Innovative Features

a top-10 low residency MFA program

Poets & Writers, year after year after year

The MFA in Writing Program offers several innovative features that make the Spalding Program steps ahead of other MFA in Writing Programs.

Program Book in Common and Faculty/Guest Book in Common

Playwright Heather Raffo presents

To promote a feeling of community, students and faculty read a selected book (from a different genre each semester), which is discussed the first night of the residency. When possible, the author of the book is a guest later in the residency; the author gives a public presentation and has a private Q&A session with all MFA students and faculty. Guests for this aspect of the program have been Ernest J. Gaines, Yusef Komunyakaa, Molly Peacock, Tim O’Brien, Donna Jo Napoli, Terry Tempest Williams, Michael Ondaatje, Marsha Norman, Ann Patchett, Nancy Willard, Scott Russell Sanders, Barry Lopez, Pico Iyer, Claudia Emerson, Daniel Handler (aka Lemony Snicket), Heather Raffo (pictured), W.S. Merwin, Debra Granik, and Robert Moresco. For the Spring 2014 residency, the featured guest was the Diana M Raab Distinguished Writer in Residence Frank X Walker, Kentucky poet laureate. In addition to this Program Book in Common, students in each area of concentration read a book/script in common authored by one of the faculty or a guest in that area. At the residency, students meet with the faculty member/guest for a discussion of the book. Students may ask questions of the author about the writing of the books, technical questions, or questions about publishing the book.


Students in the MFA in Writing Program may apply in their major area of concentration for acceleration toward completing the program early if they

   • have had a book published, or
   • have had a full-length play produced, or the script-length equivalent in shorter plays, or
   • have had a film of substantial length produced, or the script-length equivalent in shorter films

and if a committee of the MFA faculty finds the quality of the book, dramatic script, or screenplay appropriate to MFA standards. Picture book authors are eligible to apply for acceleration if they have published a minimum of three picture books. Books, plays, or films accepted for publication or production before a public audience but not yet actually published or produced do not qualify students for acceleration. Self-published books do not qualify a student for acceleration. Plays and films must have been produced by an established company or producer, one with a history or future of ongoing production and not headed by the author.

A student whose published or produced work is accepted in lieu of the Creative Thesis may complete the MFA degree in three semesters instead of four and with four residencies instead of five by completing remaining requirements in three semesters and four residencies. For more information, email with “Acceleration” in the subject line.

Cross-Genre Exploration

The MFA Program promotes cross-genre exploration in a variety of ways. During the residency, all students explore other genres through reading and discussion of the Program Book in Common and through the plenary craft lecture. Students also complete a cross-genre assignment as a way to experiment with other modes of writing taught in the MFA Program and to gain a broader appreciation of the uses of language and forms.

Additional venues for cross-genre exploration include

   • the opportunity to study in another area of concentration in the first or second semester

   • the opportunity to participate in a cross-genre workshop, which is led by instructors from two genres and includes students studying either genre, e.g. poetry and creative nonfiction

   • the opportunity to participate in a workshop in another genre; this opportunity includes the option of taking part in a Film Production Seminar

   • the opportunity to study in another genre during an enrichment semester


Interrelatedness of the Arts

Because many successful and innovative writers, in all forms, have not only taken personal pleasure but also received artistic inspiration from the sister arts, the Spalding MFA includes attendance at concerts and theater and visits to art museums in the residency schedule, whether the residency is held in Louisville or at an international location. Such visits are included in the tuition. The Program encourages MFA students to seek inspiration in terms of subject, style, and structure from the other arts. Guest artists are invited to talk about their work and their lives as artists. When these guests talk about their creative process—how they begin, how they change and develop, the role of mentors in their lives, how they integrate family life with the life of the artist—writing students are stimulated to consider these same questions for themselves.

Editorial and Reading Opportunities with a National Literary Magazine

The Louisville Review,housed at Spalding University since 1998, was founded in 1976 at the University of Louisville by faculty editor Sena Jeter Naslund and two students.

Known for excellence nationwide and abroad, The Louisville Review has published such well-known writers as Jhumpa Lahiri and Ursula Hegi and poets David Ray, Maura Stanton, Wendy Bishop, and Virgil Suarez. The Louisville Reviewpublished Louise Erdrich when she was still a student, and a poem by Alberto Rios, which was first published inThe Louisville Review has been widely anthologized. MFA students gain editorial experience by reading manuscripts. Graduate assistantships are available for students who receive appointments to the magazine staff. Fall and spring residency students gain editorial experience by reading submissions. top

Scholarships and Assistantships

Many brief-residency programs do not offer scholarships or assistantships. Spalding offers scholarships for new students and also assistantships are available to students no matter where they live. Most are for reading for our literary magazine, The Louisville Review. Each year the program awards around $80,000 in scholarships and assistantships.

Introduction to Publishing

While the main goal of the Program is to improve writing skills, publishers, editors, and agents are frequent guests at the residency. Sessions with these guests, as well as panels with members from among the faculty, address students’ questions about publishing. The residency is a good opportunity to network with other students, faculty, and guests, who have experience in or information about publishing.


MFA Program Newsletter: On Extended Wings

Four or more times a year, the Program sends to all students, faculty and alumni a newsletter, On Extended Wings—a phrase taken from a Wallace Stevens poem. Students, faculty and alumni are invited to submit brief items for the column “Life of a Writer” in which they share news of how they have “extended their wings”: publications, prizes, readings, conferences attended, or other aspects of their lives as writers. One of the graduate assistantships available to second-, third-, and fourth-semester students is to serve as the student editor, working with the directors, in editing and producing the newsletter.

Opportunities for Writers of Book-length Manuscripts

In addition to submitting a portion of a book for Workshop, the program offers the opportunity for whole manuscripts of fiction, creative nonfiction, and writing for children to be read through the special Book-length Workshop, which is held during the spring residency. As well, students may seek readers among the student body for their book-length manuscripts, no matter the area of concentration.


Opportunity to Participate in a Film Production Seminar

Students in any area of concentration who have completed a semester in the Spalding MFA Program may choose to participate in a Film Production Seminar. This opportunity gives students hands-on experience moving short scripts into actual films as they take turns assuming roles directing, acting, filming, and editing. The mentored portion of the semester remains in the student’s own area of concentration. If the student wishes to be mentored in screenwriting, he or she may apply in that area and, if accepted, choose to take ENG650, the Enrichment semester or to minor in screenwriting. top

Opportunities for an Adaptation Workshop and Semester

Spalding MFA students who would to like to learn how to adapt prose or poetry to stage plays or screenplays may wish to take an Adaptation Workshop and Semester. The course begins with an Adaptation Workshop led by a screenwriting or playwriting faculty member. During this workshop, students are introduced to fundamentals of structure, technique, and craft pertaining to playwriting or screenwriting and attend lectures and sessions in that area. For the mentored instruction at home, students continue to work with a screenwriting or playwriting mentor and submit original scriptwriting in each packet. Students may wish to work on a play or screenplay adapted from their own original work or material adapted from another writer.

Opportunities for an Enrichment Semester

Spalding MFA students may wish to add an enrichment semester prior to receiving the degree. The enrichment semester focuses entirely on a student’s original creative writing and does not include any critical writing or written commentaries on a reading list. The semester may focus on additional instruction in the major area of concentration or on a particular project in the major area of concentration or on a genre in a minor area of concentration. An advantage of folding a fifth semester into the program as opposed to taking a post-graduate semester is that students may still obtain financial aid (if eligible) if the student has not yet graduated. The enrichment semester does not take the place of any of the four core required semesters.

Opportunity for a Teaching Practicum in Creative Writing

Because the MFA degree is the one most commonly held by teachers of creative writing, the Spalding MFA Program helps prepare students to become teachers. During the fourth residency, students lead a small-group discussion of a published work to gain experience in intellectual leadership. In their graduation residency, students deliver a lecture, gaining direct teaching experience. Faculty lectures and other discussions are held on teaching techniques and suggestions. Workshops provide an excellent model for how to teach. We also offer two course opportunities for aspiring teachers: a teaching seminar during residency, and a teaching practicum, during which students teach creative writing in a real-world setting under the mentorship of an MFA faculty member.


Mini Workshop for Critical Writing

Throughout the first and second semesters, students write short critical essays under the direction of their mentors about the craft of writing as experienced in the books they have selected for their individual reading lists. The Program also offers special instruction in writing analytic essays—a mini expository writing workshop and an opportunity for consultation with an expository writing consultant during the at-home portion of the semester. The Spalding MFA is unique in augmenting the mentor’s instruction in critical writing with a mini workshop and by providing additional one-on-one work with the writing consultant (if needed). In this way, students are more thoroughly prepared to write the Extended Critical Essay, a standard feature of brief-residency MFA programs.

Plenary Craft Lectures

Near the beginning of each residency, the Program Director Sena Jeter Naslund gives one of a series of eight plenary lectures on the craft of writing which are illustrated with examples drawn from all areas of concentration. Titles of such comprehensive lectures include “Beginnings: Stylistic Modalities,” “Le Mot Juste-The Right Word or a Grammar of Vividness,” “The Curve of the Sentence: Its Grammar and Grace,” “Metaphor as Analysis: Transparency, Translucence, Opacity/Transcendence,” “Writing and Dreaming” “The Idea of Form,” and “Structure and Style.”

Apply Now to the MFA Program

Contact us:

MFA Office: (502) 873-4400 or (800) 896-8941, ext. 4400

MFA in Writing
Spalding University
851 South Fourth Street
Louisville, KY 40203

FAX: (502) 992-2409

last updated 02-07-14, information subject to change without notice