SpaldingCon Fall 2018

Master of Fine Arts in Writing

SpaldingCon: Post-graduate Writers’ Conference

November 15-17, 2018

SpaldingCon is a post-graduate writers’ conference held during the MFA program’s fall residency. The conference begins with registration and brunch at 11 a.m. Thursday, November 15, and ends about noon on Saturday, November 17. Attendees can build their SpaldingCon experience around a workshop or treat it as a writing retreat with the option of a full novel or script manuscript review. Either way, plenty of other activities are included.

Highlights include:

  • special topic, two-hour workshop with Silas House: “Tell Their Secrets: Characterization”
  • cross-genre presentation by Neela Vaswani on “The I Sees the Eye Sees the I”
  • faculty lectures by Larry Brenner, Kira Obolensky, and Fenton Johnson
  • profession of writing lecture on ghostwriting by Alanna Nash
  • profession of writing lecture on teaching composition by Lynnell Edwards
  • Celebration of Recently Published Books by Faculty, which will include readings by Silas House, Debra Kang Dean, Elaine Orr, and Neela Vaswani
  • reception with MFA faculty and staff
  • lunch with alumni, SpaldingCon faculty, and MFA staff
  • option to participate in a faculty-led workshop or a writer’s retreat with a novel or script manuscript review


The registration deadline is Friday, September 14. The early-bird price of $499 is available through Saturday, September 8. After that, the fee is $550. To register, fill out this form

Rooms may be available at the Brown Hotel for $110 per night (includes tax) and can be requested through the registration form (first come, first served). Notification of room availability will be sent by September 28.

SpaldingCon as Workshop

All workshops at SpaldingCon are open to post-graduate students from any area of concentration. Each workshop has a minimum of 5 people. Applicants will be notified by September 28 if a workshop doesn’t fill.

“Read It Again!”—A Picture Book Workshop
led by Lesléa Newman

Focal area: picture books

Format: traditional and generative workshop

Worksheet: text for 2 picture books. Picture book texts are 500-1,200 words, double spaced (unless poetry, then single-spaced with double spaces between verses), and do not include notes for illustrators. Email Worksheet to no later than Wednesday, October 3, with the subject line “[lastname, firstname], SpaldingCon.” Workshop Booklets will be emailed out by October 26.

What to bring to the workshop: Bring your favorite childhood picture book and be prepared to discuss what made it so memorable.

The most successful picture books inspire a child to cry out, “Read it again!” over and over. What makes a picture so beloved? In this workshop, we will explore all types of picture books: books written in rhymed verse, books written in prose, funny picture books, serious picture books, historical picture books, picture book biographies, picture books that explore social issues, etc. Each student will submit two picture book manuscripts for their workshop booklet, which will be discussed during the first half of each workshop session. The second half of each workshop session will consist of discussions of various picture books brought in by the instructor and generative writing exercises. Students are also asked to bring in their favorite childhood picture book and be prepared to discuss what made it so memorable.

Think Like a Script Doctor
led by Larry Brenner

Focal area: screenwriting

Format: generative workshop

Worksheet: none

Rewriting someone else’s screenplay is a different animal than rewriting one’s own, and it’s a skill that’s in demand. How do we approach a rewrite that is designed to address a perceived issue in someone else’s work? How do we bring ourselves as writers to a rewrite of another person’s script? We will begin this workshop by watching a movie together, then discussing ways in which the movie could be rewritten to address any perceived problems in the script. After the discussion, participants will each rewrite a scene from the movie before bringing it to workshop to share with the other participants. After the exercise, we will discuss how the techniques we used can be brought back to help our own writing.

Six of One, Half Dozen of the Other: A Mixed-Genre Generative Workshop
led by Neela Vaswani

Focal area: prose and poetry

Format: generative workshop

Worksheet: none

What to bring to the workshop: Bring between a paragraph and a page from three different pieces of your own work (of the same genre or different genres)—preferably work on which you want a different angle, something that feels stuck or lackluster or challenging to you.

Open to students of any genre(s) with an interest in cross-pollination and hybrid vigor. We will explore a sampling of mixed-genre excerpts (varied combinations of poetry, fiction, CNF, photography, biography, translation, visual art, etc.) by Teju Cole, Dorothy Allison, Zinzi Clemmons, Anne Carson, Leslie Marmon Silko, Tove Jansson, and John Berger, among others. Additionally, we’ll discuss the history/purpose of mixed-genre and try our hands at creating it. For this workshop, there is no Worksheet to turn in ahead of time; instead bring with you between a paragraph and a page from three different pieces of your own work (of the same genre or different genres)—preferably work on which you want a different angle, something that feels stuck or lackluster or challenging to you.

Flash Fiction/Creative Nonfiction Generative Workshop
led by Robin Lippincott

Focal area: fiction, creative nonfiction

Format: generative workshop

Worksheet: none

Writing short forces the writer of fiction and/or creative nonfiction to pay closer attention to language and the poetic techniques of lyrical compression, as well as to formal experimentation. During this workshop, we will focus on generating new flash pieces, as well as sharing and revising that work.

Lectures and Other Presentations

Descriptions still to come are for a lecture on ghostwriting by Alanna Nash, a lecture on teaching composition by Lynnell Edwards, and a lecture by Kira Obolensky.

Tell Their Secrets: Characterization (generative workshop)
By Silas House

An intensive look at the element which endears readers the most: the characters who populate your writing. We will look at work by Alice Walker, Brad Watson, Bruce Chatwin, Willa Cather, Sarah Perry, and more to examine the way to create complex people who live and breathe on the page. This session will also include generative writing prompts so that you’ll leave having created a new character and a whole scene. Come prepared to learn and to write.

The I sees the eye sees the I
by Neela Vaswani

How does photography connect to writing?  What can writers learn from photography, and how can it be used in our work? The “I” and the “eye” relate, and the flexibility of each affects the narrative, style, and voice of a text—be it composed of words or images or both. This lecture will consider the work of writers (of fiction, poetry, CNF), photographers, and writer-photographers such as, John Berger, Nikky Finney, Rachel Eliza Griffiths, Geoff Dyer, Carrie Mae Weems, Dorothy Allison, Amitava Kumar, Cindy Sherman, Teju Cole, Sarah Kolac, Ta-Nehisi Coates, Susan Sontag, Leslie Marmon Silko, and others—and will include a brief exercise, time permitting.

The Inspirational Fact: Reading and Writing as Spiritual Practice
by Fenton Johnson

This lecture explores the writer’s struggle with issues of fact and fiction en route to addressing the larger question of the place of reading and writing in deepening and enriching our encounter with the world. Over the years I’ve gathered notes from citations of Marianne Moore, Steven Weinberg, the Ramayana, Parker Palmer, Walt Whitman, Marilynne Robinson, W.H. Auden, William Faulkner, Rabbi Menachem of Kotzk, Vladimir Nabokov, Albert Einstein, and a riff on the artist Mark Rothko. They’ll make cameo appearances, along with a nod and a bow to Albert Goldbarth and Guy Davenport for inspiring my associative lecture style, which may lead, or so I hope, to a conversation about associative writing, especially in creative nonfiction. Along the way we will talk about incorporating what we loosely call a “spiritual” or philosophical dimension into your nonfiction work—how to find the forest composed of those trees, how to invoke the bigger picture and, invoking it, how to use it to lead you and your reader deeper into your subject. I will address that numinous place where noble empiricism fades imperceptibly into the mystic (to quote Van Morrison), and talk about why all writers, whatever our genre, must inhabit both worlds . . . which discussion leads to an understanding that the worlds are not separate and distinct but intertwined and inextricable.

Don’t Change That Channel
by Larry Brenner

How to write for TV While outwardly similar to screenwriting, there are some important differences in television writing that need to be addressed. In this lecture, we will talk about the nature of television writing- developing a pilot, the structure of a television episode, and how to develop a series bible for your original work. We will also discuss how television writing is undergoing a period of rapid transition with the proliferation of streaming services. Several series will be discussed including: Stranger Things, Breaking Bad, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Frasier and others.

SpaldingCon as Writer’s Retreat with Manuscript Review

Alums who choose not to participate in a workshop can use their free time as a writer’s retreat. These alums may also receive a manuscript review.

FICTION: Up to five alumni may submit complete novel manuscripts for critique by Karen Mann. Karen will make margin notes, offer a written critique, and have a 45-minute conference with each participant during workshop time at SpaldingCon. The rest of workshop time can be used as a writing retreat. All other SpaldingCon sessions are open to these participants. (Manuscripts to be sent by September 14.)

DRAMATIC WRITING: Up to five alumni may submit complete scripts (screenwriting or playwriting) for critique by Charlie Schulman. Charlie will make margin notes, offer a written critique, and have a 45-minute conference with each participant. Workshop time can be used to work on writing projects. All other SpaldingCon sessions are open to these participants. (Manuscripts to be sent by September 14.)

Questions? Email Karen Mann at

Cancellation for SpaldingCon

100% of fee will be refunded through September 28.

50% of fee will be refunded after September 28

No refund after November 2

Cancellation policy for rooms at the Brown

Full refund through November 13, after that, full refund minus any charges made by the Brown Hotel.