Writing Retreat on the Salish Sea

In May, I attended the annual open house at the University of Washington’s Friday Harbor Laboratories (FHL), a marine science research and education center on San Juan Island. As I wrote in a blog post, Study on the Sea, I started dreaming that day.

photo courtesy Friday Harbor Labs

During the open house, I had a brief conversation with Kathy Cowell, coordinator of the Helen Riaboff Whiteley Center. Kathy explained a bit about the center, designed as a refuge for scholars and artists to study, write, create, and interact on the FHL’s 490-acre tract of peaceful, quiet land. Scholars at the Whitely Center can work in quiet isolation (yes, please) and also meet with other scholars and scientists working at FHL (also great).


As Kathy directed a steady stream of vehicles into the FHL parking lot for the open house that day, I gave her a quick run-down of my role as Writer-In-Residence on the Interisland Ferry and my work to create an essay collection about the Salish Sea. Having heard about residencies at the Whitely Center from writing friends Kathleen Alcalá and Sandra Sarr, I was eager to apply; Kathy encouraged me to do just that.

Her email last month was most welcome:

“I am pleased to inform you that your application to the Whiteley Center has been approved. A 1-bedroom cottage and a shared study room have been reserved for your arrival on Wednesday, February 5 and departure on Friday, February 21, 2020.”


whitely center
Study Room in the Whiteley Study Building


For two-and-a-half weeks, I’ll occupy one of the seven cottages at FHL and will have access to a shared study room in the Whiteley Study Building. My cottage will have a living and dining area, a bedroom and bathroom, a fireplace, a deck, and a kitchen (fortunate since the FHL dining hall will be closed while I’m there).

AHWHelenBoth Whiteleys were distinguished teachers and researchers at the University of Washington, she in microbiology and molecular biology, and he in physiology and sea urchin developmental and cell biology. Arthur’s dual appreciation of art and science led him to support the creation of the Whiteley Center in his late wife’s honor.

As I wrote in my application for the residency, by February I hope to have a significant portion of my essay collection drafted. I’m confident the time there will support my focus and continued research to revise those drafts and perhaps write new ones.

I’m grateful for this opportunity; stay tuned for updates in February.




  1. Congratulations Iris!!! I am very happy & excited for you to have this wonderful opportunity to continue bringing your collection to life. I, for one, absolutely look forward to reading it. 👏🏻👌🏻

    Sent from my iPhone


  2. Congratulations Iris! This is wonderful news. FYI I tried to leave a comment on your blog after logging in but it told me to login again and again. See you tonight! xoSue


  3. This looks so incredibly amazing. Congratulations! I know you will enjoy being able to work on your project there! I feel inspired just reading about it and seeing the photos!

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