily walk to stare at its many gnarly branches reaching out in every direction, standing before rows of grapes growing in the well-ordered vineyards right behind it. The oak tree and neat rows behind it seemed an apt metaphor for what I was facing with my work—lots of details going in lots of different directions, while trying to wrangle them into a neat structure. Maybe that was the wine talking…
Did you participate in any activities or events arranged by the host winery?
I was invited to attend a special wine dinner at a local restaurant with the staff of Moshin, but I chose not go. I tended to do more socializing during the day when I went out to lunch, and stayed in my “writing head” at night so I stayed cooped up in the writing cocoon of the vineyard. Some nights I bundled up and wrote under the stars at the table right outside my suite.
Can you sum up your experience in eight to ten words?
Writing and hiking with nature and wine as inspiration.