A Supposedly Fun Thing

Journalist Ryan Goldberg, photographed against the Detroit skyline

My friend Ryan Goldberg, a Brooklyn-based journalist, recently stayed at the Woodbridge Farm to write and watch birds. It's the perfect place and time to year to do the latter, according to Ryan, who's become somewhat zealous about the hobby. He spent most mornings working at the dining room table—finishing what he hoped to be the final draft of a long-form investigative piece for a prestigious American magazine I was asked not to name—before dashing off to nearby Point Pelee National Park. There he ticked several species off his "to see" list, including the rare Kirtland's Warbler, which NPR listeners might remember from this classic piece on Radiolab.

A boisterous Kirtland's warbler, photographed by Joel Trick

A boisterous Kirtland's warbler, photographed by Joel Trick

Ryan's visit purposefully coincided with the northern migration of birds, as well as the community's corresponding influx of birders, who fill up hotels, inns, AirBNBs, and restaurants across this southernmost tip of Canada—a region I've heard Weather Channel meteorologists unironically refer to as "extreme southwestern Ontario."

Several events cater to these binocular-toting tourists. The most popular might be Pelee Island's Springsong, a dinner and reading founded by Margaret Atwood and Graeme Gibson to benefit the Pelee Island Bird Observatory (or PIBO) and the Pelee Island Heritage Centre. This year's was the 16th annual event, though the first I've attended. Earlier iterations have featured notable authors like Miriam Toews and Alice Munro; Newfoundland poet and writer Michael Crummey was the 2017 headliner. At some point during the supper, local author Paul Vasey, the event's "M.C. for life" (so deemed by Atwood), asked all those who were not birders to raise their hands. After about a third of the 200-plus crowd did so, we were jovially booed by the rest, who slapped their tables and stomped their feet and rang their wine glasses. After two bottles of Riesling, those folk get rowdy.

Life was calmer back at the farm in Kingsville. Though Ryan's written for The New York Times, Deadspin, ProPublica, The Village Voice, Men’s Journal, and other august outlets, he hasn't let cosmopolitan life scare him away from dirt and grease. Both he and his girlfriend Angie, who teaches architecture at the University of Syracuse, eagerly pitched in around the property, weeding garden beds and helping me attach the tiller to our '84 Kubota tractor. Thanks to the two of them, a tremendous amount of work got done.

But the best gift of their stay—apart from the excellent company and a sleek new set of Eagle Optics binoculars—was the work Ryan put into cataloging the many birds that migrated through our woodlot. Over about two weeks, he spotted nearly sixty independent species — a majority of which I'd never heard of before, including the Ruby-crowned Kinglet, Swainson's Thrush, Red-eyed Vireo, American Redstart, Black-throated Green Warbler, Eastern Wood-Pewee, and more. You can browse his entire "backyard list" here on eBird, a "real-time, online checklist program" run by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and National Audubon Society.

A Black-throated Green Warbler

A Black-throated Green Warbler

The sheer variety of life that passes through here each spring is remarkable. Especially to me, given my prior obliviousness to it. Ryan considers this one of the appeals of birding: like all the best hobbies, it opens a door to a hidden world. Though I find that world more fascinating now than I did before they arrived, I'm happy to keep focused on the practice of sustainable farming and literature. But, with luck, we'll be joined by Ryan and Angie again next year, when—supposing more luck—they'll update us on the state of migration.


SOLD OUT: Diane Schoemperlen's memoir master class is now full; waiting list opens

Within about a week of opening registration, we're excited to announce that Diane Schoemperlen's class has sold out. Students interested in the course are encouraged to sign up on our waiting list. You can do this by emailing me at woodbridgeretreat@gmail.com. Please note that due to an assignment that leaves me without access to the internet for several days, a response might be delayed for up to a week. But one will come.

Please also note that the outdoor launch of Diane's new book First Things First: Selected Stories, published by the great Biblioasis, is open to the public. Diane will be reading with Windsor's beloved poet laureate Marty Gervais and D.A. Lockhart on Sunday, June 11th at 3 - 6 p.m. All are encouraged to attend. For more information, and to RSVP, please see the event listing on Facebook. It's also listed on our events page.

Many thanks to all those who wrote to express their interest in participating in Diane's class. For those keen in staying updated on future programming, please email me at the address above to be added to our newsletter, and follow us on Facebook here. Thank you.

Giller Prize winner André Alexis to visit the Woodbridge Farm in August

Born in Trinidad and raised in Canada, Alexis is perhaps best known for his Giller-winning novel  Fifteen Dogs.

Born in Trinidad and raised in Canada, Alexis is perhaps best known for his Giller-winning novel Fifteen Dogs.

Last year, after founding the Woodbridge Farm Writers' Retreat, I sat down to write my invitation wish list. Diane Schoemperlen, who we're hosting in June, was near the very top. So was the great André Alexis, perhaps best known for his bestselling 2015 novel Fifteen Dogs — currently in the running for this year's Canada Reads title. Well, luck struck twice. Today I'm very excited to announce that André, winner of Yale University's Windham-Campbell Prize, the Scotiabank Giller Prize, and the Rogers' Writers Trust Fiction Prize, accepted our invitation: he'll be joining the Woodbridge Farm as our August 2017 author-in-residence. More on André can be found at our retreat page.

We're thrilled to host him.

But now here's the best part. In addition to staying and writing in Kingsville, André has generously offered to teach a class on experimental fiction writing. This incredible opportunity for writers of all levels will take place on Saturday, August 26th. If that wasn't enough, he's also agreed to headlining a free outdoor reading at the Woodbridge Farm with Windsor-Essex authors Andre Narbonne (Twelve Miles to Midnight) and Dorothy Mahoney (Off-Leash) the very next day, on Sunday, August 27th at 3 p.m. Details about the reading will be announced shortly on our events page. If you're interested in taking André's class, be sure to contact me at woodbridgeretreat@gmail.com to inquire about reserving a spot. Please note that space is very limited; we're capping it at fifteen students.

As always, the best way to stay current on our programming is by following us on Facebook and signing up for our periodic email newsletter.

We're grateful to André, first and foremost — but huge thanks also to goes out to our tremendous supporters in the local media, especially veteran reporter and best-selling author Craig Pearson, who interviewed us on a forthcoming article about André's upcoming stay and our retreat for The Windsor Star (due out soon, from what I gather); the amazing Bob Steele, host of CBC Windsor's Afternoon Drive, who's having me on the air later today (tune into 91.9 FM this afternoon); and Kingsville's mayor and Reporter editor Nelson Santos, whose contributions to our town are too many to number. A big thanks also to all the staff at André amazing Toronto-based publisher, Coach House Books, especially publisher-editor Alana Wilcox and publicist extraordinaire Jessica Rattray.

With both of our 2017 summer authors-in-residence now announced, it's time for another tantalizing teaser: we plan on unveiling an exciting new project soon. It's a biggie. Stay tuned.

Registration opens for Diane Schoemperlen's June 10th Memoir Masterclass

Diane Schoemperlen's most recent book, above, was named a finalist for the 2017 RBC Taylor Prize

Diane Schoemperlen's most recent book, above, was named a finalist for the 2017 RBC Taylor Prize

We're excited to announce that registration is now open for author Diane Schoemperlen's June 10th masterclass, titled "Yes, This IS My Life: Honesty, Misery, and Memoir." Seats are very limited, with only nine of fifteen left open. To secure a spot, please email woodbridgeretreat@gmail.com.

This immersive class, which starts at 10 a.m. and ends at 3 p.m., is meant to help each student approach, conceptualize, and write about a subject or experience that had a profound effect on their life. The total cost is $129.95, plus HST (lunch included). A $30 deposit is required.

Divided into two parts, the morning session begins with a two-hour lecture on how Schoemperlen wrote This Is Not My Life, a memoir about her troubled relationship with a convicted felon. Special focus is given to writing process itself, offering students insight into how Schoemperlen was able to complete a book that she — a Governor General's Award-winning novelist — considers "the hardest thing [she's] ever written."

After breaking for a refreshing, buffet-style summer lunch, the afternoon commences with memoir writing exercises lead by Schoemperlen. Discussion is opened to questions from the class, with special attention placed on the practical aspects of process and craft.

As an optional bonus, if interested, students are invited to submit a ten-page, double-spaced writing sample, which Schoemperlen will read, comment on, and return.

The workshop will take place on The Woodbridge Farm in Kingsville, Ontario. Please direct any questions to Grant, at woodbridgeretreat@gmail.com. References to local bed & breakfasts are available for those interested.

Given how infrequently authors of Schoemperlen's stature visit the region, demand for spots is expected to be high. Reserve your seat now!

Governor General's Award winning author Diane Schoemperlen to visit Woodbridge Farm in June

Schoemperlen was recently named a finalist for the prestigious 2017 Taylor Prize for Nonfiction

Schoemperlen was recently named a finalist for the prestigious 2017 Taylor Prize for Nonfiction

We're so excited to announce our first author in residence of 2017: Diane Schoemperlen, perhaps best known for her 1998 Governor General's Award winning Forms of Devotion: Stories and Pictures. She'll be visiting us from Kingston, Ontario in June. Over the past year, Diane's garnered tremendous praise for her bestselling, Taylor Prize shortlisted book, This Is Not My Life: A Memoir of Love, Prison, and Other Complications (HarperCollins Canada). The work, which chronicles her six-year relationship with a man convicted of second-degree murder, was heralded as "riveting" by Maclean's and a book that "should be compulsory reading for young adults" by Quill & Quire. 

Not only will Diane be staying at the farm, she'll also be leading our first master class on Saturday, June 10th. After teaching successful courses elsewhere—including, most recently, at Kingston WritersFest's excellent Writers Studio—she was enthusiastic about sharing her knowledge of memoir writing with those in our region. Given Diane's prize-winning career, this is an extraordinary opportunity for anyone interested in the form. Details will be announced shortly. In the meantime, you can learn more by visiting our Events page.

While there, you'll see that Diane will be joining local favorites Marty Gervais and Daniel Lockhart for the year's first outdoor reading on Sunday, June 11th, from 3 - 6 p.m. Like last year, we're going to be spinning old 78s, enjoying the breeze off the lake, and lounging about while listening to some excellent writing. Unlike last year, we're making the afternoon even more special by partnering with Windsor's own Biblioasis to launch Diane's First Things First: Selected Stories, a gathering of her earliest and uncollected short stories. In addition to generously organizing the funds needed to bring Diane to Kingsville, Biblioasis will also also be supplying delicious refreshments. Details can be found on our Events page. To RSVP (which we'd very much appreciate), please follow this link to its Facebook event page.

We're stoked to host Diane, bring her to read with Marty and Daniel, help Biblioasis launch her book, and introduce her to our friends here in Windsor-Essex. She's not just a brilliant author, but a wonderfully engaging, down-to-earth person.

More announcements, including the big reveal of our August author in residence, are coming soon.

A visit from Jenna and Dan, the creators of CBC Radio's Grownups Read Things They Wrote as Kids

Loki greets Grownups Read Things They Wrote as Kids' host Dan Misener and producer Jenna Zuschlag-Misener

Loki greets Grownups Read Things They Wrote as Kids' host Dan Misener and producer Jenna Zuschlag-Misener

Earlier this afternoon, before hosting tonight's show at The Rondo in Windsor, Jenna and Dan from Grownups Read Things They Wrote as Kids stopped by the Woodbridge Farm. Their "always sold out reading series" (Torontoist) plays in theaters and event spaces across the country. Over the past three years, it’s also developed into a popular podcast, with mentions in USA Today, The Globe and Mail, and The Guardian, and syndication on CBC radio. Like the Moth Radio Hour, the show's recorded live on stage. Introduced and narrated by Meisner, it features audience members—usually in their 20s and 30s—who volunteer to read embarrassing stories from adolescence: journal entries, letters to celebrities, school essays, etc.

Huge numbers have seen the show, but few know that its concept originated here in Kingsville, where Jenna was raised. On a trip down from Toronto to visit her parents, Jenna read to Dan from her teenage diary. The entries were so naive and funny and awkward that, after hours spent laughing, the couple thought others might enjoy hearing them—and sharing their own juvenilia. So they found a venue, gathered friends, and threw their first reading. It's been going strong ever since.

Shout-out to Dalson Chen, who wrote about their story in this weekend's Windsor Star.

If you're interested in listening to their podcast, you can check it out here.

Site Launched + Author Announcements Soon


Exciting day. After almost a year since the retreat was founded, we now have a home online. There's something strangely official about this, as if everything that came before carried less weight—though, of course, that's not true. I suppose it's more a matter of documentation, of firming what was previously in motion. Either way, it feels great to be settled.

Several thanks are in order.

The first goes to Alexandra Sellick, whose taste is unmatched. She advised on the look of the site, provided several photos (including the wintry scene with Loki above), and offered moral support.

Next is my friend Robert Earl Stewart, the first local author to participate in our reading series, and an accomplished photographer. Several of his photos are included among the banners, including the black and white photo of the record player. The excellence of his work stands out so clearly.

Many, many thanks go to our friend Kim Fahner, the retreat's second resident, who wrote lovely words about her stay here last August. I'm so proud that she recently chose to submit her poem "A Week at Woodbridge Farm" to a prestigious national award. For more on Kim, her poetry, and her work at the Poet Laureate of Sudbury, visit her frequently updated website here.

Summer Block, Dawn KresanCarl Shura, and many others offered advice about hosting services, design, and other important matters, which was greatly appreciated.

Finally, thank you to Marty Gervais and Cathy Masterson for their unwavering support, enthusiasm, and council. We're looking forward to working with both in the year ahead.

Stay tuned for exciting announcements very soon.