by Kathleen Driskell, Chair, School of Creative and Professional Writing, Spalding University
I bet, like me, you have people in your life who manage to make their birthdays stretch out an entire week or more. Taking inspiration from those folks, the MFA in Writing program at Spalding’s School of Creative and Professional Writing plans to celebrate the twentieth anniversary of our founding for at least a year! Since 2001, we’ve graduated over 700 writers who have gone on to teach, work in literary arts organizations and publishing houses, become activists for the arts, and publish or produce meaningful titles that if stacked on top of each other would be higher than my roofline! But what’s even more special is that we’ve created a strong, supportive community of writers who continue to read each other’s work, cheer each other on, and draw strength and inspiration from each other. If you’d like to know more about the founding of our program, visit my earlier blog post.
Fiction is Our Spring 2021 Residency Cross-Genre Area
We’ll begin our celebration this spring by reading founding director Sena Jeter Naslund’s best-selling Ahab’s Wife, the smashing novel that in many ways launched the MFA Program at Spalding in 2001. After discussing Ahab’s Wife, our residency book in common in our featured area of fiction, we’ll welcome Sena to the virtual residency to hear her read and talk about her work. The reading is open to the public.
Our cross-genre work will continue with a conversation by renowned flash fiction writers Kathy Fish and K.B. Carle, an alum of our Spalding MFA program. Both are recognized as expert teachers of flash fiction, and they’ll talk to our community about what craft conventions make for the best flash. We’ll all undertake writing a piece of flash fiction as our cross-genre exercise for Spring 2021. And as we usually do when we focus on our cross-genre area, we’ll share those assignments with each other on the last day of residency.
I’ll present a craft plenary focusing two remarkable pieces of fiction: Octavia Butler’s short story “Speech Sounds” and Alice Munro’s novella “Love of a Good Woman.” Our discussion will be centered on both writers’ execution of fictive technique and how those techniques can be translated to all of the areas of creative writing that we study. Students should read both pieces carefully before attending my plenary.
Writing and Activism: “Promise, Witness, Remembrance.”
As we celebrate our twentieth anniversary, we also need to acknowledge that in March last year, Breonna Taylor was brutally killed in her home by Louisville police. In late May 2020, as our virtual spring residency was underway, the people of Louisville took to the streets protesting the unjust death of our fellow citizen. As we sat in front of our computers attending virtual sessions, our School of Writing students and faculty could hear protesters in the streets through the windows of those of us in Louisville.
To honor the life of Breonna Taylor, and as our interrelatedness of the arts event this spring residency, the School of Writing community will virtually attend “Promise, Witness, Remembrance,” an exhibit at Louisville’s Speed Art Museum that will “reflect on the life of Breonna Taylor, her killing in 2020, and the year of protests that followed, in Louisville and around the world.” This exhibit features Amy Sherald’s portrait of Breonna Taylor, which appeared on the September 2020 cover of Vanity Fair. Recently, the New York Times published a piece on the Speed exhibit that features an interview with curator Allison Glenn. I found it an interesting read and imagine you may too.
We’ll also use one of our evening open readings to focus on our support for “Promise,
Witness, Remembrance.” We encourage students and faculty to sign up to present a 5-minute reading to present writing to honor the life of Breonna Taylor and the many other victims of racist violence. If students and faculty are able, during our reading we will ask for donations to Cave Canem, a revered literary arts organization that is “committed to cultivating the artistic and professional growth of Black poets,” and in which a number of our alums and faculty have participated and are active.
The Teaching of Creative Writing
As you know, the MFA credentials our graduates to teach at the post-secondary level, and while not all Spalding graduate writing students are interested in teaching at a college or university, it’s likely each of you will be presented with the opportunity to teach creative writing in some venue, perhaps in a community workshop or as a visiting writer to K-12, and so we feel especially that we must do all we can to prepare our students to become thoughtful workshop leaders.
We’re pleased that we have a number of students enrolled in the Teaching Seminar, a residency workshop that will be taught by our faculty member Douglas Manuel. Our entire community will be provided the opportunity to think in new ways about the teaching of writing when Felicia Rose Chavez, friend of the School of Writing, presents a plenary talk inspired by her ground-breaking book The Anti-Racist Writing Workshop: How to Decolonize the Creative Classroom. Before attending, students are asked to read Felicia’s contribution to our debut issue of Good River Review to prepare for this lecture.
To round off a trio of opportunities to learn more about teaching, Lynnell Edwards will present a lecture providing instruction for those who may find themselves teaching compositional writing in the academy.
New and Guest faculty Joining the School of Writing This Spring
Look for a forthcoming press release that announces a number of new, guest, and visiting faculty joining the school for spring 2021 workshops and as mentors for the spring and summer independent study course.
But in the meantime, in addition to Felicia Rose Chavez, I’m delighted to share that esteemed playwright and screenwriter Kia Corthron will visit spring residency to talk
about her life in letters. A suggested reading list to help students prepare for Corthron’s visit will be posted soon on the Preparing for Spring Residency portal page.
Our faculty books and scripts in common include Fiction: K.L. Cook, Marrying Kind (the best place to purchase the book is directly through the publisher); Poetry: Kathleen Driskell, Next Door to the Dead; Creative Nonfiction: Fenton Johnson, At the Center of All Beauty: Solitude and the Creative Life; Writing for Children/YA: Silas House and Neela Vaswani, Same Sun Here; Playwriting: Larry Brenner, Saving Throw Versus Love, and Professional Writing: Storycraft: The Complete Guide to Writing Narrative Nonfiction by Jack Hart.
In addition, we’re especially delighted to welcome back former faculty member Sheila Callaghan to discuss one of her latest scripts with our screenwriting students. Sheila, as many of you know, has been a TV writer for many shows, including Shameless and The United States of Tara, and is also a wonderful playwright, with over two dozen plays to her name.
Our professional enrichment sessions will include a pair of lectures on narrative gaming. Our faculty members Keith S. Wilson and Charles Maynard, experts on tabletop and narrative gaming, will share their creative experiences with students at spring residency. This is an introduction to what we hope will be a full semester of instruction for writers on gaming; let us know if you may be interested in a future residency workshop that explores gaming narrative followed by an optional independent study with a related focus.
As we’re convening virtually again, the Spalding administration has agreed to continue offering a $300 discount off the residency tuition. That $300 normally goes toward community meals and attendance of arts events, which unfortunately we won’t be sharing in person this May, but I am convinced we will share in November.
Students, be sure to check the Preparing for Spring 2021 Residency page in the School of Writing portal to keep up with your pre-assignments, including information on virtual pre-residency sessions students are required to attend May 2 and May 16, as well as my request for you create a list of titles that make up your personal canon, which we’ll discuss on our first night of residency.
Kathleen Driskell is chair of the School of Creative and Professional Writing at Spalding University in Louisville, Kentucky and the editor in chief of Good River Review. She’s the author of four collections of poetry including Blue Etiquette, a finalist for the Weatherford Award; Next Door to the Dead, winner of the 2018 Judy Gaines Young Book Award, eed Across Snow, a Poetry Foundation national bestseller. Her poems and essays have appeared in many magazines including Shenandoah, Southern Review, and Appalachian Review and have been featured in anthologies and online at Poetry Daily, Verse Daily, and American Life in Poetry. She is currently Chair of the Board of Directors of AWP.
*The cover image (featuring a photograph of artist Amy Sherald by Joseph Hyde) for this article was originally published in Vanity Fair.