I am writing this on
Atsokan Island (a name that means  storyteller) in Rainy Lake in early September. I have come here with eleven other writers to write, critique, eat, swim, canoe, take saunas, and just plain be in a beautiful spot. Some combination of us has been gathering on this lake for a week each summer for twenty years or so.

Some years I come with plans to put words on paper. Some years I am the person who claims I am writing while I sway in a hammock or paddle around the island. And in a way, I am writing, even though I might have nothing tangible to read at any of our evening critique sessions.

For years on the island where we’ve gone in previous summers, the composting
toilets required turning at the end of our week, a noxious job that often
involved the application of Ben gay under our noses and a plunge in the lake
afterwards. We lined up by the steps to the hatch on the hillside underneath
the outhouse to take turns shoveling, and time after time the next person in
line would snatch away the shovel from the person doing the turning, insisting,
“You’ve done enough now. It’s my turn.”

For most of the year I write only in the company of my cats. But I come to the
island because the care and feeding of a writer (at least this writer) also requires
time to rest, relax, dream, do nothing for a while but let the clouds drift
past and listen to the ducks peep and call. And to be with people I love and
who love me. And who don’t let anyone shovel more than her share of shit.

Phyllis Root is the author of over forty books, almost all of them picture books, both fiction and non-fiction. Her middle grade novel, Lilly and the Pirates, is currently under contract. Aunt Nancy and Old Man Trouble won the Minnesota Book Award, and Big Momma Makes the World won the Boston Globe Horn Book Award. Root was awarded a 2006 McKnight Fellowship for her book, Lucia and the Light

View full faculty profile.