Naslund retiring as MFA director; Driskell to replace her

Spalding University staff

Best-selling author and award-winning teacher Dr. Sena Jeter Naslund is set to retire on Dec. 31, 2017 from her role as program director of Spalding University’s nationally distinguished low-residency Master of Fine Arts in Writing Program, which she co-founded in 2001.

Current Associate Program Director and award-winning poet Kathleen Driskell will assume the role of program director upon Naslund’s retirement.

As part of the ongoing Fall 2017 Spalding MFA Residency’s Festival of Contemporary Writing, Naslund will read from her work, with musical accompaniment by Frank Richmond, at the First Unitarian Church, 809 S. Fourth Street, at 5 p.m., Friday, Nov. 17. It’s free and open to the public.

Naslund is the author of nine works of fiction, including best-selling Ahab’s Wife, a finalist for the Orange Prize. Her other bestselling novels include Adam & Eve, Abundance: A Novel of Marie Antoinette, and Four Spirits. Her awards include the Harper Lee Award and the Southeastern Library Association Fiction award. In 2014, Naslund retired from her position as Distinguished Teaching Professor at the University of Louisville. She is actively working on a new novel and a musical with composer Gerald Plain.

Kathleen Driskell / Photo by John Nation

The Spalding Low Residency MFA in Writing Program, founded by Naslund and current Administrative Director Karen Mann, was the first such MFA program in Kentucky and was named a top-10 low-residency MFA program by Poets & Writers. Its writing faculty include prizewinners in every genre, and alumni have garnered top national honors while publishing and producing more than 400 books, plays, and films.

“What I most want to say to Sena is thank you,” said Spalding President Tori Murden McClure, who is a graduate of the MFA program. “Thank you for creating a world-class program. Thank you for bringing it to Spalding University. Thank you for your wisdom and clarity as you established a nurturing culture that allows great writing to flourish. Sena has heard me say many times, ‘I did my undergraduate studies at Smith College, an excellent school. I went to Harvard for my degree in Divinity. I went to law school at the University of Louisville. The best academic program of my career was the Masters of Fine Arts in Writing at Spalding University.’ It was a mind-expanding program.

“Sena Jeter Naslund will always be the founding director of the MFA. She is leaving the program in superb hands with Kathleen Driskell. Kathleen has been a positive force in leadership at Spalding for many years. I expect that the MFA program will thrive at Spalding for many years to come.”

MFA students at Spalding concentrate in fiction, poetry, creative nonfiction, writing for children and young adults, playwriting or screenwriting. In addition, all MFA students at Spalding have the opportunity to read and edit The Louisville Review, a nationally known literary magazine Naslund founded in 1976 and later moved to Spalding. In 1996 to honor the 20th anniversary of The Louisville Review, Naslund founded Fleur-de-Lis Press, which has published award-winning fiction, poetry and creative nonfiction titles.

“From the beginning, the Spalding MFA in Writing has distinguished itself by the caliber of writer-teachers on its faculty and staff who work tirelessly to provide a learning atmosphere that is highly individualized, and as I like to reiterate both intellectually stimulating and emotionally supportive,” Naslund said.

She added: “I’m happy to retire knowing the MFA program continues to be in wonderful hands, led by Kathleen Driskell and Karen Mann and a splendid staff and faculty – all whom I count as friends. As a huge number of our alums do, every year, I know I’ll enjoy coming back to give an occasional lecture or workshop and hob-nob at homecoming each spring.”

Director-to-be Driskell has published four full-length collections of poetry, including Seed Across Snow, which was listed as a national bestseller by the Poetry Foundation, and Blue Etiquette, a finalist for the Weatherford Award. She has published poems in many nationally known literary magazines such as The Southern Review, North American Review and Shenandoah. Her work has been featured online in Poetry Daily, Verse Daily and American Life in Poetry. Her awards include grants from the Kentucky Arts Council and the Kentucky Foundation for Women, and she has received prizes from the Associated Writing Programs and Frankfort Arts Foundation. She received the Trustees Outstanding Faculty Award from Spalding. Driskell earned her MFA in creative writing from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, and she has taught in and served as Spalding’s MFA associate program director since 2003.

Driskell will read at the Festival of Contemporary Writing at 5:30 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 16, at the Egan Leadership Center, 901, South Fourth Street.

“It has been a great honor to have been mentored by Sena, an extraordinary talent and teacher,” Driskell said. “Writers have always provided fuel for thoughtful conversations about how to fulfill our human potential and connect meaningfully with each other, and I very much look forward to continuing to help educate, support and challenge future writers while building upon the strong foundation of Spalding’s nationally distinguished MFA program.”

Spalding Provost Joanne Berryman said: “Sena Jeter Naslund’s contribution to the academic offerings at Spalding has enhanced the stature of our historic university. Our mission talks of ‘meeting the needs of the times.’ Sena did just that in 2001, when she co-founded a national MFA program that, first, filled a void for a compassionate, supportive approach to teaching writing and, secondly, made literary arts accessible to all Kentuckians through its many free readings and advocacy of community engagement.

“I’m excited that our distinguished program won’t miss a beat with an established Spalding leader in Kathleen Driskell taking the helm. Her writing intellect, passion for teaching and advocacy of Spalding and the MFA program make her the ideal choice as Sena’s successor.”