By Karen Mann
Spalding MFA Administrative Director
In 1997, Sena Jeter Naslund asked me to co-direct a low-residency MFA in Writing program. We approached Spalding University with the idea, and we all know how that turned out—570 alumni later!
For years, Sena had taught in several graduate programs, not to mention another low-residency program, and she had ideas for innovative ways to design a program, ways that would improve upon and be better than other programs. From the outset, she planned for our program to be intellectually stimulating and emotionally supportive.
Even after 14 years of directing this program, we are constantly evolving. In addition to Sena’s groundbreaking ideas that have been a part of the program from the beginning, many of our innovations have grown out of students’ and faculty and staff members’ suggestions. Among the many features that make us unique:
Cross-genre exploration, allowing students to learn from other modes of writing while focusing on their own area, even taking a residency or independent study outside their major area
A rotating series of international residencies, giving writers a wealth of opportunities to deepen their understanding of different cultures
An emphasis on the interrelatedness of all the arts: writing, visual art, music, dance, theater, etc.
An extended summer semester, allowing busy students to choose the semester length that fits their schedule
The most active alumni association in the country
Often our best brainstorming sessions happen at the faculty meeting at the end of a residency. For example, at the end of last fall’s residency, we hatched the idea of offering more generative workshops, which led to faculty developing a focus and description for their spring workshops. Students then filled out a preference form before they were assigned to a workshop at the spring residency.
From every new idea we learn even newer and better ways to present our intellectually stimulating and emotionally supportive program to our students, students for which the passion to write is central to their lives.
I’d love to hear from you about which innovations helped you. Leave a comment below in response to one or more of these questions: Which feature of the program meant the most to you? What about the program changed the way you think about writing? What most surprised you about the program?
Karen Mann is the co-founder and Administrative Director of the Spalding low-residency MFA in Writing at Spalding University. She has published two novels: The Saved Man (Page Turners Publishing, 2014) and The Woman of La Mancha (Fleur-de-Lis Press, 2014).