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Summer Writing Resident: Kristen Zory King

Kristen Zory King is the fourth and final writer of the summer 2020 cohort to spend her week onsite participating in our local residency program at Northern Virginia's Woodlawn & Pope-Leighey House and Arcadia Center for Sustainable Food and Agriculture. Our summer writers-in-residence focus their weeks on-site exploring ways to rediscover and re-purpose place and place histories, and use writing as a means to build community, to bring awareness to critical social and environmental issues, and as a creative force of empowerment.

Read more about Kris's experience onsite below, including a poem she composed during her residency, "You Will Not Always Hear Cicada and Birdsong." You can find more information about Woodlawn and all of our summer residents here.


As ironic as it may seem, I often find that the most difficult part of creative practice is practice—that is, the habitual and consistent work required of creativity. As a writer, I am lost for words more frequently than I like to admit and when the words do come, there often seem to be endless additional barriers, from a lack of time to sit and write (along with the necessary back-work of thinking, reading, and woolgathering) to outside stressors that impact available resources, emotions, and inspiration. Add a day-job, side projects and hustles, personal relationships and even grocery lists, laundry, and other chores and I’ve got a good start on a long list of excuses for why I just simply can’t write today (this may be why I’ve had a novel growing stale in my brain, rather than the page, for the past two years).

In addition, the past few months have been exceptionally trying as I have attempted to balance my creative practice with the ever changing realities and revolutions of 2020. So it was with both relief and trepidation that I approached my week as a Writers in Residence with The Inner Loop at the Woodlawn Estate and Pope-Leighey House during the week of September 7-13. The relief was forefront—finally! Time for myself to sit and write surrounded by the beauty of late summer in Northern Virginia! In addition to a new notebook full of the promise of blank pages, I had project drafts at the ready, from minor edits to major rewrites, favorite prompts to brief sketches of new ideas. But it didn’t take long for the trepidation to arrive, laced with a healthy dose of anxiety and carrying a suitcase full of questions. What if the writer’s block I’ve been struggling with over the past few months continued to haunt me throughout the week? What if I wasn’t able to write anything at all, not one word on one page? Or worse, what if I was able to write, and everything I wrote was total and utter crap? (And, in my more esoteric, or perhaps neurotic, moments—what if I’m not a writer at all and the last few years of creative living have been some kind of glitch? What if one of Woodlawn’s rumored ghosts transcends space and time to suck all my ideas out of me and leave me a dry, bitter, talentless husk? What even is art?!)

Thankfully, it didn’t take long to realize that all my stress, all the hubristic fretting and premeditated attempts at creative self sabotage, was unnecessary. I arrived at the Woodlawn Estate on a warm and cloudless Monday and spent my morning on tours of each house and the afternoon wandering around the property, notebook in hand. From the start, inspiration was easy to come by—between the history of Woodlawn, the concise details of Frank Lloyd Wright’s Usonian vision, the stunning landscape and lush green of all 125 acres of Virginia soil. I found myself thinking through questions and considerations on the connections and crossroads between art and life, the functions of beauty, the tension between space and construct, the definition of home, and the many ways we, as humans, leave our markings behind.

Within a day I had eschewed my carefully planned schedule and list of projects, falling into a comfortable and natural rhythm of thinking, wandering, and writing. In addition to reviewing and revising some older projects, I started a number of projects during my time at the Woodlawn Estate, inspired by the scenery, the details, the history, and, most importantly, the gift of time. These projects include an essay about baseball and Tolstoy, a short story about an arts residency and the importance of family, and a collage poem inspired by Loren Pope and his desire for a Frank Lloyd Wright home. In addition, I kept a running list of all the questions that came up during my week on site. When stuck, I would write down the wonder of all the wonderful details around me—the way my body felt stretched in the sun, how the rain looked dripping from the elongated roof of the Pope-Leighey house, Jacob’s Ladder in the garden, a glimpse of a bunny tail disappearing into a line of trees—or, I would continue my list of questions, meditating on their answers.

One such question, inspired by the tours on my first day: “How do we leave our mark on the world?” In particular, I was struck by three details: an etching of the name “Mary Mason” on a pane of glass in the music room of Woodlawn Mansion, the signatures of two workers on a wall in Woodlawn, hidden for one hundred years behind wallpaper, and the corner windows and fireplace at the Pope-Leighey house—signature details of Frank Lloyd Wright. This made me think through other ways we leave traces of ourselves behind—planting perennials in the garden, noting a child’s growth on the kitchen wall, carving “I love Sally” into a tree or using spray paint to tell the world (or at least, those passing by) “I was here.” What is it that drives us to create these marks of mortality, leaving physical pieces of our being behind, whether in art or architecture or a small signature hidden behind centuries of paint. I’m still thinking most of it through, but these questions inspired the below draft: “You Will Not Always Hear Cicada and Birdsong.”

I am so grateful for my time as Writer in Residence and extend my thanks to both The Inner Loop and the staff, docents, and caretakers of the Woodlawn Estate and Pope-Leighey House. To learn more about the Writers in Residence program or read posts from the three other Summer 2020 residents, click here.

You Will Not Always Hear Cicada and Birdsong

They are impermanent,

like a paper cut or heartburn

or the dogwood with its blight.

So you etch your name

to a small pane of glass,

plant foxglove in the garden,

use a knife to carve love

into the tender flesh of birch

and say: I was here. Beg:

Remember. I, too, watched

light filter through the window,

hoped it would tell me something

I didn’t already know.

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