River Residencies

River Residencies honor the Mississippi River, a magnificent body of water that has inspired authors, musicians, artists, historians, and playwrights for over a century yet today is challenged by pollution and containment. River Residencies provide sustained quality work time in contact with the Mississippi; time in which one can experience and study the river using it as a catalyst to create art that contributes to our awareness of the river, its needs and its gifts to all life. Funded by the Louisiana Division of the Arts and the Tulane/Xavier Center for Bioenvironmental Research with a grant from the Aron Foundation Charitable Trust.

Aurora Levins Morales, writer and historian, Berkely, CA, 2005

“When I saw the description of the River Residency in an online newsletter (Funds for Writers) I knew right away I wanted to go. The Mississippi River has haunted me my whole life, although until this spring I had only seen its upper reaches in Minnesota. I knew that a residency at A Studio in the Woods would allow me to do an important piece of work blending my sense of history and ecology, and the Caribbean and North American worlds between which I move; that it would be an integrating experience. What I didn’t know was how it would fill my dreams.

“My central image was about silt, the residues of rock and leaf and bone, but also of cultures and histories. So my first day at the Studio, when Joe Carmichael took me for a walk along the levee, I filled jars with river mud and water to set on my desk. It became my daily habit to go and sit there in the afternoons, to think, and watch the muddy water, the immense freighters and spiffy little tugboats, ducks and geese and egrets, all traveling up and down the watercourse. The late mornings and evenings I spent in the studio, where the owls became accustomed to my presence, and graced the trees outside the windows, barking and hooting. Moths brushed the glass, torrential rain made my tropical heart sing, and over the course of a month, I watch the half-bare branches erupt into full leaf. After a while my over-stimulated city-dwelling brain settled down into the green peace. I sat at the end of the dock, looking into the glassy reflection of a world of leaves, empty and ready.

“As a poet, I am always sampling the world for the raw ingredients of metaphor. I went on collecting trips: into the French Quarter to run my fingers across old walls, watch people, and listen to jazz leaking out of every opening; into the swamp, with environmental curator Dave Baker who loves the wetlands and forests with intimate knowledge and fury at their reckless destruction, and who introduced me to water locusts, ibis, resurrection fern, and a graceful multitude of snakes; down to the Gulf with CBR staffer Dan Etheridge and visiting scientist Orrin Pilkey to see for myself the ragged, drowned edges of the marshes; across the river to a day-long Latin American environmental film festival at Tulane one day, and to watch MardiGras Indians with anthropologist Helen Regis on another. There was good food and conversation and information galore.

“But the shining heart of the residency was silence and solitude; the opportunity to wrestle with visions and fasten them to the page, to face myself, reflected in a window opening into wildness. This is the astonishing gift Lucianne and Joe Carmichael, and now Tulane University, have made available to a fortunate community of guests. For me, the time at the Studio was a turning point in a lifetime of writing. In the midst of struggling with the perpetual self-doubts and uneven leaps forward of every artist’s life, I came to a place of clear certainty about the power and trustworthiness of what I do. I had a writer’s birthday. The green, shaded, owl-crossed pond, and the long, wide, sunlit elevation of the levee, have become touchstone images for a kind of inner balance I found there. The river that haunted my imagination now flows across my desk, leaving rich deposits of poetry I know I will work for years.”

Aurora Levins Morales is a poet and historian. Born and raised in rural Puerto Rico, the daughter of a prominent ecologist father and an intellectual and artist mother, she was well supplied with books, paint and microscopes. As a child of activists, she has always worked from a sense of deep social passions, as a poet, essayist and historian. Her first book, Getting Home Alive, written with her mother, Rosario Morales, is considered a landmark in US Puerto Rican literature. Remedios, published in 1998, is revisioning of the history of the Atlantic world through the lives of Puerto Rican women and their kin. She also has a collection of essays, Medicine Stories, about history and activism. Whether she is writing poetry about deforestation, marriage or her Jewish and Puerto Rican ancestry, conducting community oral history projects, researching Caribbean land use and migration, speaking on Latina women’s health, or the role of Jews in building Middle East peace, all of her work is about the power of story to transform how we think about ourselves and each other. While at the Studio, she has been working on Silt, a prose poem cycle tracing the connections between the ecology, history and cultures of the River and the Caribbean Islands. She lives in Berkeley, California with her daughter. She can be reached at aurora@historica.us

Pat Warner, sculptor, Los Angeles, CA, 2004

“It was exciting being the first River Resident at A Studio in the Woods. The residency enabled me to initiate a new phase of my long-term study of water and how humanity uses and abuses it. My indoor sculptural environments have been concerned with water issues in areas where water is scarce. Spending a month along the Mississippi gave me uninterrupted time to think about water issues in an area where water is abundant, and often an inundating force. Before arriving at ASITW I read about past and present problems facing the Mississippi River Delta and studied maps of the Delta. My first actual observations of the river were from the air when flying into New Orleans; I could see the meanders of the river, natural and artificial cutoffs, control structures, and I could even identify the old French ‘arpent’ method of dividing land. After picking up my rental car at the airport, crossing the river to the west bank and proceeding down river toward ASITW, I could see the tops of ships only a few hundred yards away. When I walked up onto the levee, I was amazed to see how close I was going to be to the River for a whole month. Most mornings I walked some distance on the levee observing the contrast between the beautiful, peaceful, quiet woods on one side, and the noisy, busy river on the other. My quiet time spent at ASITW, research trips around the delta, and meeting fishermen, writers and scientists, provided me with ideas and images which I am sure will appear in future work.”


Pat Warner has traveled extensively throughout the world observing the natural environment and indigenous cultures. She has participated in exhibitions, residencies and symposia in the U.S., Korea, and Lithuania. She is currently designing the art for a transit stop as a Station Artist for the Los Angeles Metropolitan Transit Authority. Her work has been featured in World Sculpture News (Hong Kong), Sculpture Magazine (Washington, D.C), and regional publications. To see and read more about Warner and her work, visit her website.