By Jeremy Paden, Spalding School of Writing Poetry Translation Faculty
His name is Carlos Gregorio Hernández Vásquez. Propublica tells us Carlos was just sixteen years old when he died of the flu in a cell at a detention center in Weslaco, Texas in May 2019. He was from the Mayan highlands of Guatemala and the fourth minor to have died while in the custody of the Customs and Border Patrol Agency of the United States in 2019. He had followed his brother north, hoping that a new country would give him opportunities his own could not provide. The other children who have died in custody this year are also Guatemalan: the eight-year-old Felipe Gómez Alonzo, the not-yet-three-year-old Wilmer Josué Ramírez Vázquez, and the sixteen-year-old Juan de León Gutiérrez. In 2018, two minors died while in custody, both girls: Darlyn Cristabel Cordova-Valle, a ten-year-old El Salvadoran, and Jakelin Caal Maquín, a seven-year-old Guatemalan.
By Elaine Neil Orr, Fiction/Creative Nonfiction Faculty
Since I wrote this short essay about Covid-19 and sliding into depression and finding a way out, I’ve felt depressed again, more than once. I’m seeing a pattern and learning how to pull myself up. But I’m also trying to be patient with myself. Today after my graduate seminar, I told my students I love them. It’s true. I do love them. But I would not say that in “normal times.” I’m saying it now that we are all more aware of how fragile life is. My students’ faces registered real joy when I spoke that sentence: “I love you.”
I hope we can make it permissible to find the good that this period of our lives yields up.
Maybe this blog can yield up some grace in your day.
Elaine Neil Orr is the author of five books, including her memoir, Gods of Noonday: A White Girl’s African Life, and the novel, A Different Sun. Her latest novel, Swimming Between Worlds captures the moral imperatives of integration in the early 1960s and was a finalist for the 2019 Phillip H. McMath Post-Publication Book Award in Fiction. She has been honored by the National Endowment for the Humanities, the North Carolina Arts Council, and the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts. She serves on the faculty of English at N.C. State University as well as the faculty of the Spalding University School of Creative and Professional Writing.
By Elaine Orr, Spalding School of Writing Fiction and Creative Nonfiction Faculty
I recently had the good fortune of a one-week writing residency at the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts, not a long retreat, but long enough to crack open my novel-in-progress, roam around in it and warm it up. Anyone who has written a novel knows that if you leave it too long, it goes cold, and it’s frightening to go back in. It’s like entering a winter abode with no means of heat. And who knows if things have gotten worse while you were away. Maybe the furniture is shabbier than you remember, the cupboards barer, the wallpaper flapping off the walls. It really can be like entering a haunted house.
Spalding University’s Festival of Contemporary Writing, the state’s largest fall-spring reading series, takes place Saturday, November 16, through Friday, November 22, with faculty and alumni of the low-residency programs of Spalding’s School of Creative and Professional Writing. Bestselling graphic novelist Gene Luen Yang headlines the festival as Distinguished Visiting Writer. Yang is the author of the Printz Award-winning American Born Chinese and the National Book Award Finalist Boxers & Saints, a boxed set of graphic novels. Yang has served as a National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature and is the recipient of a MacArthur “Genius” Fellowship.
By Catherine Berresheim, Spalding MFA Creative Nonfiction Alum
I’ve been in and out of a variety
of prisons for over the last decade. Even though I am accustomed to being in
these penitentiaries, I wasn’t prepared for the foreboding atmosphere of Unit
Two at Riverbend Maximum Security Institute—otherwise known as Death Row. Nor
was I expecting to encounter the abundance of artistic talent within those
cinder block walls and the lessons they held on teaching and practicing the art
of creative writing.
By Fenton Johnson, Spalding MFA Creative Nonfiction and Fiction Faculty
“Nothing induces silence like experience,” wrote Flannery O’Connor, an observation that comes to mind more often as I grow older. On occasion I have considered that the best way to teach creative writing might be for the workshop to read together, first in silence and then aloud, a paragraph by a master, then sit with that paragraph in silence for the next two hours. These thoughts come particularly to mind now because, in teaching my most recent Spalding intensive, I neglected to conclude my workshop with the admonition with which I conclude all my workshops, i.e., forget everything I’ve said, open your heart, go out and look at the world, and write.
By Roy Hoffman, Spalding MFA Fiction and Creative Nonfiction Faculty
When you pack your bags for your next trip, whether a few hours from home or as far away, to an American traveler, as Buenos Aires, Rome, or Edinburgh, take along your travel writer’s sensibility. You’ll already have the tools in place—pen and paper, laptop and camera—so making a record of where you go, what you see, eat, and learn, is not a practical but perceptual challenge. Our senses become heightened by the excitement of travel, the allure of different landscapes, languages and foods. As writers we note it all in colorful detail in our journals and e-mails home. But how can we shape this material into articles or personal essays for a larger audience? Here are some tips—and questions—to keep in mind. Travel writing ranges from the service end—how to get there, where to find it, how to buy it—to lyrical musings about place. Travel writing also incorporates stories about interesting individuals in far-off locales. If you’ve got a publication in mind for your travel story, figure out what it’s about, who its audience is. Write for that reader alongside you, shepherding him or her along.
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.
By Dianne Aprile, Spalding School of Writing Creative Nonfiction Faculty
“Don’t write with a pen. Ink tends to give the impression the words shouldn’t be changed.”
The poet Richard Hugo published those lines many years ago to underscore the necessity of flexibility and revision in the writing process. Presumably heeding his own advice, Hugo used a pencil to jot down his first-draft thoughts on the subject. But if ever there was good reason to trade lead for ink, this final version is it. Hugo’s words deserve the permanence of a waterproof, indelible ultra-bold Sharpie.
Why? Well, because his message is so important, there should be no risk of it being rubbed out or overlooked.