Tales of the Roaring ’20s, or adventures in grammar and syntax

By Fenton Johnson, Creative Nonfiction Faculty

Herewith, I record in print what many have heard me say in workshop: I will have inscribed on my tombstone, “He was the enemy of the ambiguous ‘it’.” In fact I have leaned on this topic so heavily that the most excellent Brittni Caudill has chosen “it” (ahem) as the topic of her graduation lecture. In deference to her lecture—and with the fervent hope that you will pull “it” up to watch and heed—I’ll defer my comments on the topic.

Be aware, however, that in general, pronouns are not your friends. If one subscribes, as I do, to the creation and maintenance of a smooth path for the reader, pronouns are a speed bump. Even when situated close to their appropriate antecedents (“Mary had a little lamb / whose fleece was . . .”) they require the brain to pause and think, “What’s the antecedent?”. Of course, they also provide pleasing variety and allow the writer to avoid awkward repetitions (“Mary had a little lamb / and Mary’s lamb’s fleece was . . .”). All the same: Be wary. In general, make certain that pronouns and their antecedents are in close proximity.

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The Poetic Justice of Grief

By Lesléa Newman, Faculty, Writing for Children & Young Adults

“You’re already writing about your mother?”
“It took me years to be able to write about my father.”
“Don’t you need time to grieve?”
“Wasn’t it incredibly difficult to write about your parents so soon after they died?”

These are the kinds of comments I received from people who couldn’t believe I picked up my pen immediately after sitting shiva first for my mother in August of 2012 and then again for my father in December of 2017. They were incredulous that I was able to write. I was incredulous that they were incredulous. I’m a writer, more specifically a poet. Writing (and reading) poetry is how I make sense of the world: the world outside of me, the world inside of me, and the relationship between the two.

So of course I turned to writing after each of my parents died. Not as a way to ignore my grief or postpone my grief or distract myself from my grief, but as a way to immerse myself in my grief. It may sound funny, but truthfully I was happiest when I was diving deep into my sadness by writing poetry about my parents. It kept them close to me. As I wrote about them I saw them, I felt them, I heard their voices in my head. And that was very comforting.

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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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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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