Greetings from Marilyn (continued from the Home page)

Soul Mountain has created a big family for me, a family as diverse as that into which President Obama was born. Here’s a toast to everyone who has been here, for their new MFAs, their new books, their readings, their panels at the AWP and other conferences! Here’s to their new babies and their new grandbabies. Here’s to their weddings. May their blessings multiply, and may what they write continue to strive to be true and beautiful.

With a sense of having lived a dream come true, I hereby announce the dissolution of Soul Mountain Retreat, Inc. Though I will, from time to time, invite individuals and groups to retreat here in my home, all future invitations will be private and personal, and not open to application.

As it turns out our last residency was the annual retreat for Cave Canem alumni. This year’s guests were Juliet Howard, Jadi Keambirioro, and Kate Rushin. We had a terrific time together! The following is Jadi's account of it:

My Soul Mountain Summer

When I arrived at Soul Mountain I was met at the train station in Old Saybrook by poet and mentor of poets Marilyn Nelson and poet Juliet Howard. During the days of that first week we spent our mornings walking and talking; perhaps the most memorable walk was the first one along Hammonasset beach where I collected rocks to take back to my room.
I brought along a small suitcase of writing including poems I had been gathering for a collection and a novel begun in graduate school. I spent peaceful, blissful mornings on the enclosed back porch reading old work, and reworking the novel. In the late afternoon I went to the laptop on the desk in my bedroom. but sometimes found myself staring off into the tree lined distance, or at the beach rocks now on my window sill, instead of writing. At Soul Mountain I found nature full of sound – morning bird calls, toads in Peanut Pond, and lots of bugs buzzing (so many, we rarely left the house without a douse of bug repellant and hats borrowed from Marilyn). Into the second week we were joined by Kate Rushin to share more stories, collaborative meals and walks.

I left Soul Mountain full. I made progress on the novel and ferreted through the suitcase of poems. I returned home happy like a child in September gleefully telling others about “how I spent my summer vacation”. I returned home knowing that Marilyn’s generosity to writers such as I, at providing a summer room, and a verdant, noisy, boulder strewn landscape had been a great gift.

Jadi Omowale
Soul Mountain – July 2010

news pics

January 2010

My last update ended with our July Cave Canem residency. Since then, Soul Mountain has welcomed several additional guests, with much thanks due my surrogate hosts Leslie McGrath and recent UConn graduate soon to be an MFA student, Tess Bird. In September we welcomed Olga Duggan and enjoyed brief visits from Lera Auerbach and Bonnie Kwong; October brought Linda Brockman.

The year brought announcements of several Soul Mountaineers’ successes. Most recently, the winter issue of Poets & Writers featured announcements of new books by Santee Frazier, Cherene Sherrard, Orlando White, and Sherwin Bitsui. Recent guests Denise Lajimodiere and Sarah Rosenthal welcomed new books into the world. Tara Betts’ book is out. John Murillo’s book will soon be published. Hayan Charara got an NEA Fellowship. Ching-in Chen’s book is out. Jennifer Foerster has a Stegner Fellowship at Stanford University. Travis Hedge Coke completed his M.F.A. Jee Leong Koh has a new book. Michael Montlack’s new book has been winning a large audience. Sandra Lim is the Stuckey Emerging poet-in-residence at Columbia College, Chicago. Samantha Thornhill has published two y/a novels. And more. I’m very proud of their accomplishments!

When Linda’s September residency ended, the house became mine again, and I welcomed a constant stream of family members, from late October until mid-January.

Among the highlights of my personal/professional life this year, one was the world premiere by the Waterbury Symphony Orchestra of Fortune’s Bones: The Manumission Requiem, Ysaye Barnwell’s musical composition for chorus, soloists, and orchestra, inspired by my book Fortune’s Bones. On May 9, at the Palace Theatre, Waterbury, CT.

Another highlight was the publication of Beautiful Ballerina, a picture-book combining one of my poems with Susan Kuklin’s photographs of young dance students in the school of the Dance Theatre of Harlem. And the publication of Sweethearts of Rhythm, my poems and Jerry Pinkney’s illustrations, about the best all-girl swing band to tour the country during the Forties.

Let me not forget to list among my highlights the 8-week workshop on writing in traditional poems, which I taught in New York for Cave Canem this fall. What fun!

And, finally, the wonderful highlight of being asked to be poet-in-residence at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine in New York, for the next five years. I’m honored, and I look forward to overseeing and creating programs there.

I’m now settling into the quiet fallow time of winter, a time to research my next book project and to dream a future for Soul Mountain Retreat. What lies ahead, God willing/Insha’Allah, is a trip to the Middle East in March, followed by the arrival of our Spring Break Fellows. I’ll be in Northern California and North Carolina in April, Minnesota and New York in May. And here, writing the new book and welcoming new and returning Soul Mountaineers through the summer and into fall. Beyond that, time will tell.

May the coming year fill you with courage and creativity and the ability to recognize unfolding goodness.

Warm best wishes, in peace –

March 2009

Our MFA spring break residency guests were Eleanor Paynter from Sarah Lawrence College and Kristen Muir from the University of Wisconsin, Madison.


Later spring guests were Molly Lynn Watt, Audrey McCain, and Grace Ocasio. Audrey, Grace, Molly, and Soul Mountain friend Rhonda Ward and I read on April 3 at the Florence Griswold Museum. On the left is a photo of the event.



Our next guests, Sarah Rosenthal and Denise Lajimodiere, will read with Leslie McGrath and me, at 6:00 on May 2 at The Gilded Edge gallery in Salem, CT.


In June, five young Native American poets who are already part of the Soul Mountain family – Santee Frazier, Jennifer Foerster, Travis Hedge Coke, dg okpik, and Lara Mann – will return. They will read at the Florence Griswold Museum at 3:00 on June 7.


And July will be our fifth annual retreat for Cave Canem graduates. This year’s guests will be
Cherene Sherrard-Johnson, John Murillo, Carleasa Coates, Lita Hooper, and Opal Palmer Adisa. They will bring Cave Canem to Connecticut in a reading at the Sunken Garden Series at the Hill Stead Museum on July 22.

I gave up both my salary and the university’s generous donation to Soul Mountain when I decided last winter to retire from teaching. Though some of our residencies are underwritten by MFA programs and readings, we must still hope for some kind of financial miracle involving, perhaps, angels bearing coffers full of economic recovery money. Like other non-profits, we see how the current economic disaster affects foundations and individual donors. We’ll try to ride out the storm by practicing frugality and by asking our guests to contribute $200/week toward their residencies and to purchase their own fresh vegetables, fruit, and meats. But even this does not cover the costs of insurance, electricity, internet access, having the lawn mowed and the house cleaned, driving people to and from airport or train station or supermarket. My readings are one way I hope to keep Soul Mountain going during this difficult period. Let me take this opportunity to remind you that donations of any amount may be made to Soul Mountain online at

Some readings in the immediate future:

May 9: World premiere of Fortune’s Bones: The Manumission Requiem. Ysaye Barnwell’s musical composition for chorus, soloists, and orchestra, inspired by my book Fortune’s Bones. 8 p.m., Palace Theatre, Waterbury, CT.
May 13: The Freedom Business, a slide-talk and reading with Deborah Dancy, 7:30, East Haddam Historical Society, East Haddam, CT.
May 17 – 21: I’ll be at University of CA, Davis. Not yet sure when there will be a reading.
May 29: 7:00 reading, Pima workshop, Tucson, AZ
June 11 – 13: West Chester Poetry Conference, West Chester, PA
June 15 – 18: Joiner Center Writers’ Workshop, Boston, MA
June 19: 4:00 Juneteenth Celebration, Woods Hole, MA
June 25 – 26: MFA program, Antioch University, Los Angeles, CA
I’ll offer a one-day workshop, for ca. 17 people @ $100, about verse novels for young adults, including my own. With writing exercises and lunch. DETAILS TO COME
July 26 – Aug. 2: The Glen Workshop, Santa Fe, NM

I hope the spring and summer fill you with courage and creativity and the ability to recognize unfolding goodness.

Warm best wishes, in peace –

Soul Mountain Fall 2008

Best greetings to friends of Soul Mountain and to all Soul Mountaineers, and congratulations to us and the nation for the most momentous and beautiful decision of this new century.

Here’s what’s been happening here.

Just before the end of the July Cave Canem residency in late July, I flew to Johannesburg, where I met my friend “Abba Jacob” to travel to Botswana for a road-trip in the Kalahari. Here we deepened our commitment to the San (“Bushman”) people we had met on our 2005 Botswana safari. I was able to deliver a contract to Kuru Arts, which is part of the Kuru Family of Organisations. Kuru will be able to pay San artists to illustrate a picture-book text I wrote about their desert world. The book, Ostrich and Lark, will be published in 2009 by Boyds Mills Press. All proceeds – advance and royalties -- will go to Kuru and to the artists. I’m thrilled.

While I was away, Jennifer Nelson hosted the third African Continuum Theatre Company retreat for African American playwrights here at Soul Mountain, with Reggie Edmunds and Jacqueline Lawton.


Harryette Mullen’s visit in September was the occasion of several very fine conversations, one good restaurant meal, and a pleasant and intimate salon evening, at which Harryette read and discussed poems from each of her books.

Later in September we welcomed Laura Secord, and in October, composer/poet Lera Auerbach. Laura worked on a sequence of poems about one of her ancestors who was tried for witchcraft in Seventeenth Century Connecticut. Lera worked on the libretto of an opera about Gogol, which will premiere in Vienna in 2010.

In late September I spent five days in Illinois, reading at Wheaton College, at the Art Institute of Chicago, and at Roosevelt University. I also visited with my son Jake and his wife Rita, and caught up with Soul Mountaineer Toni Asante Lightfoot, who is beautifully and joyfully great with child.

September saw the publication of Pemba’s Song: a Ghost Story, a young adult book which I wrote in collaboration with Tonya C. Hegamin during the last of her three-years as Residency Director here at Soul Mountain. The month also brought to light a feature article about me and Soul Mountain Retreat in The Pennsylvania Gazette, the alumni publication of the University of Pennsylvania, where I earned my M.A. degree. And one of my Carver poems was reprinted in the October issue of Oprah’s O Magazine.
At the September awards ceremony of the Connecticut Center for the Book my 2007 book, Miss Crandall’s School for Young Ladies and Little Misses of Color, written in collaboration with Elizabeth Alexander, won the Connecticut Book Award in the Children’s Author category.


Our October 17 salon, featured four Arab American poets who were guest residents for one week: Kazim Ali, Alise Alouisi, Hayan Charara, and Deema Shehabi. The residency was a great joy, and the salon a big success. Julie Kerop of The Turning Page bookstore in Old Lyme was here to sell books by the individual poets and the recently published anthology of Arab American poets, Inclined to Speak, which Hayan edited.

Later in October our guests were San Francisco poet Bonnie Kwong and Boston poet Elizabeth Quinlan, who played hooky from their desks one day to visit Mystic Seaport. My friend the writer Bessy Reyna took over my hosting duties for a while, while I was away to read at Waynesburg University and to be poet-in-residence at the Vermont Studio Center.

My book The Freedom Business (with art by Deborah Dancy) was published in October. It has been racking up starred reviews! Kirkus called it “astonishing,” “heartbreaking,” “important,” and “breath-taking.” It was published as a young adult book, and was chosen a premier selection by the Junior Literary Guild, but Booklist (“…Nelson’s stirring poems…”) recommended it as a crossover title to adults.


Our last salon of the year, featuring Matthea Harvey, will take place on Saturday, November 8, from 4:00 – 6:00. Matthea teaches poetry at Sarah Lawrence College and is the wickedly witty, deadly serious author of several books, including Modern Life, a finalist for the 2008 National Book Critics Circle Award.

I will be traveling a great deal in October and November. Most of my readings appear as “Events” at the end of my own Soul Mountain page. In addition to those already listed, I’ll be reading for the Norwich, CT Arts Council (with folk-singer Sallie Rogers) on November 9th and at the Mystic, CT Arts Café (with jazz duo Kent Hewitt and Tim Moran) at 7:30 on November 21st.

From June until October I was occupied with reading the almost 200 books nominated by their publishers for the National Book Award for Poetry. The five finalists will be announced on October 15, and the award presented at the November 19 gala, for which I just might have to buy a fancy new dress! With sequins!

I hope you’re greeting this fall with energy, courage, and creative enthusiasm. Like you, I’m holding hope in the possibility that good things are coming, and telling myself that “yes, we can!”

Warm best wishes, in peace –

Soul Mountain Retreat to Host Poetry Salons

For Immediate Release
Contact: Rhonda Ward

(East Haddam, CT. . . August 15, 2008) Gertrude Stein hosted salons for artists in her Paris home. Dorothy Parker and her literary friends met daily at the Algonquin Hotel in New York City. A salon is an opportunity to share conversation, ideas, community—and poetry.

Beginning in September, Soul Mountain Retreat, the writers’ retreat in East Haddam, Connecticut, founded in 2004 by former Connecticut poet laureate Marilyn Nelson, will host the first in a series of three salons featuring poets from across the United States reading and discussing their work.

Soul Mountain provides contemplative writing time for emerging and established poets, especially those from underrepresented cultural and racial backgrounds. To date, it has welcomed dozens of writers for residencies as brief as a weekend or as long as four weeks. Alumni include Sherwin Bitsui, Curtis Crisler, Kwame Dawes, Allison Hedge-Coke, Tyehimba Jess, Sandra Lim, and Amy Uematsu.

Soul Mountain is also Nelson’s home, an intimate setting nestled in six acres of woods and meadows. Nelson will be present at each salon. Light snacks and beverages will be available. Attendees will receive a book by the featured poet or poets.

Soul Mountain Retreat is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization, supported by the generosity of its friends. Each salon will be a fund-raiser, with proceeds used to continue the work of the retreat. Admission to each is $45 and tax-deductible. Reduced admission for students with valid ID. Space is limited: reservations are recommended. Call 860-434-0587.


Friday, September 12, 7:30–9:30 p.m.: Harryette Mullen

Mullen is an award-winning African-American experimental poet (and a Soul Mountain alum). She has taught at Cornell University and currently teaches at UCLA.

Mullen has received a Gertrude Stein Award for innovative poetry, a Katherine Newman Award for best essay on U.S. ethnic literature, a grant from the Foundation for Contemporary Arts, and a fellowship from the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation.

Her many books include Sleeping with the Dictionary, a finalist for the National Book Award, National Book Critics Circle Award, and Los Angeles Times Book Prize.

Friday, October 17, 7:30–9:30 p.m.: Four Arab-American Poets

Kazim Ali teaches at Oberlin College and at the University of Southern Maine. He is the author of two books of poetry and a novel.

Alise Alousi is an Iraqi-American poet whose work has appeared in several journals.

Hayan Charara teaches at LaGuardia Community College in New York City. His books reflect his strong family relationships and unflinching view of his world.

Deema Shehabi is a Palestinian-American whose poetry has appeared in anthologies and literary journals. She lives in the San Francisco Bay area.

Saturday, November 8, 4:00–6:00 p.m.: Matthea Harvey

Harvey teaches poetry at Sarah Lawrence and lives in Brooklyn. She is the wickedly witty, deadly serious author of several books including Modern Life, a finalist for the 2008 National Book Critics Circle Award. For more information about Soul Mountain Retreat, visit the website:

Soul Mountain Retreat Hosts First Local Fundraiser

(East Haddam, CT. . . . May 3, 2008) Poet Marilyn Nelson and the Board of Directors of Soul Mountain Retreat (SMR) hosted a fundraiser featuring jazz and poetry at the Retreat in East Haddam, CT on Saturday, May 3, 2008. Proceeds from the event will support the Soul Mountain residency program for multicultural poets.

In addition to a reading from Nelson, poet laureate of the State of Connecticut from 2001-2007, guest poets Doug Anderson, Bessy Reyna, Patricia Smith and Orlando White also read. The featured poet, Patricia Smith, is a four-time national champion of the wildly popular National Poetry Slam and the author of several prize-winning books, the latest of which, Teahouse of the Almighty (Coffee House Press), was a National Poetry Series winner and won the 2007 Hurston/Wright Legacy Award and the Paterson Poetry Prize.

Music was provided by Kent Hewitt on keyboard and Tim Moran on flute and sax.
Since its founding by Nelson in 2004, SMR has hosted more than 50 guest writers, and established ongoing relationships with the Cave Canem Foundation (a program which mentors emerging African American poets), Kundiman (a program which mentors Asian American writers), the African-American Continuum Theater Company, the University of Connecticut, Sarah Lawrence College, the University of Wisconsin at Madison, and New York University.

SMR also partners with the Florence Griswold Museum in Old Lyme and other regional venues to provide platforms from which its writers present public readings of their work. A 2007 exhibit at the Museum, The Freedom Business, featured poems Nelson wrote expressly for the exhibit, imagining how Venture Smith, a former slave who purchased his freedom and that of his wife and children, might have responded to landscapes from the Museum’s collection.

Soul Mountain Retreat was established in 2004 with multi-year funding from the University of Connecticut. Saturday’s event marks the beginning of Soul Mountain Retreat’s fundraising program.