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The residency will be tweeted; and, meet the guest speakers at the Spring 2016 residency

By Katy Yocom

Spalding MFA Associate Administrative Director


For the first time in Spalding MFA history, residency will feature a live social media presence. For those who can’t attend the Louisville spring residency in person, our “virtual residency” provides an opportunity to take a sneak peek. Whether you’re a Spalding alum missing your writer friends or a prospective student wondering what it would be like to attend a Spalding residency, you’re invited to our “virtual” residency, where you’ll get an insider’s view on events plus writing tips and insights about the Spalding MFA program from students and faculty. Follow #SpaldingMFA on Twitter for live tweets from the residency (May 27-June 5), and be sure to like the Spalding Facebook page ( to see daily highlights of lectures, readings, and more.


The residency features a nigh-unto-overflowing slate of special events, as described in an earlier blog post. Our guest speakers include a few new faces and many familiar ones, as Spalding MFA alumni return to lead sessions on craft; discuss editing, publishing, and production; or present their work as authors of featured books. Read on to learn more about our guest speakers and their work.


Michael White, author of Travels in Vermeer, our Program Book in Common, received his PhD in English and Creative Writing from the University of Utah. His poetry collections are The Island, Palma Cathedral (winner of the Colorado Prize), Re-entry (winner of the Vassar Miller Prize), and Vermeer in Hell (winner of the Lexi Rudnitsky Editors’ Prize). His memoir, Travels in Vermeer, was longlisted for the 2015 National Book Award. He has published work in The Paris Review, The New Republic, The Kenyon Review, The Best American Poetry, and elsewhere. White is currently chair of the Department of Creative Writing at UNCW.

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Michael White

Our interrelatedness-of-the-arts event is a session with acclaimed conductor Teddy Abrams, Music Director of the Louisville Orchestra. Abrams also serves as Music Director and Conductor of the Britt Classical Festival and as Resident Conductor of the MAV Symphony Orchestra in Budapest. An accomplished pianist and clarinetist, Abrams has appeared as a soloist with a number of orchestras and has performed chamber music around the world. He co-founded the Sixth Floor Trio in 2008.

Abrams studied conducting at the Curtis Institute of Music and at the Aspen Music Festival; he was the youngest conducting student ever accepted at both institutions. Teddy was a proud member of the San Francisco Symphony Youth Orchestra and graduated from the San Francisco Conservatory of Music with a Bachelor of Music.

Varian Johnson delivers a plenary about the writing life and a craft lecture on the use of metaphor. He is author of six novels, including The Great Greene Heist, an ALA Notable Children’s Book Selection, a Kirkus Reviews Best Book of the Year, and a Texas Library Association Lonestar List selection. His novels for older readers include My Life as a Rhombus, named to the Texas Library Association Tayshas High School Reading List and the New York Public Library “Stuff for the Teen Age” list, and Saving Maddie, a Bank Street College of Education Best Children’s Book. Varian was born and raised in Florence, South Carolina. He received an MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults from the Vermont College of Fine Arts. He lives outside of Austin, Texas, with his family.


Spalding MFA residencies feature a rotating series of sessions on editing, publishing, and production, as well as one-off sessions on those topics. The spring series includes a talk by literary agent Alice Speilburg as well as the Diana M. Raab Professional Development sessions, which are led by Spalding MFA alumni with experience in their fields. These sessions include a pitch discussion, a session on presenting at conferences, and two panels—one in poetry and one in playwriting. Alumni are designated by their area of concentration and graduation year.

In her session, open to students and alumni, agent Alice Speilburg will help attendees identify their place in the literary market and craft a query letter. Speilburg heads Speilburg Literary Agency and has worked in publishing since 2008. She is a member of Mystery Writers of America, Romance Writers of America, and Society of Children’s Book Authors and Illustrators, and she is a board member of Louisville Literary Arts. Alice is currently building her client list and is looking for books in the following categories: Literary Fiction, Historical Fiction, Mystery, Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Mainstream fiction, Middle-Grade, Young Adult, Biography, Food, Gender Issues, Health, History, Literary Journalism, Music, Pop Culture, Relationships, Science, and Travel. Visit her website: or connect with her on Twitter @AliceNicoleH.

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Alice Speilburg

Marjetta Geerling (W4CYA ’11) talks about delivering the social pitch. Marjetta is author of Fancy White Trash (Viking), which was selected for American Library Association’s 2009 Best Books for Young Adults and for the 2009 Rainbow List. Marjetta grew up in Southern California and received her BA in Women’s Culture and Creative Expression from the Johnston Center for Integrated Studies at the University of Redlands. She is an assistant professor of English at Broward College. She is currently represented by Nicole Resciniti at The Seymour Agency.

Omar Figueras (F/CNF ’13) and Eva Sage Gordon (F ’12) discuss leveraging your Extended Critical Essay for presentation at conferences. Omar has presented papers—including versions of his ECE and graduation lecture—for panels and conferences in France, Austria and the UK. In addition to being an adjunct professor at Miami-Dade College where he teaches composition, Omar is a full-time real estate paralegal for a law firm in Coral Gables. Eva holds an MA in English from Saint Louis University, Madrid. Her fiction, creative nonfiction, and poetry have been published in New Plains Review, The Louisville Review, Prism Review, and elsewhere. Her play, Second Acts, was performed at the Université de Nice in 2013. She is co-author of The Everything Guide to Writing Children’s Books (2nd edition). She serves as managing editor for and teaches writing at Broward College. She has presented papers at academic and creative writing conferences in Madrid, Istanbul, and London.

Poets interested in pathways to publication can attend a panel presented by alums Priscilla Atkins, Jerriod Avant, Marci Rae Johnson, and Cole Bellamy. Playwrights can look forward to a panel on production, featuring MFA alums Nicole Kearney, Amina McIntyre, Kim Stinson, and Tommy Trull.

Poetry Panelists

Priscilla Atkins (P’08) has published poems in hundreds of journals––from the petite (The Small Pond) to the sublime (Poetry London). She lives in Holland, Michigan, and teaches women’s and gender studies. She has a collection, The Café of Our Departure (Sibling Rivalry Press, 2015).

H. Jerriod Avant (P ’13) holds MFA degrees from Spalding and from New York University, where he was a Writers in the Public Schools Fellow. A graduate of the Callaloo Creative Writing Workshop at Brown University, his poems have appeared in the Mississippi Review, Boston Review, Pinwheel, Louisville Review, The Rumpus, Callaloo and elsewhere. Awards include the Joseph F. McCrindle Online Editorial Fellowship at Poets & Writers, a 2015 Vermont Studio Center residency, and a 2015-2016 Provincetown Fine Arts Work Center Fellowship. He was finalist for the 2015 Mississippi Review Prize.

Cole Bellamy (P ’10) is a writer and educator from Tampa, Florida. He is the author of three poetry collections: Lancelot’s Blues, The Mermaid Postcard, and American Museum. His writing has appeared in Penumbra, The Louisville Review, The Sandhill Review, Switched on Gutenberg, and Moonshot. He is co-founder and organizer of the Tampa Free Skool and founder of Lucha Libro Tampa Bay, a live competitive writing series. He teaches poetry at the Morean Arts Center and teaches English and creative writing at Saint Leo University.

Marci Rae Johnson (P ’05) teaches English at Wheaton College (Illinois) and is poetry editor for WordFarm press. Her poems appear or are forthcoming in The Collagist, Quiddity, Hobart, Redivider, Redactions, Books & Culture, The Valparaiso Poetry Review, The Louisville Review, The Christian Century, and 32 Poems, among others. Her first collection won the Powder Horn Prize and was published by Sage Hill Press in 2013, and her second full-length collection was released by Steel Toe Books in 2016. Her chapbook won the Friends of Poetry chapbook contest for Michigan authors in 2014 and was published by Celery City Chapbooks.

Playwriting Panelists

Nicole Kearney (PW ’11) is a writer/producer whose plays have been produced in New York, Louisville, San Francisco, Orlando and Indianapolis. Her streaming series can be seen online on Nicole Kearney Productions Network (NKPN) at

Amina S. McIntyre (PW ’09) is an Atlanta-based playwright and creative worship artist. She is currently Writer-in-Residence at Blackacre State Nature Preserve and Historic Homestead. Her production/reading credits include Working Title Playwrights at OnStage Atlanta, TipMyCup Productions at Roy Arias Theater in New York, Wabash College, Colby College, Lenoir-Rhyne University, and others. Amina was 2011 Visiting Playwright in Residence at Lenoir-Rhyne University and recipient of the 2015 -2016 Working Title Playwrights’ Ethel Woolsen Lab and 2014 Office of Cultural Affairs Emerging Artist of the Year. Amina is managing director of Karibu Performing Arts, LLC/Songs of Karibu and the Atlanta Region Young Ambassador for the Dramatists Guild.

Kim Stinson (PW ’07) is North Carolina Regional Representative of The Dramatists Guild of America. She runs the theatre program at Catawba Valley Community College (CVCC), where she won the Excellence in Teaching Award in 2015. Kim’s plays, Courageous Paths, Appalachian Geisha, and “Santa Lost His GPS” have received productions. Two of her short plays placed in the Appalachian Writers Association Josefina Niggli Award for Playwriting. Her monologue “Dance It Out” appears in the monologue anthology, interJACtions: Monologues at the Heart of Human Nature. Her plays “Post Partum Blue” and “Plasticity” were published in The Louisville Review.

Tommy Trull (PW ’11) has had plays produced all over the country, including recent productions in NYC, Chicago, LA, and DC. His pop-culture drama The 27 Club was selected as a “Best of the Fringe” for the NY International Fringe Festival and was published by Indie Theatre Now. His play Honeyboy won the Southeastern Theatre Conference’s New Play Award and was featured in Southern Theatre magazine. He is a three-time winner of the Mark Gilbert New Play Award. His work has appeared in The Louisville Review and Border Crossings, among other literary magazines. Tommy teaches theatre at Greensboro College.


Playwrights can look forward to a discussion of impossible stage directions in “Exit, Pursued by a Bear,” a lecture by former MFA faculty member Sheila Callaghan. Sheila’s plays have been produced and developed with Soho Rep, Playwright’s Horizons, Yale Rep, South Coast Repertory, Clubbed Thumb, and many others and have also been produced internationally. Titles include Scab, Crawl Fade to White, Crumble (Lay Me Down, Justin Timberlake), Lascivious Something, Kate Crackernuts, That Pretty Pretty; Or, The Rape Play, and more. In 2010, Callaghan was profiled by Marie Claire as one of “18 Successful Women Who Are Changing the World.” She was named one of Variety magazine’s “10 Screenwriters to Watch” of 2010. Sheila is a writer/producer on the hit Showtime comedy Shameless and a founder of the feminist activist group The Kilroys. In 2016, she was nominated for a Golden Globe for her work on the Hulu comedy series Casual.

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Sheila Callaghan

Screenwriters will hear Academy Award nominee Alec Sokolow (Toy Story) talk about plot and the protagonist’s desire. Sokolow’s career in Hollywood has taken him from writing for late-night TV comedy to studio films including Toy StoryCheaper by the Dozen, Garfield, Garfield’s A Tail of Two Kitties, Evan Almighty, Money Talks, and Goodbye Lover. He co-authored the meta-mythology and story for the Skylander’s video game franchise for Activision. He recently wrote and co-produced a short film adaptation of George Orwell’s “Shooting an Elephant,” which has been accepted at the 2016 Tribeca Film Festival. He has written fiction for Vice magazine and blogged for the Huffington Post. He lives in New York.

Kevin Willmott will discuss the experience of co-writing and co-executive producing Chi-Raq, a Spike Lee joint. Wilmott is an award-winning filmmaker who has written and directed six feature films, including Ninth Street, CSA—Confederate States of America, The Only Good Indian, The Battle for Bunker Hill, Destination Planet Negro!, and Jayhawkers. He has worked as a screenwriter for 20th Century Fox, NBC, and director Oliver Stone, among others. He is a published playwright and has worked as an activist for peace and civil rights issues. A graduate of Marymount College of Kansas and NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts, he is an associate professor at the University of Kansas.

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Kevin Willmott


Mary Knight (W4C ’13) is author of Saving Wonder (Scholastic), the Guest Book in Common for Writing for Children & Young Adults. Mary has always enjoyed the power of a good story, whether as a children’s librarian, a freelance writer or a writer-in-residence teaching kids how to write. She especially values loving kindness, a good laugh, the wisdom of young people, and the ability to see the world through another person’s eyes. Mary has lived in many beautiful places—among them, northern Michigan and an island in Puget Sound. She and her husband now live in Lexington, Kentucky.

The Celebration of Recently Published Books includes Rufus + Syd, a collaboration between faculty member Robin Lippincott and alum Julia Watts (F ’05). A native of Southeastern Kentucky, Watts is the author of the Lambda Literary Award-winning young adult novel Finding H.F. and the Lambda Literary Award finalists The Kind of Girl I Am and Secret City. Her other novels include Gifted and Talented, Hypnotizing Chickens, and the middle-grade Spirits trilogy. She lives in Knoxville and teaches at South College and in Murray State University’s low-residency MFA program.

Lisa Williams is author of the Guest Book in Common for poetry, Gazelle in the House (New Issues Press). Her other collections are Woman Reading to the Sea (W.W. Norton) and The Hammered Dulcimer (Utah State University Press). She received the Rome Prize in Literature, the Barnard Women Poets Prize, The May Swenson Poetry Award, and an Al Smith Individual Artist Grant. Her poems have appeared in Poetry, The Kenyon Review, Shenandoah, Blackbird, Memorious, and others, as well as in Best American Poetry 2009, Best American Erotic Poems: 1800-Present, Bright Wings: An Anthology of Poems about Birds, The Golden Shovel Anthology: Honoring the Continuing Legacy of Gwendolyn Brooks, and American Poetry: Next Generation.  Lisa teaches and directs creative writing at Centre College. She serves as series editor for the University Press of Kentucky New Poetry and Prose Series.

The Spalding MFA in Writing program is delighted to feature this excellent slate of guest speakers, in addition to lectures by faculty on craft, literary explorations, and the writing life featured at every residency.

Katy Yocom’s fiction, poetry, essays, and journalism have appeared in The Louisville Review, New Southerner, Open 24 Hours, the blog StyleSubstanceSoul, Louisville Magazine, LEO Weekly, 2nd & Church, and Food & Dining, among other publications. She holds an MFA in Writing from Spalding University. She is a recipient of grants from the Elizabeth George Foundation and the Kentucky Foundation for Women and was writer-in-residence at Kimmel Harding Nelson Center for the Arts.


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