By Kathleen Driskell, MFA Chair at Spalding University’s School of Creative and Professional Writing
Great things continue to happen for graduate students in the School of Creative and Professional Writing, home of the nationally distinguished Spalding low-residency MFA program. One thing I enjoy most about teaching is working with our MFA team to shape a meaningful, rigorous, and cohesive curriculum for residencies. And I think this upcoming spring MFA residency is going to be especially rich and helpful for our writing community.
Spalding MFA students have exceptional opportunities to work across genres. Students can benefit from opting to take a workshop or independent study course, or both, outside their main area of concentration without having to add an extra semester. But even those steadfast in their loyalty to one genre can improve their style and craft by looking through the lens of the featured genre during brief but valuable residency forays. I speak from experience. Previous explorations in creative nonfiction have helped me, who primarily identifies as a poet, to see my way through my new book project in lyric essay, so I’m particularly excited that our Spring 2019 featured genre is creative nonfiction. We’re programming thought-provoking residency sessions for students and faculty.
Our distinguished visiting writer, Terese Marie Mailhot, arrives on Thursday of residency to talk about her ground-breaking New York Times bestselling memoir Heart Berries. While she’s here, she’ll also pick up her award, the first Spalding Prize for Peace and Justice in Literature, which comes with a $7,500 check from the School of Creative and Professional Writing at Spalding.
Before Mailhot comes, we’ll celebrate the tenth anniversary of the publication of A Pearl in the Storm: How I Found My Heart in the Middle of the Ocean with a reading by Spalding President Tori Murden McClure. Most of you know that President McClure is an alum of our MFA program, and her Christopher Award-winning memoir A Pearl in the Storm, based on her solo row across the Atlantic Ocean, was developed and presented as her Spalding MFA creative thesis. MFA students who took part in the Musical Theater workshop at a recent residency may want to ask her about having her memoir adapted to a musical called Row.
Graham Shelby, an accomplished alum who works during the day as Louisville Mayor Greg Fisher’s speechwriter, will share his multi-media piece The Man on TV, based on Graham’s memoir, also his creative nonfiction thesis while in our MFA program, demonstrating how initial iterations of our work can continue to blossom and re-enter the world transformed.
Fiction faculty member Silas House served as executive producer to the documentary Hillbilly, and in another nod to creative nonfiction, we’re very pleased to screen Hillbilly for students and faculty during spring residency. All screenwriting students are required to read the treatment posted on the portal under “Preparing for the Spring Residency,” but I encourage other MFA students to read the treatment, particularly if you’d like a peek into the world of documentary making. Silas is available for a talk-back just after the screening so save your questions.
I’ve written most of my recent lyric project in my head while walking in a park near my home, and I’ve been looking for a way to help our students enter that practice. This residency’s focus in creative nonfiction presents an opportunity to take our group for a walking-writing exercise at Louisville’s historic Cave Hill Cemetery, one of my favorite places. (Does that surprise any of you?) In the tradition of the ancient Greek peripatetics, the modern Woolf, and contemporary Solnit, we’ll mosey, sit, and think about writing. Bring your galoshes and umbrellas just in case we find ourselves walking in the rain.
Muhammad Ali’s younger brother Rahman Ali with wife, Caroline
A bus will be waiting at the cemetery gates to ferry those wishing to return to the Brown Hotel afterwards, but buses will also drop students who want to explore a little more and have dinner in either the Highlands or NuLu, two of the best restaurant districts in Louisville. After dinner out, students can rideshare or taxi back to the hotel.
The next night, weather permitting, we’ll all amble south on Fourth Street to Central Park to see Shakespeare’s comedy As You Like It, a production of our renowned Shakespeare in the Park program. The park is about a 20-minute walk from campus. The Spalding van will shuttle those folks with mobility issues who reserved a seat through the Residency Questionnaire.
Before the show, MFAers can eat dinner at the College Street Cafeteria or nearby restaurant. If you’d like to have dinner at the Park, food trucks open at 6:30 p.m., and the bar opens at 7. The pre-show program begins at 7:30, with the performance at 8. It will be a long night, but we can muse on the performance as we walk back to the hotel together.
And there’s so much more to look forward to during this spring residency. Students will as always receive deep discussion within their own areas of concentration—fiction, poetry, creative nonfiction, writing for children and young adults, playwriting, and screenwriting–through terrific workshops and Lead Lectures with Generative Follow-ups, providing instruction in point of view, structure, or the sonnet. I’m eager to present my plenary “Seminar on the Sentence,” a two-part lecture and practice series that asks students to revise sentences straight from their worksheets. This residency features a new morning symposium of lectures presented by graduating students, as well as profession of writing lectures on gaming narrative, writing for businesses, and taking private writing students. Near the end of the week, we’ll present one of our most joyous homecoming events, our omnibus reading, the Celebration of Recently Published Books by Alumni. That and readings from our newest graduates will be an inspirational coda for what is sure to be a memorable and valuable residency.
Award-winning poet and teacher Kathleen Driskell is the MFA Chair and Professor of Creative Writing at Spalding University’s School of Creative and Professional Writing, Home of the Low-residency Master of Fine Arts in Writing Program. Her newest poetry collection Blue Etiquette is available from Red Hen Press. Next Door to the Dead, winner of the 2018 Judy Gaines Young Book Award is available from UPKY. Follow her @kathdriskell or visit her blog at kathleendriskell.blogspot.com.