The novel that started it all

By Kathleen Driskell, Chair, Spalding School of Creative & Professional Writing

The novel that helped launch the Spalding MFA Program: As we celebrate our twentieth anniversary, our Residency Book in Common for Spring 2021 is Sena Jeter Naslund’s Ahab’s Wife

Several years before the MFA program was founded at Spalding, the Humanities Department, of which I was a faculty member, invited founding editor Sena Jeter Naslund and managing editor Karen Mann to move the literary journal The Louisville Review from the University of Louisville to a new home at Spalding. Sitting around the editorial table in my campus office, I remember when I began to hear that Sena was finishing her newest novel, Ahab’s Wife: Or, The Star-Gazer. She’d published a number of beautiful books of fiction before, but Ahab’s Wife was about to launch her into the stratosphere. After an exciting auction involving several New York publishing houses, we were delighted to learn that her novel had been acquired by William Morrow. The literary world was soon buzzing with anticipation for the publication of Ahab’s Wife.

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An inside look at cross-genre exploration

By Katy Yocom, Associate Director of Communications and Alumni Relations

At each residency, the School of Writing shines a spotlight on one genre of writing in rotation. But what do we mean when we say “cross-genre exploration,” and why do we consider it important?

The cross-genre exploration is a six-part sequence—three parts focused on reading, three parts on writing—that begins with the announcement of the Residency Book/Script in Common. All students, regardless of their area of study, read the book or script before coming to residency. They may also watch a film or stage production. 

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Multiple Perspectives: To Use or Not

By Beth Ann Bauman, Writing for Children & Young Adults Faculty

Maybe it’s just me, but the use of multiple perspectives in middle-grade and YA fiction seems to have swelled in the last decade. And it’s understandable why this is an appealing choice for a writer. It’s fun to head hop, use different voices, and create a broader understanding of the world. When done well, it makes for a satisfying, compelling read, such as in the young-adult novel Salt to the Sea by Ruta Sepetys, a WWII story that follows four narrators seeking passage on a ship to escape a Soviet advance. The shifting perspectives provide a wide lens on this historical event while keeping a strong narrative focus. But handling multiple perspectives is tricky and complicated, and a book can easily lose its narrative unity. Before attempting, here are some considerations:

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Playing with Intention

By Erin Keane, Professional Writing & Poetry Faculty

When I interviewed Aimee Bender in 2010 about her novel The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake, she said something about her process that stuck with me: Every day, she forces herself to be bored. “I feel like sitting through boredom is a major piece of being a writer,” she said. “There’s this intense restlessness that comes up when bored.” This makes sense to me—I’ve known since childhood how to invent ways to entertain myself when boredom crept in. That’s play, really. Telling myself stories, or tinkering with language and observation in poems, is a method of play that I carried with me into my adult life as a writer. But in the current iteration of that life, as the editorial head of a fast-paced digital publication that covers news, politics, culture, science, and health, boredom is frequently in short supply.

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Wisdom relearned in 2020: To every thing, there is a season

Perhaps 2021 will be a time to build up.

By Roy Hoffman, Creative Nonfiction/Fiction Faculty

[Originally appeared in The Boston Globe, Ideas section, Sunday, Dec. 27, 2020]

Mobile Bay, Alabama
[Photo courtesy of Roy Hoffman]

In December 1965, the 2,300-year-old words of Ecclesiastes vaulted to the top of the Billboard 100, thanks to a group of mellow rockers, The Byrds, crooning “To every thing there is a season.” That year, marked like this one with strife and division — the Selma march, the Watts riots, the Vietnam War — the clear-eyed pronouncements of a Biblical sage, situated near Proverbs and the Song of Songs, were steadying. On our radios those holiday weeks and well into 1966, with Simon and Garfunkel’s “The Sound of Silence” and the Beatles’ “We Can Work It Out” also vying for dominance, The Byrds’ “Turn! Turn! Turn!” — its title from the 1959 version by Pete Seeger — offered no-nonsense philosophy with a beat: “A time to be born, and a time to die.” There was destruction, “a time to break down,” and restoration, “a time to build up.” I recall, going on 13, a sock hop where teens slow-danced to the ancient wisdom. Each of us, in our personal journeys, experiences “a time to every purpose under the heaven.” Today, more than most years, we also do so collectively.

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My Hemisphere: American Theatre in a Moment of Transformation

Eric Schmiedl, Playwriting Faculty

So. I’m a Cleveland kid. Born and raised. Generations of my family – both sides – have straddled the Cuyahoga River. Making soups in the kitchen at Hallie’s Department Store. Stamping out engine parts in the small tool and die shops on the near west side. Cheering when Jim Brown broke another tackle at Municipal Stadium. Trudging through record snow and around burning rivers. We are Clevelanders, through and through.

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Living in Limbo: Staying Motivated During Challenging Times

By Sam Zalutsky, Screenwriting Faculty

I originally wrote this post in 2017, shortly after finishing shooting my feature film Seaside, when I was wading through the long, challenging, and often tedious process of post-production. While the world is struggling to overcome a deadly pandemic, I realize that being stuck in limbo can be a familiar, if challenging, territory for those of us who create. In life and art I often must remind myself that the magic is in the doing and the making; just putting one foot in front of the other each day is essential. 

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Professional Writing Students Learn from the Experts at Spalding’s Fall Residency

By Lynnell Edwards, Associate Programs Director

The Spalding School of Writing’s second all-virtual residency kicked off on Saturday with an especially exciting curriculum for our professional writing students, including digital storytelling, the inside scoop on the publishing world, and an exclusive viewing of a performance from Actors Theatre of Louisville. Spalding’s School of Creative and Professional Writing is unique in enhancing graduate professional-writing studies with carefully curated experiential learning in creative writing and exploration of the arts. 

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Preventative Measures Against Despair Caused by Divided Energies

by Katy Yocom, Associate Director, Spalding’s School of Creative and Professional Writing

In 1909, while working for the Insurance Institute in Prague, Franz Kafka wrote a report titled “Preventative Measures Against Accidents Caused by Mechanical Brushes.” It’s accompanied by illustrations, including a drawing of a hand missing its index and middle fingers. The hand is truncated with a hard line at the wrist, as if it had never been attached to a human arm.

In a way, that severed hand is Kafka. He bewailed the six hours a day he spent at the office, six days a week, spending his writing energies penning pamphlets about accidental amputation. He had already discerned that creative writing was his purpose in life. “Naturally, I did not find this purpose independently and consciously, it found itself, and is now interfered with only by the office, but that interferes with it completely,” he wrote. “ … For me in particular, it is a horrible double life from which there is probably no escape but insanity.”

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