Next Door to the Dead got a new breath of life earlier this month, and it was a pleasant surprise to Kathleen Driskell.

The director of Spalding’s Master of Fine Arts in Writing program was delighted to get the news that her Next Door to the Dead, a 2015 collection of poems inspired by Driskell’s observations of an old cemetery that’s next to her house, was named the winner of Transylvania University’s Judy Gaines Young Book Award. The award honors an outstanding recent work from the Appalachian region.

“It just kind of dropped out of the sky for me,” said Driskell, who had been unaware that her 3-year-old book was even eligible for the award. “But it’s a really important book to me, a book about where I live.

“I’m glad for (the award) to give the book a little more attention. I feel like it’s going to give it a little more lift. It got some good attention when it came out, and this extends its life in the public eye.”

Driskell will accept the Judy Gaines Young Award and read from her book at 5 p.m. Wednesday, March 21 at Transy’s Cowgill Center, Room 102. It’s the second straight year a member of Spalding’s MFA in Writing faculty has won the award, following Crystal Wikinson in 2017 for her novel The Birds of Opulence.

Driskell and her family have lived for more than two decades in an old former church. Beside it is the Mount Zion Lutheran Cemetery, and the graveyard is “always in my mind,” she said. She was first moved to write the book after the tragic death of her neighbors’ 23-year-old son and the subsequent process of mourners visiting his grave.

“Mostly the people who are buried there were really old, and this was a younger person,” Driskell said. “So there was more activity around it, and balloons tied here and there, and I just couldn’t get it out of my mind. I kind of conceptualized the book from that.”

Driskell researched and imagined other stories about the graves in the cemetery. The book, published by the Lexington-based University Press of Kentucky, has poems about family relationships, the Civil War, slavery and many other issues.

Driskell was pleased to see a book from UPK earn the recognition.

The governor’s proposed budget has called for eliminating public funding for the nonprofit publisher, which for 75 years has printed scholarly works and literature by regional writers and about regional topics. Wilkinson’s The Birds of Opulence was also a UPK production.

“The University Press of Kentucky is really important to the commonwealth,” said Driskell, whose book is part of UPK’s “Kentucky Voices” series of literary titles. “I’m hoping the legislature will continue to support it. It’s good for all us. It fights, frankly, the stereotype of Kentucky. We have an amazing literary heritage.”

Driskell is the author of five books, including most recently Blue Etiquette, published by Red Hen Press. That book was a finalist for Berea College’s Weatherford Award, and Driskell won an award from the Association of Writers and Writing Programs earlier in her career. Driskell currently serves as vice chair for the Mid-Atlantic region of AWP.

Plans for MFA program

As for her teaching career, Driskell was promoted to director for Spalding’s top-10 national low-residency MFA in Writing program in January after serving as the longtime associate director under the program’s co-founder Sena Jeter Naslund, who retired. Driskell’s first residency as director will be in May.

“I’m really excited to grow (the program) and put my own spin on it,” Driskell said.

A past recipient of the Spalding Trustees Outstanding Faculty Award, Driskell plans to add optional programming intended to polish students’ professional writing skills and make the MFA program more attractive to potential students who are eager to learn creative writing but may work in a field outside of teaching.

“I think there’s just such a lack of good writing in the business world, communication-wise,” she said. “I think our students can really benefit from learning how to write grants, learning how to do profiles and interview pieces, learning more of the ins and outs of publishing and editing, even copy editing, which is a skill that most people don’t have any more and can be incredibly valuable.

“I’ve told my own kids, ‘You can do OK in school, but if you know how to write well, you can do whatever you want.’ … I’m really looking forward to establishing that and fostering that along for our students. I think it’ll be a good service to them.”

Along those lines, Spalding has begun offering a post-baccalaureate certificate in creative writing. Students are fully integrated into the MFA program, taking courses in fiction, poetry, creative nonfiction, playwriting, screenwriting or writing for children. The certificate, however, requires fewer semesters and credit hours for completion than the master’s degree.

Driskell said she also wants Spalding’s MFA students to learn how to write speeches. Alumnus Graham Shelby, who is a speechwriter for Louisville Metro Government, has been invited to do a lecture.

Writing book reviews will be taught, too. Driskell said book reviews are “a dying art” that can provide a way for writers to break into the business and make connections with editors and magazines.

Driskell is also excited about the MFA’s program’s residency abroad in Japan this summer.

The group of 40-50 will visit Hiroshima, the gardens of Nara and the former imperial capital of Kyoto.

The MFA program takes a 10-day trip abroad every summer to learn about culture and gain inspiration. Previous stops have included Edinburgh, Dublin, Rome, Athens and Crete, and Berlin and Prague.

MORE INFORMATION: Register at this link for the Spalding MFA in Writing program’s spring open house, to be held May 27. Read more about the program at

Author Kathleen Driskell, who is the director of Spalding’s Master of Fine Arts in Writing program, has won Transylvania University’s 2018 Judy Gaines Young Book Award for her collection of poems, “Next Door to the Dead.”

Now in its fourth year, the Judy Gaines Young Book Award recognizes recent works by writers in the Appalachian region.  It’s the second straight year a member of the Spalding MFA in Writing faculty has won the award, following Crystal Wilkinson in 2017 for her novel “The Birds of Opulence.”

Driskell found inspiration for her book while visiting a cemetery next to a former country church where she lives outside Louisville.

Transylvania professor Jeremy Paden praised her work. “In ‘Next Door to the Dead’​ Kathleen has written eloquent, gripping, tender and even humorous poems that explore loss and longing,” he said. “This is a wonderful collection of poems that have much wisdom and art to teach the reader. Death can pull us apart; it can bring us together.”

According to the book’s publisher, University Press of Kentucky, Driskell often strolls through the cemetery, imagining the lives and loves of those buried there. “’Next Door to the Dead’ transcends time and place, linking the often disconnected worlds of the living and the deceased. Just as examining the tombstones forces the author to look more closely at her own life, Driskell’s poems and their muses compel us to examine our own mortality, as well as how we impact the finite lives of those around us.”

Driskell, who is also associate editor of the Louisville Review, was a longtime associate director of the Spalding MFA program before being promoted to director in January. She has written numerous books and collections, including “Laughing Sickness” and “Seed Across Snow.”

Driskell will give a reading and receive her award on March 21 at 5 p.m. in Transylvania’s Cowgill Center, Room 102. The event will be free and open to the public.

Driskell will be introduced by this year’s judge, Jason Howard, editor of Appalachian Heritage at Berea College.

Transylvania’s annual book award is funded by Byron Young, who graduated in 1961, in honor if his late wife Judy Gaines Young, a ’62 graduate.

Driskell’s award comes with a cash prize, and a signed copy of the volume will be preserved in the Transylvania Special Collections.

A reception and book signing will follow the ceremony.

The Cowgill Center is in Old Morrison Circle off West Third Street. Free, nearby parking is available.

Read more about Spalding’s low-residency MFA program, which has been ranked in the top-10 nationally by Poets and Writers, at Here is the link for Driskell’s “Next Door to the Dead.”

Spalding University’s low-residency MFA in Writing program has added experienced educator and accomplished poet Lynnell Edwards to its leadership staff. Edwards steps into the role of associate program director, replacing Kathleen Driskell, who was promoted to program director on Jan. 1.

Edwards brings more than 20 years of teaching experience to the job. Since Fall 2010, she has served as associate professor of English at Spalding, where she directed and taught first-year writing as well as other creative writing and literature courses. From 2013 to ’15, she served as Faculty Senate representative for the School of Liberal Studies.

Edwards has written four collections of poetry. Her most recent is the chapbook “Kings of the Rock and Roll Hot Shop” (Accents, 2014). She is also the author of three full-length poetry collections: “Covet” (2011), “The Highwayman’s Wife” (2007) and “The Farmer’s Daughter” (2004), all from Red Hen Press. Her short fiction and book reviews have been published in literary journals such as New Madrid, Connecticut Review, Cincinnati Review and Pleiades, as well as in numerous anthologies. Her poems have been featured on Verse Daily. She writes a monthly book column for Louisville Magazine.

Edwards has been an active member of the Kentucky literary community. She is a founding member of Louisville Literary Arts, which produces the InKY Reading Series and the Writer’s Block Literary Festival. She served as president of Louisville Literary Arts from 2008 to ’13 and currently serves on its advisory board. She was also a member of the Kentucky Women Writers Conference Board of Directors (2012-17).

“Lynnell is an accomplished writer and a qualified, gifted teacher,” Driskell said. “I’ve long admired her dedication to undergraduate students at Spalding. As a literary arts leader, she is a force to be reckoned with in our city, state and nation. We couldn’t be more pleased that she’s agreed to join the graduate faculty and leadership team of Spalding’s MFA program.”

Edwards is one of four prominent poets taking on a new role in the Spalding MFA in Writing program for the spring. The others are Driskell, who was elevated to replace author Sena Jeter Naslund in running the program, and Kiki Petrosino and Douglas Manuel, who have joined the teaching faculty. (Read more about Driskell’s promotion, Petrosino coming to Spalding and Manuel coming to Spalding)

The recipient of the 2007 Al Smith Fellowship Award, Kentucky’s highest state-awarded fellowship for artistic achievement, Edwards has presented her work in a variety of noted curated reading series, including the Sarabande Reading Series, the Axton Reading Series at the University of Louisville, the KGB Reading Series in New York, the Annenberg Beach House Reading Series and Spalding at the Speed. In 2011, she was Featured Writer at the Kentucky Women Writers Conference.

Prior to teaching at Spalding, Edwards served as adjunct professor of English at U of L (2005-10). She was director of the writing center and parent communication at Bellarmine University in 2008-09. From 1994 to 2005, she served as professor of English and director of the writing center at Concordia University in Portland, Oregon.

She holds a doctorate in rhetoric and composition and a master’s degree in creative writing, both from U of L, as well as a bachelor’s in English from Centre College.

The deadline to apply for the Spalding MFA in Writing program’s spring semester is Feb. 1.

Spalding University’s low-residency Master of Fine Arts in Writing program has announced that poet and teacher Douglas Manuel has joined its faculty. He will lead a poetry workshop during the spring 2018 residency, which runs May 25-June 3 on campus.

Manuel is author of “Testify,” a full-length collection of poems, released by Red Hen Press in 2017. (Here’s Manuel’s personal website.) Born in Anderson, Indiana, he received a bachelor’s degree in creative writing from Arizona State University and a MFA from Butler University, where he was the managing editor of “Booth: A Journal.” He is currently a Middleton and Dornsife Fellow at the University of Southern California, where he is pursuing a doctorate in literature and creative writing. Manuel has been the poetry editor of Gold Line Press as well as a managing editor of Ricochet Editions.

His work is featured on the Poetry Foundation’s website and has appeared or is forthcoming in Poetry Northwest, Los Angeles Review, Superstition Review, Rhino, North American Review, The Chattahoochee Review, New Orleans Review, Crab Creek Review and elsewhere.

“Doug is a fantastic poet, scholar and editor, and he’s an expert, encouraging teacher,” Spalding MFA in Writing Program Director and fellow poet Kathleen Driskell said. “He’s a perfect addition to our faculty at Spalding, and we’re excited that our graduate students will soon have the opportunity to be mentored by him during workshop and one on one during their independent studies.”

The application deadline for the Spalding MFA in Writing program’s spring semester is Feb. 1. For more information, see the MFA program’s admission requirements or call (502) 873-4400.

Related link: List of Spalding MFA in Writing faculty


Accomplished poet Kiki Petrosino has joined the poetry faculty of Spalding University’s low-residency Master of Fine Arts in Writing program. She will start teaching in the Spring 2018 semester, which begins with a residency in May.

Petrosino is author of the poetry collections Witch Wife (2017), Hymn for the Black Terrific (2013) and Fort Red Border (2009), all from Sarabande Books. She is also author of three chapbooks: Black Genealogy (Brain Mill Press, 2017), Doubloon Oath (Flying Objects Press, 2016) and The Dark Is Here (Forklift, Ink, 2011). Her poems and essays have appeared in Poetry, Best American Poetry, The New York Times, FENCE, Gulf Coast, Jubilat and Tin House and online at Ploughshares. She is founder and co-editor of Transom, an independent online poetry journal. Her work has received three nominations for the Pushcart Prize and was listed as Notable in The Best American Essays 2016.

Since 2014, Petrosino has served as associate professor of English and director of creative writing at the University of Louisville, where she teaches undergraduate and graduate creative writing courses as well as literature courses. From 2010 to ’14, she was an assistant professor at U of L.

Petrosino serves on the advisory board of Louisville Literary Arts and on the board of the Kentucky Women Writers Conference. She is series editor of the Mineral Point Poetry Series of Brain Mill Press. She is a committee member for the Louisville Conference on Literature and Culture Since 1900 and is a manuscript evaluator for the Korea Literature Translation Institute.

Petrosino received her MFA from the University of Iowa Writer’s Workshop. She holds a master of arts in humanities degree from the University of Chicago and a bachelor’s in English from the University of Virginia. Her awards include a residency at the Hermitage Artist Retreat and research fellowships from U of L’s Commonwealth Center for the Humanities and Society and the Virginia Foundation for the Humanities.

Find more about Spalding’s MFA in Writing program and the poetry concentration here. Learn more about Kiki Petrosino and her work at

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.”