By Katy Yocom, Spalding MFA Associate Director
Spalding MFA students will put their learning into practice in a new way at the Fall 2018 residency, November 9-18 in Louisville. The MFA program is introducing a new pedagogical approach that designates a “lead lecture” for each genre taught in the program. Following the lead lecture, a separate, 60-minute generative session asks students to isolate and practice the skills they’ve learned.
The remaining lecture slots for each genre will offer hour-long talks in the current format, without follow-up sessions.
The rest of the curriculum remains unchanged. Faculty-led, genre-specific workshops form the spine of each residency, along with lectures and a faculty reading series. Graduating students also deliver lectures and readings as part of their capstone residency.
Beyond these core sessions, each residency also features one-time-only offerings and outings. Here’s a quick look at some of the special events we’re planning.
The workshop line-up this fall includes two special offerings open to upper-level students and alumni only: a book-length poetry manuscript workshop, led by Program Director Kathleen Driskell, and a workshop in writing for magazines led by Cathleen Medwick, whose distinguished resume includes editing stints at Vogue and Vanity Fair. In addition, faculty member Kira Obolensky leads Dramashop, a generative workshop for playwriting students.
Special focus: Poetry
In order to give all students a grasp on the gamut of creative writing genres, we feature a rotating focus on genres, spotlighting a different one at each residency. This fall, it’s poetry’s turn.
Poet Maggie Smith’s collection Good Bones serves as the Program Book in Common. At the residency’s opening session, Kathleen Driskell leads a discussion of the collection, whose title poem Public Radio International called “the official poem of 2016.” The next day, Smith presents a public reading, followed by a private Q&A session for Spalding MFA students, faculty, and alumni.
Kathleen Driskell—who, in addition to being MFA program director, is also an award-winning poet and teacher—delivers a plenary craft lecture that focuses on using sound to develop one’s writing style. The lecture investigates the linguistic sounds of syllables, encourages play with homophones and contronyms, and considers the use of repetition for emphasis of themes and motifs.
In an instructional exercise, students select 4 to 5 consecutive lines from any poem in Good Bones and bring them to a follow-up session, where experimentation ensues.
In preparation for next fall’s special focus on creative nonfiction, a panel of CNF faculty members discusses that growing—and often complicated—genre.
At residency, MFA students and faculty will view a screening of One Day: The Monks’ Life at the Abbey of Gethsemani in preparation for our Friday visit to the Abbey of Our Lady of Gethsemani, an hour south of Louisville. There, Brother Paul Quenon, O.S.C.O, will read from his new book, In Praise of the Useless Life: A Monk’s Memoir. Gethsemani is known worldwide as the longtime home of Thomas Merton, who lived for many years in a hermitage there.
More Sessions for Everyone
What does it look like to launch a literary movement? William Wordsworth and Samuel Taylor Coleridge did just that for English Romantic poetry with the 1798 publication of their collection Lyrical Ballads. Kathleen Driskell delivers a Literary Explorations lecture on that ground-breaking work.
Every residency features a series of lectures on topics related to profession of writing. This fall’s roster includes the following sessions:
- Ghost writing, with distinguished journalist and biographer Alanna Nash
- Writing for magazines, with editor Cathleen Medwick
- Delivering a successful reading, by award-winning actor and voice artist Holter Graham
- Teaching composition, with Associate Program Director Lynnell Edwards
In addition, residency gives all students an inside look at the process of bringing a book or script into the world. Before residency, students read a book or script in common in their area of concentration. During residency the faculty member or guest who authored the work meet with students to tell the story of the work’s path to publication or production and to take questions. This fall, the texts in common for each are as follows:
- Fiction: John Pipkin discusses his novel The Blind Astronomer’s Daughter.
- Poetry: Lynnell Edwards talks about her collection Covet.
- Creative nonfiction: Fenton Johnson discusses his memoir Keeping Faith: A Skeptic’s Journey.
- Writing for children & young adults: Guest author David Arnold discusses his YA novel The Strange Fascinations of Noah Hypnotik.
- Playwriting: Kira Obolensky talks about Hate Mail, an epistolary play she wrote with Bill Corbett.
- Screenwriting: Larry Brenner discusses his script Changeling.
Genre-specific guest lectures
Beyond the numerous lectures delivered by MFA faculty and graduating students, students have the opportunity to hear from guest speakers as well. In writing for children & young adults, New York Times bestselling author David Arnold talks about what he describes as “the character of voice,” and award-winning middle-grade author (and Spalding MFA alum) Mary Knight offers strategies for deepening reader engagement through empathy. Playwright Christine Albright-Tufts, director of the Professional Theatre Training Company at Actors Theatre of Louisville, talks about producing plays on a low budget [OR: writing audience-specific plays]. As always, students are welcome to sit in on lectures outside their genre.
Celebration of Recently Published Books
At each residency, the MFA program hosts a celebratory public reading honoring the latest publications or productions by faculty. This residency’s reading features five authors whose newest books span four genres: Debra Kang Dean with her poetry collection Totem: America (Tiger Bark Press), Silas House with his novel Southernmost (Algonquin), Fenton Johnson with Everywhere Home: A Life in Essays (Sarabande Books), Elaine Neil Orr with her novel Swimming Between Worlds (Berkley), and Neela Vaswani with her photographic picture book This Is My Eye: A New York Story (Candlewick).
Yet more offerings
The fall residency also features faculty, staff, and alumni readings as well as our annual SpaldingCon post-graduate conference, where alumni participate in flash and mixed-genre generative workshops, investigate the craft of script doctoring, receive one-on-one manuscript reviews, and more. SpaldingCon is open to graduates of other MFA programs as well.
Katy Yocom’s novel Three Ways to Disappear (Ashland Creek Press, forthcoming 2019) won the Siskiyou Prize for New Environmental Literature. She is a 2019 recipient of the Al Smith Fellowship Award from the Kentucky Arts Council. Her fiction, poetry, and essays have appeared in Salon, The Louisville Review, decomP magazinE, StyleSubstanceSoul, and elsewhere. She holds an MFA in Writing from Spalding University and is a grantee of the Elizabeth George Foundation and the Kentucky Foundation for Women.