By Mitch Hurst
By Mitch Hurst
IN 1976, poet Alice Judson Hayes founded the Ragdale Foundation, a nonprofit artists’ community that provides a peaceful place for artists to work. The foundation was established on the grounds of the Ragdale estate in Lake Forest, built by Hayes’s grandfather and noted Chicago Architect Howard Van Doren Shaw in 1897.
Hayes passed away in 2006, but her legacy and influence lives on. Fifteen years ago, the foundation launched “Novel Affair,” an annual event that celebrates established and emerging artists and raises important funds to support the foundation’s work. This year’s event will take place on April 28 and 29 and feature 10 established and emerging writers, an accomplished poet, and a storied music photographer.
On Friday, April 28, a cocktail reception will be held at Shoreacres in Lake Bluff, during which guests will have the opportunity to mix with the artists, hear artists’ remarks, and ask questions. The Friday evening event will close with a book signing.
A sit-down dinner will take place at the Ragdale estate on Saturday, April 29. Artists will join guests for engaging and informative conversation, followed by a dessert reception.
One of the participating writers at the year’s Novel Affair will be Chicago-based novelist Julia Fine. Fine is the author of two well-received novels, What Should Be Wild and The Upstairs House. Her third novel, Maddalena and the Dark, will be published in June.
“My work has spanned a variety of different topics, but in general it is focused on women throughout history and untold stories,” Fine says. “There’s often a tinge of gothic and horror to it.”
Fine grew up in the Washington, DC area and moved to Chicago to attend Columbia College in Chicago. Now that she’s established herself with a third work of fiction on the way, we asked Fine if she could describe the influences that got her to this point.
She mentions a kindred spirit, Stephanie Delman, founder of Trellis Literary Management. Delman, a literary agent, was striking out on her own when they first met and the two hit it off.
Through Trellis, Fine has discovered not just an agent and friend but a community that defies the typical competitiveness and lack of peer support that can so often be found in the art world.
“I found that the literary community that I have become a part of is very supportive,” says Fine. “For a job that is a lot of time spent by yourself at your computer, years of working on a project and you don’t know if it will see the light of day, having that community support is so important.”
Fine got connected with the Ragdale community fairly recently. She had known about the foundation for a while, but with two young children the residency programs just weren’t a possibility. She says the residencies are the ideal situation for writers during which they have no responsibilities or commitments other than to focus on their craft.
“I’ve gotten to do a night there, but my goal is that once my kids are a little more self-sufficient, I would really like to be able to take advantage,” she says. “I do know many people who have done the full residency there and have gotten so much work done.”
Having a place where more seasoned writers who are further along in their careers can rub shoulders with writers who are just getting started is “magical,” Fine says. Kindred spirits who are all on separate missions but collectively trying to achieve the same thing.
“The hardest part I think is getting the project finished,” Fine observes. “Everybody is working on a project that feels impossible and so your relative success thus far doesn’t matter quite as much as what you’re doing in that moment, which is a really nice thing.”
Ragdale’s “Novel Affair” will take place on April 28 and 29. For more information and to purchase tickets, visit ragdale.org/novelaffair.