Fall 2017 Graduate Spotlight

Fall 2017 Residency in Louisville just wrapped up and has sent us our newest alums.  I was able to catch up with a few of them during the crazy few weeks leading up to their graduation residency to ask some of them a few questions and welcome them into the alumni association.


Stephen Allten Brown

  1. What was your concentration? Fiction.
  2. Did you study outside of that for a semester? No, but I may come back.
  3. Where did you attend residency?  Louisville only.
  4. Why did you choose the location you did? I live here!
  5. Favorite thing about the Spalding Program? Working mentors.
  6. Favorite memory at a residency? The discussion with the cast after viewing the play, “Cholera: a Love Story.”
  7. What did you work on during the program?  I worked on two novels and a short story. The short story was published in the Appalachian Heritage Magazine. My thesis is “Entartete Kunst.” It is a mystery novel about stolen art. My ECE was accepted as a library resource at the University of New Mexico. Here’s the link.
  8. Do have immediate plans to use your MFA? Every day when I continue writing the last chapter in the novel I started last semester. I may teach.
  9. What are your writing plans/goals after graduation? I will continue writing novels. I’ve outlined number 4.
  10. What will you miss about Spalding? The support—although the online writing groups available to alumni will be a godsend. I’m attaching a picture of me at book signing.

Jessica Weisenfels

Jessica Weisenfels

(I use a different name for my professional writing because writing for the internet is a singularly bizarre profession, but when I am writing fiction or poetry, or signing my full name on an official document, I am Jessica B. Weisenfels.)

  1. What was your concentration? At Spalding I have studied fiction, the whole way through. I’ve been proud to be part of that concentration and completely pleased to stick in my genre and learn from as many fiction writers—mentors and peers—as possible.
  2. Where did you attend residency? I attended residency in Louisville only.
  3. Why did you choose the location you did? I chose to attend residencies in Louisville partly because those residencies fit better into my life, but I’d be lying if I didn’t admit that seeing the friends I made there each time played a major part in that decision, too.
  4. Favorite thing about the Spalding Program? My favorite thing about the Spalding program is the sense of community. I’ve been lucky enough to meet some amazing people who have become my friends, and I believe we’ll stay friends for the rest of our lives. I hope to be ninety-five years old and still exchanging stories with my fellow Spalding alums.
  5. Favorite memory at a residency? During my first residency, I had the privilege of hearing Robin Lippincott read from his wonderful book Blue Territory. I was especially struck by the musicality of the language in the opening paragraphs. When Robin walked into the MFA Office where I happened to be sitting the next day, I meant to say something like, “Sir, I thoroughly enjoyed your reading last night. The sense of sound in your prose is so entirely lovely.” Since I am apparently the most awkward person in half the world, what I said instead was, “You have beautiful ears!” This is my favorite memory because Robin was so gracious and kind about my exclamation, and it turned out that, out of a whole stack of beginning paragraphs in fiction, he had chosen my very own paragraph to be read at the end of residency when we gathered to celebrate the cross-genre assignment.
  6. What did you work on during the program?  During my time at Spalding I have worked on short fiction, including some of the pieces that are collected in my thesis as a set of very loosely linked short stories. These stories are set in a fictional rural county in the Arkansas Ozarks. Mostly the characters in my stories die. In the past two years, I have murdered many, many people in fiction with diseases and sad circumstances. I am a serial murderess. Now that my time with Spalding is coming to a close, I feel confident enough in the skills I have learned that I intend to begin a longer work within the next year, which will also probably be very sad. I like to tell people that I write Southern fiction—but mostly what I write is grief.
  7. Do you have immediate plans to use your MFA? Yes! I was lucky enough to land a steady freelance writing gig composing short articles about my home state during my first semester. At the close of my final semester, a lady who runs a local magazine sought me out and asked me to interview with her. I begin as Editor and Digital Content Specialist with B-Savvy Magazine of Fort Smith, Arkansas, immediately after graduation.
  8. What are your writing plans/goals after graduation? I hope that what is now a thesis unfurls all its little tendrils and grows to become a proper manuscript that someone will want to turn into a book. I have been lucky enough (and persistent enough) to have had some of my short stories appear in magazines, and I look forward to sending out even more stories, being rejected probably hundreds of times, and hopefully seeing more of my work in my favorite literary publications.
  9. What will you miss about Spalding? I will miss having wonderful mentors and workshop leaders who have given me critique and encouragement in equal portion. I will miss having a second home at the Brown Hotel and in the Mansion Building, but mostly I will miss being able to hug my second family twice a year.

T E Wilderson

Troy Wilderson (T.E. Wilderson)

  1. What was your concentration? Fiction all the way.
  2. Where did you attend residency? Louisville only
  3. Why did you choose the location you did?  I didn’t want to have to stretch out my time in the program by going abroad.
  4. Favorite thing about the Spalding Program? Having a writing community and making friends.
  5. Favorite memory at a residency? Every time Sena says “Welcome home.”
  6. What did you work on during the program? I worked on a novel and some short stories. The name of my novel is The Duval Sisters Chronicles, and it is a dark comedic suspense about two sisters who befriend homeless men, take insurance policies out on them, then kill them for the policy money.
  7. Do you have immediate plans to use your MFA? I plan on either going into the publishing world as an editorial assistant, or as a college professor.
  8. What are your writing plans/goals after graduation? I plan on polishing up my manuscript and trying to get it published.
  9. What will you miss about Spalding? The camaraderie and packet deadlines!

Issac PSU headshot

Issac Stolzenbach

  1. What was your concentration? The few, the proud, the CNF ✊ Creative Nonfiction, but I’ve written journalism, poetry, essays, and several plays (just please don’t tell Kathleen Driskell about the poetry part 😬). 
  2. Where did you attend residency? Louisville only for Residencies, but I had to travel up from Central Florduh. 
  3. Why did you choose the location you did?  The residencies abroad were to places I’d already been and my health isn’t currently suited for more international travel. 
  4. Favorite thing about the Spalding Program? The lack of pretense among Faculty & Staff (and the fact that it is in my hometown). 
  5. Favorite memory at a residency? Well, I have several wonderful memories from Spalding Residencies, but one keeps popping up when I read this question that runs counter to its query. Thus, to get to my most favorite memories, I must take you through my least favorite: During my third residency, I slipped down the stairs of the Lectorium (ELC) and after fiddling with the VA “healthcare” system for a year trying to get a diagnosis, we finally found out (by going to a civilian doctor 🙄) that I had a 9mm protrusion between my L5-S1 vertebrae sitting on my sciatic nerve. Not pleasant. It took me out of service for four or five years. I thought I’d never finish my masters degree.   Then one day the VA called and stated that my education benefits were going to expire if I didn’t use them, so I figured I’d give it another go, but I had no faith that I’d actually make it. Part of the required Residency reading was the book “A Pearl in the Storm.” I rolled my eyes a bit at first b\c I’m old Army and stuff about the sea – Navy stuff! – freaks me out. But I relished every page not knowing that the author, Tori Murden McClure, had become President of Spalding University in my absence. I went around raving about the book b\c Tori had the same injury I had and she went on to *row* the whole of the Atlantic Ocean (nearly twice!). When I got to Residency, I found out that Tori was our President, and I flipped my lid. I seized upon every moment Tori could spare to talk. She has the same smarts, tenacity, and humor as the Army Rangers with whom I served.  When Tori was talking to us about her book, she mentioned the Charter for Compassion initiative and taught us the etymology of the word compassion: with suffer, to suffer with – if you’re willing to suffer with me, I’m willing to suffer with you . . . and we’re all suffering in one way or another. I knew the pain my body was in from my worldly adventures; I could only imagine the pain Tori’s body must be in from being alone on a single-seat boat and getting beat up by Hurricane Danielle (1998). At this moment in November 2016, when we were marveling at Tori’s boat, I weighed 301 pounds, I was walking with a cane, and I had a beard that (nearly) went down to my bellybutton. Then, later in the same Residency, Kathleen Driskell gave me a Spalding University Challenge Coin (she called it a Mission Coin but it meant something different to me). The cool strike of that coin meeting my palm, when she shook my hand and said “Welcome back,” flashed my head back to the dozen Challenge Coins I’d earned in the military. Being awarded one always meant you had to carry a higher standard. It was always an esteemed honor to “get coined.” I carried that coin daily and infused it with as much positive energy as I could: I completely reprogrammed my brain from being sardonic to being sincere. And with that coin in my pocket, I ventured back into the world and (politely) challenged college presidents in Central Florduh to affirm the Charter for Compassion where there isn’t a single college-level school on the charter. I’ve yet to find success b\c down here the word compassion means “handout.” But I’m still working on it.  Flash forward to the next Residency (last Spring): I dropped *50* pounds, eliminated eight prescriptions from my life, and stopped walking with a cane. I met with Tori to thank her in person for being such an inspiration and for being a true Leader. I awarded Claudia Love Mair that coin for overcoming mental health issues and writing her way to the finishline (graduation). I hope it serves Claudia as well as it did me!  There are many favorite moments written here, but this one is my favorite: Tori said she would nominate me to join the Kentucky Colonel ranks for being so passionate about compassion. The nomination from Madam President alone is almost more honor than I can bear – and from the nomination on it’s all politics, so I have no expectation of actually getting certified, but it is the thought that counts. Either way, I am forever changed for attending Spalding University. [I also really enjoy talking smack about other genres downstairs at The Brown Hotel 😂 Hey, it’s a Louisville Lip thing 🤗😜🤗]
  6. What did you work on during the program? I’ve had fun writing creative and critical essays in the MFA Program (more fun with the critical stuff): Operation Goat Snatch I & II about wrangling some goats for my wife’s best friend; greasemonkey about my zany military adventures (and the episodes that led to PTSD); The Cardinal Directions of Imagery (SCE); and my creative thesis The Sinistral Way: Lefthanded Culture & Applied Philosophy about having the daylights scared outta me when I saw our daughter favoring her left hand (like Tori, I too grew up in an era before one was allowed to be lefthanded, but I fought back and emerged with my handedness intact . . . but a li’l bit tweaked). I’m more of an essayist or an article writer than a book writer, but I’ve taken a big whack at creating a book with The Sinistral Way. The creative thesis I submitted is only half of the book. Hurricane Irma blew through here and took half of my pages with her (in other words, she stole more than two weeks of my writing time as I was compiling 130+ pages of work! Upon submission, the thesis was pared down to ≈80 pages). 
  7. Do you have immediate plans to use your MFA? Yes, if I can find or create a school that has affirmed the Charter for Compassion. I have competing degenerative conditions and will probably fall again. If\when it does happen, I want to be lifted up instead of being staked to the ground. My students should be afford compassion without question: so long as you’re rowing the boat a bit each day (writing), we’ll get there together. Valencia College recently received a grant to teach writing to Veterans through the humanities. That’s exactly how I returned from the mouth of madness after the military: my undergrad degrees are in humanities (servant leadership) and cultural anthropology (generational studies). That is probably where I will get involved first, or I’ll stay in Volusia county and try to get a similar program started at Stetson University. 
  8. What are your writing plans/goals after graduation? There’s an actual graduation at the end of all this?!? I heard that was just a rumor! 😮 But seriously, I intend to be a blue collar professor. I’m not sure how far I will get with this thinking b\c I marvel at the heights of BS verbiage coming out of academia down here. We’ll see. I managed to hustle the VA into paying for me to get a PhD, so I’ll be exploring which one to chase (psychology or educational leadership or neuroscience) while teaching and tending to the newborn that’s due in March. My cup runneth over with possibilities . . . . 
  9. What will you miss about Spalding? The People! The Deadlines! The Madness of Making Time to Write! Spalding University is in Louisville, Kentucky, which is where I consider home, so I will miss my dear school at least as much as I miss home. I’m going to miss hearing Brad Tomlinson playing piano at The Brown Hotel.  I’m going to miss dropping in at the MFA Office to find out where I again missed the obvious. I’m going to miss Kathleen Driskell blowing my hair back with her intricate knowledge of our shared language. I’m going to miss trying to get an appointment to talk with Tori. I’m going to miss Karen Mann guiding us all to the finishline. I’m going to miss the commanding way Katy Yocum writes and walks (I always stepped aside). I’m going to miss Ellyn Lichvar’s patience in not smacking me (even when I deserved it). I’m going to miss the no-BS conversations I had with Jason Hill. I’m going to miss competing with so many powerful Voices. I’m going to miss being at one of the few places in this world where I didn’t feel out of place. I’m going to miss being around creative creatures who are at least as crazy as me. I’m going to miss talking smack about genres and styleguides and bad writing. Ultimately, I’m going to miss being a student . . . b\c from grad-school graduation on it all gets serious in an unfunny way: I will have to don the responsibility that comes with the master’s hood. 


Cassandra Brower

  1. What was your concentration? Screenwriting. I didn’t study outside my field. I considered it several times, but had too many screenplay ideas to work on. 
  2. Where did you attend residency? I did my first residency in Greece, then due to my Navy funding dates, I did the rest at Louisville. 
  3. Why did you choose the location you did? If my money wouldn’t have run out and it wouldn’t have taken 4 years to earn my degree I would have gone to all the abroad trips. I was supposed to go to Scotland, but decided to buy a house so I had to forego that one. It did allow me to finish my degree six months early though, so you know, the bright side. 
  4. Favorite thing about the Spalding Program? The people I met. 
  5. Favorite memory at a residency? Hanging out in the lobby after graduation with everyone. 
  6. What did you work on during the program? I started 5 screenplays and finished one (my thesis). My thesis is currently titled The Widow of Windburn Hill. It’s a horror story about three desperate people and the lengths they go to to survive. 
  7.  Do you have immediate plans to use your MFA? No. I have immediate plans to get lots of sleep though. 
  8. What are your writing plans/goals after graduation? I hope to continue to work on the other screenplays I started. Maybe someday I’ll have a daily writing habit. 
  9. What will you miss about Spalding? The people. I will really miss the people. They are the best. And residency. I always feel so creatively charged at residency. It’s great! 

josie gingrich picture

Josie Gingrich

  1. What was your concentration? W4CYA, and I also studied fiction for a semester.
  2. Where did you attend residency? All my residencies were in Louisville.
  3. Why did you choose the location you did? Louisville is convenient to where I live (Bloomington, Indiana) so it made travel and taking time off easy. While the international residencies sounded exciting, I found I really looked forward to coming back to a similar routine each time.
  4. Favorite thing about the Spalding Program? I loved being around writers who were from all over the country and in different stages of life, and the flexibility of the program was amazing. I was able to keep a full-time job and take time off from the program to have a baby while continuing to make progress with my writing, and that really made the degree possible for me. The brief-residency model allows so many more people to participate. 
  5. Favorite memory at a residency? Not a specific memory, but I loved the fact we always had outside cultural experiences scheduled into the week. It was such a lovely little brain break to go to a museum or a show, to see a bit of the city, and to come back fresh. 
  6. What did you work on during the program?  I worked on the beginnings of several young adult and middle grade novels throughout the program, and finished one for my thesis. It’s a young adult paranormal novel called Glow Worm about a teenage girl with a secret power who’s part of a network of con-artists.
  7. Do you have immediate plans to use your MFA? My immediate plan is to keep the momentum going! One of the best things about the program is how it teaches you to get into a solid writing routine and fit writing in to your daily life. 
  8. What are your writing plans/goals after graduation? My long term goal is to get a book published. If not Glow Worm, then the next one!
  9. What will you miss about Spalding? I’ll miss being around a bunch of talented, dedicated writers on a regular basis and the access to such fantastic mentors. It has been a wonderful experience!

Martha Agan

  1.  What was your concentration? Creative Nonfiction
  2.  Where did you attend residency? Louisville only
  3. Why did you choose the location you did? Already traveled extensively
  4. What’s your favorite thing about the Spalding program? Camaraderie and creative support
  5. Favorite memory at a Spalding Residency? Hanging in the lounge of the Brown
  6.  What did you work on during the program? The memoir in essays. Name in my thesis was “Kissed with a Lie”
  7.  Do you have immediate plans to use your MFA? I’m working with seniors in high school and their college theses.
  8.  What are your writing plans/ goals after graduation? I have plans for several pieces that I am considering. Will be submitting to literary journals. In writing my heart out.
  9.  What will you miss about Spalding? All the wonderful people I have encountered

Leslie Lynch

  1. What was your concentration? I started in Fiction, then took a semester outside that concentration – CNF – and found I had a voice for it. I ended up graduating with a concentration in CNF.
  2. Where did you attend residency?  All Louisville. I live fairly close so that part was an easy choice. I would have LOVED to go to Edinburgh, but due to other circumstances, it didn’t work out.
  3. Favorite thing about the Spalding Program? The support. I have met SO many wonderful people, many of whom will be lifelong friends, including mentors. I also loved the challenge of being exposed to so many different forms of writing (and attempting them!) along with the interrelatedness of the arts experiences.
  4. Favorite memory at a residency? Laughing with friends, getting genuine applause when I got brave enough to read.
  5. What did you work on during the program? (A novel, a few novels, short stories, plays… poetry book? Or what was your thesis? Tell us the title and a short summary of the work(s).) My thesis is: The Freedom Quilt – A Memoir. From feral cats to mortality, from life-altering experiences to quilts, from mothers and daughters to inscrutable dreams, the writer stitches together relationships and events to mine their deeper meaning. In the process she creates a whole greater than the sum of its parts: a quilt of words. All manner of questions, including thorny theological challenges – especially vexing when applied to the messiness of real life – are explored. A few find some illumination within these pages, others, perhaps not. But the questions are universal, and invite examination.
  6. Do you have immediate plans to use your MFA? Only in terms of using the skills I’ve learned to improve my writing. I’m also going to begin shopping my CNF around.
  7. What are your writing plans/goals after graduation? I have a novel that I will probably tear apart and rewrite; more CNF; some community work as my giving back or passing on the gifts given to me.
  8. What will you miss about Spalding? The deadlines, believe it or not! The specter of no external requirement of writing is scary. Of course I will miss the people, but I plan to be involved in the alumni events around Residencies.

Brett E. Niethamer

  1. What was your concentration? Screenwriting (nothing outside)
  2. Where did you attend residency? Louisville only
  3. Why did you choose the location you did? It was focused on the art and the work itself and provided and environment that helped me develop my personal voice.
  4. Favorite memory at a residency? Workshops with fellows writers that bounced ideas around and helped you find the best course of action (also made amazing friends). The night of graduation, we had the largest, most epic game of Cards Against Humanity. Even my mother joined. And she was hilarious.
  5. What did you work on during the program? I worked on several screenplays, some feature films, (like an adaptation of DragonBall Z) and a pilot for a television show about people in an insane asylum called So You’ve Been Admitted. My Thesis was The Angry Dead which is a horror/comedy that follows a down on his luck comedian as hordes of famous people rise from the dead including the likes of The Three Stooges, Amelia Earhart, and even Hitler!
  6. Do you have immediate plans to use your MFA? I plan to use my MFA to teach while I try to make it big with my screenplays
  7. What are your writing plans/ goals after graduation? Plans are to relax and get my work into the best possible condition before submitting to festivals and producers
  8. What will you miss about Spalding? I will miss the friends I made, the fun times we had in person, and the group of writers available in the workshop groups. Those were incredibly helpful.


Portia Pennington

  1. What was your concentration? Screenwriting. I started out in Playwriting; did my out of genre in Screenwriting second semester and never went back. I love playwriting a great deal, but having watched thousands of movies in my lifetime, that genre felt more at home to me.
  2. Where did you attend residency? Why did you choose the locations you did? I always did my residencies in Louisville. I love the feel of those intense days there, walking back and forth from the Brown, the interrelatedness of the arts events, the opportunity to see and hear more of the faculty across genres.
  3. Favorite thing about the Spalding Program? My favorite thing about Spalding…too hard to narrow it down…I love so many things about it! My favorite thing is that it lives up to what Sena tells us it will be: intellectually stimulating and emotionally supportive. I grew and learned and was nurtured, all at the same time. That’s a tough recipe to make work.
  4. Favorite Memory at a Residency? Favorite memory: sweating it out in workshop when my words were read aloud, then laughing with my peers at our own in-workshop dynamics–watching those dynamics change and grow as the week progressed.
  5. What did you work on during the program? My thesis is a feature length screenplay. During my reading while at Spalding I stumbled across an anecdote about the writing of the classic film, The Maltese Falcon. According to John Huston himself, the man historically credited with writing the film, he gave the novel to his secretary to “type up” into a script. This unnamed woman wrote the first draft of what later became one of the all-time great films ever made. I set out to find her; unable to do so, I set out to craft my own version of what her life might have been.
  6. Do you have immediate plans to use your MFA? My immediate plans are to begin revision of my screenplay, word by word, brick by brick. Having “finished” it for Spalding, I think I might be able to actually write it now! I have a couple of other feature length projects in the works, as well as final edits on a feature length documentary I have been working on.
  7. What are you writing plans/ goals after graduation? My plans are to organize the massive mess in my office and develop some sort of system for all my projects (won’t happen!). My goal is to implement a schedule that will keep me on track without my packet deadlines doing that for me.
  8. What will you miss about Spalding? I will miss my mentors and my workshop colleagues. Their insightful reading and stellar feedback have made all the difference to me and to my writing.

Other Graduating Class Members:

Ashley Alliano
Bobby Harris
Jane Jones
Bobby Kirk

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