By Karen Leslie (Chronister), Spalding MFA Alumni
In the current era where arts and humanities programs are threatened with a hard shove to the sidelines, The Southern Festival of Books: A Celebration of the Written Word is a bold and bright voice booming atop the Nashville landscape. For three days in October, the SFB gathers together book lovers and the nation’s and region’s prominent writers, offering dozens of panels on the writing arts in downtown Nashville. Spalding will debut a booth this year with program advocacy and honoring our writers in mind, including faculty member Silas House and his recent novel, Southernmost, and alum Charles Dodd White with In the House of Wilderness, both featured on the main program, as well as faculty member Jeanie Thompson and alum Juyanne James, who are featured in panel sessions.
After a year of researching MFA options, the integrity and depth of the Spalding program and a 45-minute phone call with a future mentor enticed me to sign up in 2010. It was an exciting and productive four years that shaped my writing style and structure. Still, it is the rich community that brings me back again and again. I believe our low-residency program is a perfect dance of push and pull—rigorous, yet vibrant and playful, and with purpose.
When I arrived in Buenos Aires in 2010, I was looking for the next season of my writing life. In choosing Spalding for my MFA study, I was signing on for expert guidance, a kill-free zone for my muse, and a chance, at last, to create space in my life to write in earnest. What I was looking for was the writing life I’d dreamt of as a young reader. And I found it in this program. What I wasn’t expecting? To find my people—this eclectic and diverse community of like-minds. I was wide-eyed when I arrived and starry-eyed by the time I left.
We tangoed. We marveled at the flowing Malbec and mammoth slabs of barbecued meats, at Argentinian gauchos in their garnet-colored shawls. We dug deep into our writing, leaning into each other like we did the lustrous marble steps of the old Buenos Aires university where we studied. We fell in love with our guide and dropped by an art showing at someone’s apartment. We tiptoed through the cemetery and danced under the Southern Cross at Manuel’s estancia on the pampas. We ate, slept, and traveled together—and, we read to each other. We did this.
I suppose that skews a wee bit romantic, but that’s how I remember it. The truth is I’d expected a lot of my first MFA residency—of Spalding. It’s been eight years since that summer. I’m happy to continually support my creative community, and I’m not afraid to dip my Pooh-bear paw back into it whenever I have a chance or need a deadline.
Community is the biggest bonus of saying “yes” to Spalding. And I don’t believe in best-kept secrets. I want to share it with other unsuspecting writers. We believe having a presence at the Southern Festival of Books is an opportunity to establish and define our program to a new community, and hopefully, attract those longing to find their people while chasing their writing dreams. We also hope to pull together an off-site event or two. Keep watch.
Most writers I know are startled at their first encounter with a supportive and fun community who helps define—and holds them accountable to—living the life of a writer. Won’t you join in Nashville if you can? We need booth volunteers, encouragers to stop by Spalding authors’ panels and signings, and our community to gather on- and off-site.
Let’s go surprise a few meandering writers.
The Details of The Southern Festival of Books: A Celebration of the Written Word, sponsored by Humanities Tennessee
Needs: Alumni to help staff the booth, alumni with currently released books who would like to sell and sign, readers and clappers for our off-site events (more information coming as it develops). Contact us if you plan to promote your recently released book at the Festival this year.
Location: War Memorial Plaza and Main Public Library, Nashville, Tennessee
Dates: Friday, October 12: 12:00 – 5:00 p.m.
Saturday, October 13: 10:00 a.m. – 6:00 p.m.
Sunday, October 14: 12:00 – 5:00 p.m.
How to volunteer: Email Katy at email@example.com
Author Links: Silas House: @silasdhouse; Charles Dodd White: @cdwwriter, Jeanie Thompson: @JeanieThompson; and Juyanne James.
Mosaics of Myth and Mischief: Two Poets. David Olney and Jeanie Thompson, Friday, October 14, 2016 – 1:00pm – 2:00pm, Nashville Public Library, Conference Room II
The Heart in Conflict: Stories of Self and Place. Juyanne James, Friday, October 14, 2016 – 3:30pm – 4:30pm, Nashville Public Library, Conference Room II
Karen Leslie (Chronister) daylights as a professional writer, marketing specialist, and adjunct professor at WKU, but her real job is carving out space to work on her novel River Town. Her short story “Home Run,” a piece she first wrote with guidance from mentor Philip F. Deaver, was published in Menda City Review, Winter 2017. Other publications appear in various trade magazines, travel blogs, and independent newspapers. Karen Leslie graduated in 2014 with an MFA in Writing, Berlin/Prague.