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Her writing is pure Joy

East County teacher selected for three-week residency at Hermitage Artist Retreat.

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  • | 6:10 a.m. June 22, 2016
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When east Manatee County resident Joy Hawkins submitted her writing works two days before deadline, she never thought she would win a spot in the State Teacher Artist Residencies program.

“When I got the email, I wondered if there was another Joy Hawkins somewhere,” she said.

It was true, though. Hawkins, a reading teacher at Buffalo Creek Middle School, won a three-week residency at the Hermitage Artist Retreat on Manasota Key. The Hermitage, along with partner, Florida Alliance for Arts Education, selects a number of arts teachers throughout Florida who teach by day and are an artist themselves in their free time.

Hawkins is the first teacher in Manatee County to be selected. While there in July, she’ll get to spend three weeks as she wants to focus on her writing and interact with other artists.

Many people forget that arts teachers are often artists, too.

“Between the demands of the job throughout the year and other obligations, there’s not a lot of time for painters to paint and composers to compose,” said Bruce Rodgers, Hermitage executive director. “They might not be appreciated for their own abilities.”

Hawkins already is a published poet, having released a book called “Window to my Heart” in 1991. However, her creative writing has taken a backseat to her education career and her son, Jordan Sanders, who is now studying at the Berklee College of Music in Boston. While she’s always jotting down ideas and notes, she hasn’t had much time to pursue writing in the last 25 years.

“I’ve never had three weeks to myself in my life,” said Hawkins, who is 61. “It’s scary, I’ve never had that. I’m always busy, always thinking what should I be doing.”

She questions if she will be able to spend three weeks just focused on writing and nothing else, but she’s excited for the challenge. With her son out of the house and making his own way, Hawkins is ready to focus on herself again, and feels blessed with the opportunity.

“Who gets three weeks on a beach?” she said. “It’s just me, the computer, the beach and time.”

The Hermitage Artist Retreat offers 15 miles of isolated beaches for artists to wander and contemplate their projects. Photo courtesy of the Hermitage.
The Hermitage Artist Retreat offers 15 miles of isolated beaches for artists to wander and contemplate their projects. Photo courtesy of the Hermitage.

Another intimidating factor is the notion of spending time around people she doesn’t know. Other artists, writers and composers will also be at the retreat, and “we artists and writers, we tend to be a little different,” she said.

Hawkins already knows what she’ll be working on, her family legend. 

She’s a seventh-generation, direct descendent of Jenny Wiley, a famous pioneer woman who was captured by Shawnee indians in Virginia, brought back to the Shawnee camp in Kentucky, and later escaped. 

Her story has been passed down, and Hawkins remembers growing up hearing snippets of the brave woman’s life. She wants to compile her family stories into a coherent book about Wiley, who was her great, great, great, great, great grandmother.

“I always wanted to write,” Hawkins said. "My love of words and the powers they have — to heal, to encourage, to empower. I love playing with words.”


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