a top-10 low residency MFA program
—Poets & Writers, year after year after year
From our program’s inception, founders Sena Jeter Naslund and Karen Mann recognized that the best recipe for creative growth combines intellectual stimulation and emotional support. Since our first residency in 2001, the faculty, staff, and students of the Spalding low residency MFA in Writing program have embodied that vision of rigorous study in a remarkable atmosphere of support. At Spalding, writers can open their ears to constructive critique, take risks in their writing, and grow in ways they never expected.
During the 65-credit-hour program, our students produce and receive feedback on an extraordinary volume of creative work—much greater than in residential programs. Our students read widely in their area and study at least one text in each of the other genres. They write short essays exploring craft issues as well as a longer critical essay, all to teach themselves more about their chosen genre. They participate in many workshops and work one-on-one with a faculty mentor each semester on their way to producing a creative thesis. And they form lasting relationships with other writers—friendships that will see them through graduation and far beyond. The Spalding MFA alumni association actively supports alums with online workshops, social media, and live events regionally, nationally, and internationally.
Each of the four core semesters kicks off with a residency—a vibrant, compact burst of inspiration, learning, and bonding with other students and faculty. During spring and fall residencies in Louisville, students and faculty stay at the Brown Hotel, an historic four-star hotel just off campus. We share meals, attend museums and arts performances together, discuss books in common, interact with eminent visiting writers, stretch ourselves creatively through cross-genre exploration, and relax after hours in the Brown’s beautiful lobby. For our international summer residencies, we take our curriculum on the road, exploring new locales and new authors as the experience of world travel enriches our writing.
Faculty-led workshops form the backbone of residency, and each student receives a full hour of critique. True to our philosophy of support, we ask workshop members to show an appreciation for what’s working in the material before suggesting improvements. Our days are rounded out with genre-specific faculty lectures, plenary lectures examining broader issues, faculty and student readings, panel discussions, conferences, sessions on publishing and editing, and more. During residency, each student is paired with a faculty mentor, and together, they craft a customized plan outlining the student’s writing and reading goals for one-on-one work in the independent study session to come. Graduating students attend a fifth, capstone residency, participating fully in the residency alongside other students while also delivering a 30-minute graduation lecture and a 20-minute reading from their creative thesis.
Our residencies offer a wealth of opportunities for students to write outside their genre or explore special topics within their area. Spalding MFA students have the option to take a teaching seminar, workshop an entire book-length manuscript, or make a short film. Dramatic writing students can opt for a collaborative, generative experience in dramashop. A given residency might include workshops focusing on adaptation, or musical theatre, or flash fiction and nonfiction, or the sonnet, or picture books. Because cross-genre exploration is vital to developing new writing skills, we give all our students the option to take both a workshop and an independent study session outside their major area.
We’re already planning our next residencies:
- Spring 2015: May 22-31, in Louisville
- Summer 2015: June 24-July 6, in Greece
- Fall 2015: November 13-22, in Louisville
After residency, our students return home and immerse themselves in writing and reading while working one-on-one with prize-winning, publishing faculty. Using the independent study plan as a guide, students send packets of writing to their mentor five times during the semester. Each mentor works with a small number of students—our student-faculty ratio is about four-to-one—allowing the mentor to deliver a detailed, personalized critique and advice on where to take the writing next. It’s this intimate exchange between two writers’ minds that allows students to flourish. Over and over, we’ve seen students’ writing leap forward under the challenging yet compassionate guidance of a mentor.
Students usually work with a different mentor for each independent study session, allowing a variety of dialogues about issues of craft, criticism, and aesthetics. While most of the exchange happens in writing, required phone calls at midsession and the end of the session help deepen the exchange and keep the personal connection going.
At your own pace
At Spalding, students choose the pace of their studies. Our spring and fall semesters are geared for students who want an intensive schedule and the option to graduate in two years. Those semesters run consecutively, from May to October (spring semester) and from November to April (fall semester). During the independent study sessions, students spend about 25 hours a week on their MFA work, sending a new packet every three to four weeks.
Our summer semester begins with an international residency in June or July, followed by an independent study session that lasts until the following March, giving students six weeks to prepare each packet. (Teachers may find that the break between March and June fits well with their own teaching year.) Summer students spend about 12 hours a week on their work, and they graduate in four years. The summer semester enriches students’ creative writing studies with international travel while spreading tuition costs over four years.
Students may choose to pair a spring residency in Louisville with a summer independent study session. We even allow students to mix and match summer study and spring/fall study to custom-tailor a program that suits their schedule. And leaves of absence are not a problem: Students may take up to ten years to complete their studies.
The Spalding combination of intensive residencies and rich one-on-one work with faculty mentors has produced impressive results. Our students and alums have already published or produced hundreds of books, plays, and films. Their books have been adapted into movies. They have garnered some stupendous achievements, from winning the Flannery O’Connor Award for Short Fiction to being named Poet Laureate of Kentucky; from selling a filmscript to Disney to winning the Edgerton New American Play award; from appearing in Best American Essays to winning the E.B. White Honor Book award. Our Achievements webpage contains a more complete list of awards, but even that lengthy list doesn’t tell the whole story. Spalding MFA students and alums run theatres, teach at the college level, volunteer as creative writing instructors in prisons and schools, and win national fellowships and awards. And they tell us, over and over, that the program has changed their writing and their lives for the better.
Support for Alums
We’ll venture to say that the Spalding low residency MFA program has the strongest alumni association going.
At a recent Homecoming, more than 100 MFA alums—fully 25 percent of our entire alumni group at the time!—traveled from all over the country to gather in Louisville. A typical Homecoming includes workshops, film and play festivals, a book expo, a reading for alums with new books, lectures, and social events. Beyond Homecoming, our alumni association offers regional events for MFA alums all over North America, online workshops and book discussions, a robust Facebook page, social media support, and international travel opportunities each summer in conjunction with the program’s residency abroad. An online literary journal is getting off the ground now.
On top of that, the MFA program offers a fall alumni conference featuring workshops, master classes, agent talks, readings, and other special sessions.
We make it easy for alums to keep in touch. The MFA blog posts writerly news from alums as well as students and faculty, helping alumni stay connected while also promoting their work.
And because we want our alums to come back “home,” we offer compensated slots for alums in exchange for logistical help with the residency, often including the chance to participate in a workshop at no cost. And we pay the registration fee for 15 alumni to attend the AWP Annual Conference & Bookfair, an important venue for reconnecting with old friends, meeting publishers, attending panel sessions, and more.
During the program, students
• read 36-40 books
• complete a third-semester extended critical essay (minimum of 20 pages)
• lead a small-group discussion
• prepare a creative thesis of original writing in their area of concentration (75 pages of prose, screenwriting, or playwriting; 35 pages of poetry; 8 picture books; or 75 pages of middle grade or young adult literature)
• teach a class to other students (graduation lecture)
• present a reading of original work (graduation reading)
• participate in a thesis discussion
• participate in an editing-and-publishing component that includes assisting with the national literary magazine The Louisville Review