MFA sp res 2014

About Us

a top-10 low residency MFA program

Poets & Writers, year after year after year

From our program’s inception in 2001, founders Sena Jeter Naslund and Karen Mann recognized that the best recipe for creative growth combines rigorous intellectual stimulation with emotional support. That ethic has never changed, but in every other way, the Spalding low residency MFA Program is dynamic and evolving. Our curricular innovations are almost too numerous to mention—but read on to learn more.

During the 65-credit-hour program, students produce and receive feedback on an extraordinary volume of creative work—much greater than in residential programs. They participate in many workshops and work one-on-one with faculty mentors on their way to producing a creative thesis. They 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. (We offer special help with critical writing.) And they form important friendships that last far beyond graduation.

At residency

Each of the four semesters kicks off with a residency—a vibrant burst of inspiration, learning, and bonding with other students and faculty. We share meals. We attend museums and arts performances to explore the interrelatedness of the arts. We discuss books or scripts in common by a featured author and by faculty members who share their creative process and discuss their path to publication or production. We meet with eminent visiting writers, stretch ourselves creatively through cross-genre exploration, and relax after hours in the beautiful lobby of the historic Brown Hotel, our four-star “dormitory” for residencies in Louisville. During international summer residencies, we further enrich the curriculum with cultural experiences abroad.

Faculty-led workshops form the backbone of residency. Each student receives a full hour of critique. Days are rounded out with plenary lectures on craft by Program Director Sena Jeter Naslund, genre-specific faculty lectures, 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 for the upcoming independent study session. Graduating students attend a fifth, capstone residency, during which they deliver a 30-minute lecture and a reading from their creative thesis.

Innovations abound. 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 on special topics such as adaptation, or flash fiction and nonfiction, or musical theatre, or the sonnet, or picture books. Because cross-genre work is vital to developing new skills, all students complete a writing exercise in a different genre each residency, and all students can opt to take both a workshop and an independent study outside their major area.

We’re already planning our next residencies:

–  Spring 2016: May 27-June 5, in Louisville

–  Summer 2016: June 29-July 11, in Rome

–  Fall 2016: November 11-19, in Louisville

–  Spring 2017: May 26-June 4, in Louisville

–  Summer 2017: location and dates tba

–  Fall 2017: November 10-19, in Louisville

–  Spring 2018: May 25-June 3, in Louisville

–  Summer 2018: location and dates tba

–  Fall 2018: November 9-18, in Louisville

At home

After residency, students return home to work 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. Our low student-faculty ratio (about four-to-one) allows the mentor to give each student detailed, personalized feedback. 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 each semester, allowing a variety of dialogues about craft, criticism, and aesthetics. While most of the exchange happens in writing, required phone calls at midsession and end of session deepen the conversation.

Students gain valuable editorial experience reading submissions for The Louisville Review, a national literary magazine. It’s a rare opportunity to view writing from the editor’s seat, a perspective that helps students recognize pitfalls—and break free of their own writing ruts.

At your own pace

At Spalding, students set their own pace. Our spring and fall semesters run consecutively, May-October and November-April. During independent study sessions, students spend about 25 hours a week on their work, sending a new packet every three to four weeks. Students who opt for this schedule can graduate in two years.

Summer semesters begin with an international residency in June or July, followed by independent study that lasts until the following March, with six weeks between packets. (The break between March and June fits teachers’ schedules well.) Summer students spend about 12 hours a week on their work. Summer semesters offer travel abroad while spreading tuition costs over four years.

Students may create a hybrid semester by pairing spring residency in Louisville with summer independent study. We even allow students to mix and match summer and spring/fall study. Leaves of absence are not a problem: Students may take up to ten years to complete the degree.

Students who have a book published or a play or film produced may inquire about acceleration, in which their published or produced work counts as the creative thesis. If accepted for acceleration, these students graduate in three semesters instead of four.

An optional enrichment semester gives students the opportunity to focus on a special project or study in a new area.


Our students and alums have published or produced hundreds of books, plays, and films. Their stupendous achievements include the Flannery O’Connor Award for Short Fiction, the Edgerton New American Play Award, and the E.B. White Honor Book Award. One alum is the immediate past Poet Laureate of Kentucky. Our alums have sold filmscripts to Disney and appeared in Best American Essays.

Even our Achievements and Awards page page doesn’t tell the whole story. Spalding MFAers run theatres, teach at the college level, volunteer as writing instructors in prisons and schools, and win national fellowships and awards. And they tell us, again and again, 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. Check out the Alumni page to see our rich array of offerings—many offered free of charge—as we keep our alumni connected to the program, the community, and their art.

Who We Are

The Spalding MFA directors and staff are

Sena Jeter Naslund , Founder and Program Director
Karen J. Mann, Founder and Administrative Director
Kathleen Driskell, Associate Program Director
Katy Yocom, Associate Administrative Director
Ellyn Lichvar, Administrative Assistant and Assistant Managing Editor of The Louisville Review and Fleur-de-Lis Press
Jason Hill, Residency Assistant

To read a letter from each of our directors, click on the linked names.

Degree Requirements

Students in the 65-credit-hour Spalding low residency MFA Program are required to complete five 10-day residency sessions and four independent study sessions. The Program also offers elective courses, including an enrichment semester and a teaching practicum.

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; 12 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


Spalding University’s low residency MFA in Writing program is a member of the Association of Writers and Writing Programs, the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI), and the Playwrights’ Center.

Questions? Email us at or call us:

Local: 502-873-4400


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