A two-for-one Aspen Words residency

Andrew Travers
The Aspen Times
Nancy Reisman
Courtesy photo |

If You Go …

What: Nancy Reisman and Rick Hilles reading, presented by Aspen Words

Where: Woody Creek Community Center

When: Wednesday, July 22, 6 p.m.

How much: Free

More info: A limited number of free copies of Reisman’s and Hilles’ books will be available at the event;

Husband and wife Nancy Reisman and Rick Hilles — she a novelist, he a poet — have been working in Woody Creek over the past month as the latest Aspen Words writers-in-residence.

Typically the residency at the Catto family ranch offers solitude to a single writer. For Reisman and Hilles, it’s provided that as well as a sort of workshop of two — she sharing a new sentence, he reading a freshly finished poem over dinner.

The couple, both of them writing teachers at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, have done a handful of joint residencies over the years and have fine-tuned the art of creating a space of both solitude and creative support.

“We’ve developed little codes for not shattering someone’s relationship to the writing and the interiority of it,” Hilles explained over tea recently at the Woody Creek Community Center, where the couple will read today.

Reisman, for instance, will wear a ball cap as a “do not disturb” signal during writing hours.

“It’s a polite way to say ‘Not now,’” Reisman said.

Reisman published her second novel, “Trompe L’Oeil,” in May. The book, about a family holiday in Rome that turns tragic, has received some rapturous reviews this summer. Previously, she is the author of the novel “The First Desire” and the short story collection “House Fires.”

Coming off the release of her novel, Reisman has used the residency to work on short stories for a new collection and some flash fiction pieces.

“It’s nice to be back into work that doesn’t have the long, long, long horizon that a novel does,” she said.

Hilles is the prize-winning author, most recently, of the collections “Brother Salvage” and “A Map of the Lost World.”

He is nearing the completion of a new collection during the residency.

Reisman expects to read from “Trompe L’Oeil” at the event celebrating the culmination of the residency, while Hilles plans to read from his collections and perhaps a poem he finished here.

“I would be sad to read things that were so new that maybe they hadn’t been fleshed out,” he said. “I feel like this audience deserves the very best. But there are a few things that I’m rooting for to be ready that are close.”

During their month here, Reisman and Hilles have fallen into a routine of writing in the mornings, afternoons and evenings with breaks to hike or explore Woody Creek and Aspen, and for meals prepared with vegetables from the garden on the ranch. (They’ve made trips to Explore Booksesllers and into the trove of used books at the Aspen Thrift Store, where Hilles stumbled upon some signed poetry collections).

The idyllic setting on the ranch, surrounded by wildlife and the rushing sound of the Woody Creek itself during this rainy summer, has made for an ideal creative sojourn.

“We write to it, we wake to it, we fall asleep to it,” Hilles said of the creek. “Already it seems like you have your hand in another element. It’s quite powerful and empowering.”

Writing in the mountains, away from the rigors of academia and the demands of home life, has allowed for a productive month.

“It pushes you to perceive things keenly,” Reisman said. “It makes you stop and explore those moments and the worlds that you operate in on auto-pilot.”

While during the school year, both Reisman and Hilles make their students (and their students’ work) their priority, the summers allow them time to focus on their own.

“I feel like summers are an incredible time to even ask first questions about what you feel is important to write about as a poet,” Hilles said. “And you answer those questions differently with probably every poem. But it’s been fun to think about differently in this space.”