If you’re looking for a Master of Fine Arts program, let me invite you to consider the brief-residency program at Spalding University in Louisville, Kentucky.
Years ago, I was a student in the grand-daddy of traditional writing programs—the University of Iowa Writers’ Workshop—and I’ve also taught in several wonderful traditional MFA programs, including the ones at the University of Montana and Indiana University-Bloomington. About twenty years ago, I was invited to teach in a brief-residency MFA program—a position I accepted with some skepticism because I was only familiar with the usual long-term residency programs. Before the semester was half over, I was convinced that brief-residency was the best kind of program for serious writers with the maturity to manage their writing lives in the context of their established lives AND that brief residency could offer the best course of instruction.
Why? Brief-residency gives the student much more individualized attention, and it requires the student to be much more productive. Instead of focusing on extended classroom time critiquing the work of fellow students, the focus of brief-residency is the guidance of a professional writer-teacher on the writing of the student who is being individually mentored. Instead of a single piece of prose or several poems appearing on a worksheet for peer discussion two to three times during the traditional semester, the student sends five packets to the mentor, and each of those five packets contains two or three prose pieces or batches of poems. The reading of published work is coordinated with the student’s own interests and needs. In brief residency, students have a much more intense and individualized contact with an expert writer than in traditional programs.
Why should you consider coming to Spalding? After working seventeen enjoyable and meaningful years in a brief-residency program, I began to have ideas for how a program could create a special atmosphere and serve students in new ways. I wanted to help create a program where honest, rigorous, and detailed criticism was couched in kind and encouraging terms.
I wanted to create an atmosphere during the brief residency (where the emphasis is on peer discussion in workshop) of cooperation among students rather than competition. Every residency, in our opening plenary session, I remind students who have come to write fiction, poetry, creative nonfiction, writing for children, playwriting, or screenwriting that the competition is represented by those works over on the library shelves, not by the individuals in the room. I remind the faculty, at our meeting, that our pledge to students is to be both intellectually stimulating and emotionally supportive. And then, that first night, we all discuss a book we’ve all read before coming to residency. We begin with real intellectual work.
During the five residencies each student spends in Louisville, we will, as readers, approach texts in all our areas of concentration. To be more specific, our visiting authors and books in common have included Michael Ondaatje, The English Patient, fiction; Yusef Komunyakaa,Neon Vernacular, poetry; Terry Tempest Williams, Refuge, creative nonfiction; Nancy Willard,A Visit to William Blake’s Inn, writing for children; and Marsha Norman, Getting Out,playwriting. At the end of the residency, these very respected authors visit the program to give a presentation and to be available for informal conversation with our students in a Q & A session.
The book-in-common sessions are only a few of the Spalding innovations. Everyone gets editorial experience reading for the national literary magazine The Louisville Review. While our students focus very intensely on their own area of concentration through workshop, craft lectures, and mentored instruction, they also practice not only reading but also hands-on writing exercises in all areas during time provided at the residency. We offer a workshop for discussion of entire student manuscripts. We encourage students to experience the interrelatedness of the arts by attending a scheduled cultural event in the city—plays at Actors Theatre, music at the Jazz Factory, visits to the Speed Art Museum.
I’m proud of the intellectual integrity of the program, the quality of writing and publication represented by faculty and students, the superior instruction offered during the mentored correspondence, and the truly invigorating ambience of our residencies. We welcome your comments and inquiries about our program.
|Sena Jeter Naslund