by Jen

If you’ve ever tried to create something – a poem, an essay, a game-changing strategy for your new startup – you know how challenging it is to carve out the time needed to think creatively. You might have tried to remove yourself from your usual environment – at least for a few minutes at a time – which helped you gain new perspective to fuel your ideas. For writers like Michael Pollan, Rebecca Solnit, and Natalie Goldberg, the Mesa Refuge writers retreat in Point Reyes Station, California fills this need on a larger scale.


This not-for-profit retreat was founded by author and entrepreneur Peter Barnes in 1997, after he retired as founder of Working Assets. The Mesa Refuge houses and feeds three writers at a time at a residence in beautiful West Marin County, north of San Francisco. Instead of charging the writers for room and board, residencies are supported by donations and grants. While applicants can submit all genres of fiction and nonfiction, the Mesa Refuge is particularly interested in supporting work that explores the environment, economics, and social justice. Notable alumni authors include Frances Moore Lappe, Terry Tempestt Williams, and Lewis Hyde.

My friend, Susan Page Tillett, first arrived there to work on her own book, and fell in love with the place. Then, Barnes convinced her to move from Chicago to the west coast to become their first Executive Director. “It is thrilling to see the impact of the work that goes on at the Mesa Refuge, one group of residents at a time,” Susan says.

The property is dotted with lush gardens and small cabins, or “writing sheds,” outfitted with cozy workspaces featuring sweeping views of the Giacomini Wetlands preserve on the San Andreas faultline. Many books, such as Pollan’s national bestseller The Omnivore’s Dilemma, were written here.


To honor one of their most influential alumni, the Michael Pollan Journalism Fellowship was established last year. Each year, one person doing outstanding work in the Pollan tradition will be invited to live and work at the Mesa Refuge.  Raj Patel was the 2015 Pollan Fellow, and Tillett adds that he provides “a global treatment of food-related stories, which will be widely accessible in the film he is making with Steve James.”

Through the Pollan Fellowship, as well as its residency and public programs, the Mesa Refuge continues to encourage authors seeking to make a difference or take a stand, providing them with the space and time needed to do their work. Visit their website to learn more, donate, or apply for a residency.


Jen Minarik

Jen is a Consultant at Compass(x) Strategy, a Chicago brand and marketing strategy firm that creates sustainable growth for passionate companies.Compass(x) Strategy is a Certified B Corporation committed to using business as a force for good. Jen likes running, historical fiction, and quoting obscure dialogue from The Simpsons. You can connect with her on Twitter
or LinkedIn.

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