MFA Offers Post-Baccalaureate Certificate in Creative Writing

By Katy Yocom

Spalding MFA Associate Administrative Director

For writers ready to carve out space in their life for creative pursuits, Spalding University’s low-residency Master of Fine Arts in Writing is launching a post-baccalaureate certificate program in Creative Writing. The certificate program launches in November and is equivalent to one semester in Spalding’s low-residency Master of Fine Arts in Writing. Those who complete the certificate program earn 15 hours of graduate-level academic credit. Continue reading “MFA Offers Post-Baccalaureate Certificate in Creative Writing”

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When In Cleveland: A Playwright’s Search for “What’s Mine”

By: Arwen Mitchell

Spalding MFA Alumn in Playwriting

When one of my nieces was two, she went through her “mine” phase, which was in turn amusing and annoying.  One day I found her swaying from side to side to some music, and with a look of strong consternation, she informed me how she felt about it: “Mine.  My dance.” Continue reading “When In Cleveland: A Playwright’s Search for “What’s Mine””

Molly Peacock to Lead Spalding MFA Poetry Workshop

By Katy Yocom

Spalding MFA Associate Administrative Director

The Spalding MFA in Writing program is thrilled to welcome back beloved faculty emerita Molly Peacock to lead a poetry workshop for our students at the fall residency. An outstanding teacher, dynamic speaker, and one of the premier poets in North America, Molly will also speak about her career, read from her work, and offer advice to emerging poets. Continue reading “Molly Peacock to Lead Spalding MFA Poetry Workshop”

Missing Susan Sontag

by Robin Lippincott

Spalding MFA Faculty, Fiction

1

circa late 1970s

The first time I ever saw or heard of her was on The Dick Cavett Show in the latter half of the 1970s. I was still living in Central Florida at the time, still living, in fact, with my parents. If you had said the word “intellectual” to me then I would have immediately conjured the image of a boring, old, straight, white man. But then suddenly there she was, Susan Sontag. Yes, she was beautiful, and she also had style—by which I don’t mean fashion but a sense of self; she was exciting to look at and to listen to, not only the way she spoke but also her ideas.

circa late 1970s

circa late 1970s

I went to the bookstore, bought and read Against Interpretation and Styles of Radical Will. They were among only a handful of books I carried with me at first when I moved from Florida to Boston. Over the ensuing years I read everything that Sontag published, and I also saw her read from her work, and speak, many times; I even met her once.

In her book Sempre Susan, Sigrid Nuñez, who knew Sontag, writes, “Her influence on how I think and write has been profound…. She was a natural mentor…you could not… spend any significant time with her and avoid being mentored…. I cannot recall a single book she recommended that I was not glad to have read.”

Though I did not know Sontag, I would say that this was also true for me, and I have heard that it was true for many other writers as well. It was because of Sontag, after all, that I first learned about Simone Weil, Jean Genet, Nathalie Sarraute, Robert Bresson, Roland Barthes, John Berger, Glenway Westcott, Anne Carson, Leonid Tsypkin, W. G. Sebald, and so many others. She almost always made me stretch.

Here are just a few quotes from her work (Sontag was endlessly quotable):

“Illness is the night-side of life, a more onerous citizenship. Everyone who is born holds dual citizenship, in the kingdom of the well and in the kingdom of the sick.”                                                           Illness as Metaphor

And here, writing of Elizabeth Hardwick’s great novel Sleepless Nights, which she called a work of “mental weather”:

“The torment of personal relations. Nothing new there except in the disguise, and in the escape on the wings of adjectives. Sweet to be pierced by daggers at the end of paragraphs. Nothing new except language, the ever found. Cauterizing the torment of personal relations with hot lexical choices, jumpy punctuation, mercurial sentence rhythms. Devising more subtle, more engorged ways of knowing, of sympathizing, of keeping at bay. It’s a matter of adjectives. It’s where the stress falls.”                                                “Where the Stress Falls”

And then there’s this little gem from her first novel, The Benefactor:

“Many people consider dreams as the trash-bin of the day: an occupation that is undisciplined, unproductive, asocial. I understand. I understand why most people regard their dreams as of little importance. They are too light for them, and most people identify the serious with what has weight. Tears are serious; one can collect them in a jar. But a dream, like a smile, is pure air. Dreams, like smiles, fade quickly.”

Sontag’s fiction has been unfairly disparaged. Her great short story “The Way We Live Now,” which has twenty-six narrators, was first published in The New Yorker and ultimately collected in The Best American Short Stories of the Century. And several of the stories in the collection I, Etcetera, especially “Debriefing,” “Project for a Trip to China,” and “Unguided Tour,” expanded the form and became touchstones for me and many other writers; I teach “Debriefing” often. The Volcano Lover, Sontag’s penultimate novel, is a tour de force.

Over the many years, I always looked to Sontag for guidance, in terms of who to read, what to see, etc. She died in 2004 after a third bout with cancer; she was only 71. There is no one now whose opinion I trust or respect or value as much, and so I am finding my way alone, more or less, after having been mentored by her, though I carry her influence with me always.

I could go on and on, but this is a blog and not the essay that it should perhaps become.

A final word: it is chic and fashionable these days to dismiss, even to make fun of Sontag’s seriousness, as Wayne Koestenbaum recently did (when for years he openly admired Sontag and admitted her profound influence on him and his work). But I am with Sigrid Nuñez when she writes, “I am grateful to have had as an early model someone who held such an exalted, unironic view of the writer’s vocation.”

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Robin Lippincott is the author of the novels In the Meantime, Our Arcadia, and Mr. Dalloway, as well as the short story collection, The ‘I’ Rejected. Robin’s fiction has received nominations for the IMPAC Dublin Literary Award, the Pushcart Prize, the American Library Association Roundtable Award, the Independent Book Award, and the Lambda Literary Award. For ten years he reviewed mostly art and photography books for The New York Times Book Review. His fiction/nonfiction has appeared in The Paris Review, Fence, Bloom, American Short Fiction, Memorious, The Literary Review, Provincetown Arts, The Louisville Review, and The Bloomsbury Review. He has held fellowships at Yaddo, and at the MacDowell Colony. He lives in Boston.

A publishing strategy for your first poetry collection

by Kathleen Driskell

Spalding MFA Associate Program Director

Publications in good literary magazines lead often to book publication, not the other way around. You do see poetry collections without a long list of magazine acknowledgments, but not often, and not at the better presses. A list of acknowledgments from solid literary magazines is an endorsement of sorts to a book editor. It means a number of other editors have already stamped your work with approval. It means, usually, your manuscript is worth a good long look. So one of your best book publication strategies is to submit and submit and submit the poems in that manuscript to a variety of literary journals.

But landing a poem in a friend’s journal with no reputation for publishing work of any merit isn’t that meaningful, frankly. If you simply want to see your name in print, then okay, that publication has served its purpose, I suppose. However, if you want to use magazine publications to build your book-publishing platform, not so much.

I regularly get CVs from writers who’d like to teach in Spalding’s MFA Program and I can tell you if two candidates both have a ten-page list of publications, all is usually not equal. Publications in one-off magazines or unprofessional online magazines don’t really work as endorsements for your writing. In fact, those publications can work against you. One might be left to think reputable magazines haven’t seen much to consider in your work, or, worse, that you don’t have much confidence in it either.

So, aim high! By all means, send poems to your “dream-date” magazines like Poetry, The Georgia Review, or Paris Review. In fact, make a list of places where you’d run out into the street to yell hooray if you were published there—and make sure something is out to one or two of those places at all times. When I pick up Poetry or Ploughshares, I always find myself reading a poem by someone who has just begun publishing. There’s no reason that next someone can’t be you.

At the same time, you should also be sending out work to respected magazines considered “next tier.” How to choose from so many? Newpages.com is a great resource for submitting writers. Also, look through the annual prize-winning anthologies, like Best American Poetry, to see which magazines first published those winning poems. Send there.

But, in addition, research and find good literary magazines in your own region. You’re more likely to get a scribble or two on a rejection slip if you point out you’re a writer in that magazine’s geographical area—writers, even editors, don’t want to be rude to writers in their own back yards. You never know whom you will run into. That goes for you, too: go out of your way to meet and say hello to that editor when opportunity presents at a book fair or AWP. All these things help you build relationships with magazine editors. All these things help you place your poems.

Poets just beginning to submit work always ask about what to include in the cover letter, as if it’s the cover letter that cinches publication. If only. But no matter where you submit, in your cover letter, let the editors know you have actually read their magazine and appreciate it. I know from experience that editors get piles and piles of mail and are reading submissions, often, at the expense of time they might be spending on their own writing. Be nice, for goodness sakes.

And something else . . . you don’t have to subscribe to every magazine you submit to, but do make sure you subscribe to a handful. That’s part of being a good literary citizen.

The other thing I’ve learned is that editors, particularly those at regional magazines, are usually good literary citizens, as well—why else would they be doing so much work for no pay? Likely, too, they are involved with other literary things for nothing, like running a reading series or a writer’s conference. Often these regional events are small-budget affairs, with no money to pay large honorariums or fly in writers from across the country, but you’re a beginning writer (meaning low-cost, I’m afraid, at least for now), and a writer they respected enough to have published, so perhaps your name will pop up as a possible reader or panelist at one of those literary events. And at those events, you’ll get more exposure for your publishing career. Yet another reason it’s nice to be nice.

Don’t forget to have submissions out to online magazines, as well. Research to find a few web journals you can send to, because they offer exposure like no paper journal.

Recently, my poem “What the Girl Wore,” was published by Shenandoah, a well-established literary magazine that has recently gone completely online, but lost none of its stature. Within a few days of my poem going live, the editors of Poetry Daily emailed to ask if they could feature “What the Girl Wore,” the following week. Poetry Daily not only has a wonderfully large readership, they also have 62,000 Twitter followers. Overlooking online publishing opportunities can deny you a huge audience.

If you consider a poem finished, make sure it’s out, and out at more than one place—finally most editorial boards are acting more humanely and now permit simultaneous submissions. Gone are the days, thank goodness, when we waited six months or more to hear back about a batch of poems, only to have all returned with a slip of paper one would have to DNA test to know if it actually had been touched by another human being.

Besides, with online submission managers, it’s so easy to submit a batch of poems that every poem you think is finished should be out for consideration. Every poem.

Then, when poems come back—and most will—get them right back out again. If you can’t bear to do this in drips, then set aside a time when you aren’t in the mood to write poems—if you’re like me and write best in the morning, put aside time in the evening every two weeks or so to submit. Put that commitment to your work on your calendar. Better yet, make something beep at you.

And even if a poem is rejected a dozen or more times, if you believe in it, keep sending it out. I can’t remember how many times “What the Girl Wore” was rejected, but I kept it out there until it received a debut beyond any I could have imagined. And, I also gained a pretty solid acknowledgment for the front of my next book of poems.