On Not Writing

By Robin Lipponcott, Spalding Low-Residency MFA

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If a wound is great
you cannot turn it into
something that is spoken,
it can barely be written.
—Michael Ondaatje, Warlight

I want to write about not writing, because sometimes we don’t; and sometimes when we don’t, we don’t because we can’t. (Of course, there are numerous reasons why writers don’t/can’t write, many of which are chronicled in Tillie Olsen’s seminal book, Silences).As some of you know, I recently experienced the death of my partner of 36 years, Lee Salkovitz. Continue reading “On Not Writing”


Visual Literature: Learning from TV and Film

By Beth Bauman, Spalding Low-Residency MFA Writing for Children & Young Adults Faculty


If you’re a YA writer, you already know you need to read a wide variety of literature, including YA, of course, and general fiction with teen protagonists. But I’d argue it can be just as helpful to study good TV and movies about teens. Continue reading “Visual Literature: Learning from TV and Film”

Maggie Smith: Poet, ‘Homebody,’ and 2018 Axton Writer’s Block Keynote

By Guest Blogger Brent Coughenour, Assistant Director of Creative Writing, University of Louisville


The sponsors for the 2018 Writer’s Block Festival—which takes place at the College Street Building (812 South Second Street) on Spalding University’s campus, on Saturday, November 10, beginning at 9:00 a.m.—are ecstatic about this year’s keynote speaker: the poet Maggie Smith, who will deliver the University of Louisville’s Anne and William Axton Reading Series keynote address at 5:00 p.m. in the third floor ballroom. Continue reading “Maggie Smith: Poet, ‘Homebody,’ and 2018 Axton Writer’s Block Keynote”

A Different Kind of Truth

By Sam Zalutsky, Spalding MFA Screenwriting Faculty


I used to read the New York Times cover to cover, every day. I’d start with the Sports pages (no lie!) and then move on to business, and then arts, and finally open the first section. Sometimes it was a challenge to take in all the events happening around the world, but I was raised by parents who saw the Times as the great American truth-teller, the arbiter of the news that mattered. And despite its many biases, it really is a great paper.

We got the daily subscription in Portland, Oregon, when I was in high school as soon as it became available, and since college I’ve subscribed pretty consistently. My father still reads it cover to cover every day. For both of us, it is a type of addiction, a feeling of absence when we don’t read it. But lately I’ve needed a break; reading the news is too much to bear. And it’s not even the “fake news.” I like to know what’s going on. But I also realize that the truth can be hard sometimes and that I need to protect myself and put a buffer between me and the news. But it doesn’t mean that I am not interested in the truth. I think I’m just more interested right now in other kinds of truth, the truth that we writers know a lot about. It’s the truth of art, the truth of connection with others, the truth of nature, the truth of shared experience. It is something I think we do at Spalding really well and I think it’s something that is even more important when basic norms of our society are being upturned daily.

One reason I love the Spalding MFA so much is that our residencies are intense times where these other truths prevail. And I encourage everyone to find other times and places to experience these truths as well.

In September I participated in two events that reinforced my need for these truths. First I went to Ft. Collins, Colorado, where I had a photograph in a group show called Center Forward at the Center for Fine Art Photography. I had never been to Fort Collins, a beautiful town full of college students, wide streets, bars with live music, and outdoor enthusiasts. I randomly chose an Airbnb where my host is an adventure photographer, so we spent mornings on her back porch drinking coffee and talking about photography. She and her adorable dog spend months at a time camping and hiking around the West, taking photos (her, not her dog). I loved breathing in the clean air with her in the mornings and I loved hearing about her life, which is so different from my own in New York City.

meat rack couple

Meat Rack – Couple by Sam Zalutsky

At the show were probably ten other photographers from many different places: New Jersey, Los Angeles, Tokyo, Boston, Boulder. We ranged in age (I think) from our 20s into our 60s, straight, gay, men, women, mainly white and Asian. We all met the night of the opening when hundreds of people came through as part of the city’s first Friday celebration. Two college students enthusiastically interviewed me about my work for their photography class. And the following day the other photographers and I were able to share our work with each other (kind of like a workshop), opening a larger discussion about our processes and goals. Each artist’s work was very different, but it was exciting to share our themes that we were working and the similarities and differences in our work. Although it was just one weekend, I felt a strong connection to the other photographers and know I have expanded my community further. Those connections might be fleeting, but they were real and they were true.

After Ft. Collins I attended the Klamath Independent Film Festival in Klamath Falls, Oregon, for a special screening of Seaside. Despite growing up in Oregon, I had never been to Klamath Falls, a sweet little town near the California border. I drove up from San Francisco with my husband and two friends. We stopped at the Lava Beds National Monument near the Oregon border and spent an incredible day visiting Crater Lake, which has some of the bluest water I have ever seen. To say something looked like a movie feels increasingly cliche yet these blues looked like they had been digitally enhanced. But it was real and it was true.


But the film festival was the real reason I was there. There were all types of films, features and shorts, documentaries and fiction, but everyone there had a connection to Oregon and were making work about Oregon. The opportunity to show my work to local Oregon audiences and other Oregon filmmakers was a real gift. There were filmmakers of all ages, from high school into their sixties and local film fans who don’t have many opportunities to see independent film on the big screen. What brought us together was a love of storytelling and art and a very special part of the world.

After just a few days of sharing our work, we returned to our regular lives and I returned to New York, a very different place. But my time in Southern Oregon was real and it was true. A different kind of truth from the constant news cycle and a truth that feels more essential today than ever.



Sam Zalutsky recently completed his second feature, Seaside, a thriller set on the Oregon Coast. For his first feature, You Belong to Me, he was shortlisted for the Independent Spirit Award’s Someone to Watch Award. The film, available on iTunes and Amazon, and won the Audience Award, Best First Feature at San Diego FilmOut. Sam has directed second unit on two true crime shows, including Emmy-winner A Crime to Remember. His short film How to Make it to the Promised Land premiered on Shortoftheweek.com. He also directed and produced the comedy web series The Go-Getters. Sam earned his BA in studio art from Yale and his MFA in film from NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts and is on twitter and instagram @zalutsky. He teaches screenwriting in Spalding University’s low-residency MFA in Writing program. Visit Zalutsky’s website here.


The Story outside the Story in Totem: America*

By Debra Kang Dean, Spalding Low-Residency MFA Poetry Faculty

Paul Gauguin – “Where Do We Come From? What Are We? Where Are We Going?”

When the Hawaiian Renaissance, a cultural revitalization movement, began in 1970 in my home state, I was a sophomore at a large public high school attended by students from the University district of Manoa Valley and two others between which I lived: the largely middle-class Asian district of Pauoa Valley and Papakolea, an area referred to as Hawaiian “homestead land.” A few months into the school year, I found myself in the company of an ethnically diverse group brought together by a common interest: track and field. Outside the schoolyard, Japanese investment and tourism were on the rise, and, a couple of years later, Ferdinand Marcos would declare martial law in the Philippines, which would bring an influx of Filipinos. I understood only in retrospect how this confluence of events had knocked me out of my comfort zone in the Islands. Continue reading “The Story outside the Story in Totem: America*”

Inspiration from the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators

By Karen Mann, Spalding Low-Residency MFA Administrative Director


When I refer to SCBWI, I’m usually asked, “What’s that?” It’s an acronym all writers should know. The Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators is an international professional organization that supports the creation and availability of quality children’s books around the world. Its members are writers and illustrators of preschool through young adult books, as well as librarians, educators, artists, students, dramatists, musicians, filmmakers—anyone with an active interest in children’s literature or media. Continue reading “Inspiration from the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators”