• Summer Wood
  • “Be audacious, be fierce, dream big—” The $50,000 Gift of Freedom from A Room of Her Own Foundation
“Be audacious, be fierce, dream big—” The $50,000 Gift of Freedom from A Room of Her Own Foundation
Written by
Summer Wood
April 2012
Written by
Summer Wood
April 2012

About five years ago I was visiting Portland, Oregon, when my cell phone rang. I was getting ready to attend my son’s college graduation, and almost didn’t answer. I’m glad I did.

On the other end of the line was Mary Johnson, calling to tell me I’d been selected to receive the 4th Gift of Freedom, a $50,000 award from A Room of Her Own Foundation. 

Imagine my surprise! I’d spent a lot of care and effort on the application, but I knew the odds of my winning the prize were slim. Nearly 800 women had submitted their work for consideration. I almost hadn’t applied. But the process of drafting answers to tough questions about my work and my commitment had been challenging, exhausting--and ultimately exhilarating. I had carried my packet to the post office and sent it off on the last day, following through on a promise I’d made to myself.

I’m tremendously grateful to the women at A Room of Her Own Foundation for this incredible gift, and I was thrilled to hear that they’ve begun to accept applications for the 6th Gift of Freedom. I asked Tracey Cravens-Gras, Associate Director of AROHO, to share some information with She Writes.

I’ll follow this post with another: tips to improve your odds when applying for grants and fellowships. The most important suggestion? Get started. Learn more about what’s out there, and make a pact with yourself to keep pursuing your dreams.

Summer: How did AROHO get started?

Tracey: Your question prompts a question in return:  If you could remove fear, what would you do differently?

In 1977, Mary Johnson removed fear when she joined Mother Teresa’s Missionaries of Charity. Twenty years later she left the world ruled by Mother Teresa, and three years after that she asked for something she never expected she would have:  a room of her own in which to write her story.

At Ghost Ranch in New Mexico, Mary threw off her fear and asked for what she wanted in the presence of women—most of them strangers to her. Darlene Chandler Bassett was one of those strangers in the room. Mary’s fearlessness was contagious, and Darlene caught the bug. AROHO was her response.

A gift of freedom—a room, and the financial support to write—began as a moral contract between the two of them in that moment. Now AROHO is sponsoring the 6th $50,000 Gift of Freedom, and hundreds of women have gathered at AROHO Retreats in the same place where Mary challenged herself, the universe, and Darlene.

Summer: Amazing. That was in 2000, right? Twelve years later, what is the organization's chief mission? 

Tracey: AROHO’s mission is to remove the obstacles that often prevent creative women from doing what Mary and Darlene were able to do:  connect, challenge and champion themselves and each other.  Mary, Darlene, and all the women who have been touched by A Room of Her Own know without a doubt that when creative women are engaged and empowered there is exponential change. 

Summer: Tell us about the Gift of Freedom. How does a writer apply for it?

Tracey: The $50,000 Gift of Freedom award is the largest of its kind for women writers. Inspired by Virginia Woolf’s tenet that a woman must have money and a room of her own in order to write, the Gift of Freedom commissions a creative project by a promising woman writer/artist ready to restructure her life in order to complete her work within the two year period of the grant. 

We’re all familiar with the age-old demands on women’s time and creative space.  $50,000 is financial security to clear a calendar burdened with obligations.  $50,000 is validation for a writer’s belief in her work and the worth of her creative project.  $50,000 is a gift of confidence and camaraderie from a larger community.

Women who are interested in applying should visit AROHO’s website, read Straight Talk About Grants and Recommended Reading, gain an understanding of the ways the grant is unique, and download the application. But most important, women should begin to consider what may be preventing them from fully committing to their writing. Which specific obstacles routinely get in the way? Evaluate the importance of your work to yourself and the world, clear some time in your calendar, and sharpen your pencils.

Applying for the Gift of Freedom is, as Meredith Hall refers to it, an audacious act.  Be audacious.  Be fierce. Dream big.


Five years later, the fruit of that marvelous gift, the 4th Gift of Freedom, is out in the world. SUMMER WOOD's second novel, Wrecker, is making the rounds both here and in the UK. This September, Bloomsbury will release it in paperback as Raising Wrecker. Find out more at www.summerwoodwrites.com.

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  • Summer Wood

    Cheers to you, too, Tania -- your poetry/film project is major inspiration to me! (And one of these days I PROMISE to learn how to say your last name properly -- ;-). Andi, please do come say hi in July, I look forward to it. Nissi, thanks for writing. I love the idea of the AROHO story going out to everyone at She Writes; both are such amazing resources for women writers. The sense of good-spiritedness, cooperation, and challenge to do your best work that both organizations possess is much needed these days, I think.

  • Summer, this is beautiful.  I love your advice - get started.  That's what I did when I attended the Taos Writers' Conference and I met you.  Your enthusiasm and all-around cheerfulness was just the shot in the arm I needed....I'll be back at Taos in July and hope to see you there and offer my congratulations in person.

  • Tania Pryputniewicz

    I love the colossal nature of the reach AROHO encourages just with the application for this award. I downloaded it several years ago and just the energy coming off the questions seemed at the time to require a Pandoras box of its own...so I tucked it away. Thank goodness AROHO also gave me a path to consider the process of applying...with such a lovely summer writing retreat (summer 2011) where I found exactly what Tracey described--the experience of connecting with, challenging, and championing women writers of like mind. Maybe one of these times I'll have the nerve to apply. You've set the bar high, Summer, I'm still in love with Wrecker. Cheers to you both.

  • Nissi Mutale

    This is amazing! Such an encouraging post.