Passage to India inspires writers: 2016 trip set for Jan. 16-25

Alice-Catherine Jennings wrote poems, A.L.A. Covington wrote a short story, Skye Wallin produced a music video — and that was just the beginning.

Writers found a flood of inspiration when they trekked to India with Spalding MFA in Writing faculty member Helena Kriel in January 2015 for a writing trip that included the Jaipur Literature Festival.

Inspired by the literature festival and the deep immersion in the sights and sounds of India, Janet Schneider went on a reading binge of women Indian authors, then started incorporating references to India in a short story. Now, she is toying with a story about an encounter she had with someone while on the trip.

Since the trip, Angela Elles has written poems and started a creative nonfiction piece about the events leading up to the trip, when she experienced a mysterious illness that was behaving suspiciously like leukemia. “Which made me even more determined to make the trip happen,” she writes in an email interview. “I ended up being fine, and writing about it has been fun, actually, because it was so intense and now I can focus that intensity into the writing.”

Registration open for 2016 trip

In 2016, Kriel will lead another trip, which wraps a writing workshop around one of the world’s largest literature festivals. Kriel’s trip is Jan. 16-25, 2016, with the festival falling at the end of the excursion. The trip includes wildlife safaris in Ranthambore to find tigers; visiting the magnificent Taj Mahal; wandering around ancient palaces; experiencing rural India and the peace of village life; being a guest at a sumptuous wedding; seeing a Bollywood movie in an old cinema; riding rickshaws through one of the world’s greatest waterbird sanctuaries, and more.


Creative momentum

For last year’s participants,  momentum from the trip has continued well into 2015, as Jennings and two other writers on the trip are collaborating on a chapbook. Two of Jennings’ poems are published online on the trip website at

india-jaipurfestivalWhat hooked Katerina Stoykova-Klemer on taking the trip in early 2015 was Kriel’s missive that “”Before you sit down to write, you have to stand up to live.”

“So, I’ve taken this to heart,” she writes in an email.

Since returning home, the Bulgarian-born poet says India has influenced her writing more indirectly than directly. “I am writing about the same things (I was writing before), but I often drink masala chai while writing.”

Stoykova-Klemer says she found the country enthralling. It’s “the immediacy of every experience, and the unpredictability of living there,” she writes.

Gritty, sensual, and familiar

india-henna handsMany of those interviewed agree there is no such thing as a typical day. “What’s not to love about a country where people greet each other with ‘namaste?’ ” writes Schneider in an email interview. “India felt both familiar (humans living their lives) and other worldly (living their lives on an entirely different plane of existence both more spiritual and more gritty).”

Schneider says her writing is definitely more sensual since returning, and Elles says Kriel’s strength in screenwriting influenced her to focus on the dramatic moment in her poems.

“I am surprised how much is still flowing out of me nine months later. I must have stored it all in my giant “belly” just like I had hoped: to be like Ganesha was our goal–always taking it in,” Elles writes, referring to the elephant-headed Hindu god of beginnings. Ganesha is known as the patron of letters, who favors the writer.

What surprised Jennings most about the trip was discovering that there is order in chaos. Stoykova-Klemer was most surprised that women were rarely seen in the streets.

Jennings said she had been wanting to go to India for a long time. The big draws were wrapping the trip around the Jaipur writing festival, the fact that it would be a small group and the knowledge that Kriel offered. Though Kriel is South African-born and lives in America, she has immersed herself in Indian culture for more than 20 years, working and traveling there on projects.

How to register

The registration of $2,699 for twin occupancy ($3,084 for single occupancy) includes the workshop, the literature festival, accommodations and meals. Air travel to India and incidentals such as camera charges, tips and personal expenditures are not included. A deposit of $500 secures your spot.

Growing as an individual and a writer

india-tigerElles says Kriel’s writing trip can’t compare to any other. “It’s not about relaxing, and sipping a hot drink and putting down a few words,” she writes. “It is about getting outside your comfort zone, where you can really grow as an individual, and it’s about adding intensity to the writing process.”

Toward the end of the 2015 trip, Stoykova-Klemer experienced a magical moment. “We woke up in the most beautiful desert camp, and I took a stroll by myself in the desert, where I found a shed snake skin, which I consider a symbol of growth.”

To sign up, see photos, read poems, watch the music video or otherwise get inspired, go to

Registration opens for SpaldingCon 2015: A way to make your writing sparkle post-graduation!

Check out our plans for our second SpaldingCon, November 19-21. SpaldingCon is our post-graduate writers’ conference.


Of particular interest to fiction folks is the workshop by Sena Jeter Naslund.

FICTION: Getting at the Heart, led by Sena Jeter Naslund
This workshop is a classic fiction workshop focusing on either short stories or excerpts from novels–not more than 16 pages in either case. We start by discussing what is best about each work. What most needs improvement is next on our agenda. As always, a Spalding workshop promises to be intellectually stimulating and emotionally supportive. Novel excerpts should be identified as such and introduced by a paragraph summarizing what has come before. A novel excerpt may by followed by a paragraph about where the book may go. If a short story manuscript is intended as part of a unified collection, the writer may wish to follow the story with a paragraph about the collection. (minimum 3, maximum 5 students; if this fills, our plan is to add another fiction workshop)

Also, we have some publishing sessions planned

Agents & Editors: When, Why & How to Connect, with Leslie Daniels
 Join Leslie Daniels, a veteran of publishing and a three hat wearer (agent/editor/writer) with insight and strategy on getting your work out there, for a 2-hour seminar on agents and editors. Open to the first 15 SpaldingCon participants who sign up for the session. This session will take place Friday morning and participants may also sign up for a workshop. (This session will be concurrent with other sessions.)

The Personal (Narrative) Is Political (and Cultural): Using the News to Frame Your Essays for Publication, by Erin Keane
The personal essay is a useful calling card and platform-builder for any writer, not only memoirists and essayists, and there are more online outlets than ever publishing high-quality first-person writing. As the culture editor for, one of the first successful online-only culture and politics magazines, I’m particularly interested in publishing compelling narratives that personalize our wider cultural conversations. In this session, we’ll discuss why you should consider submitting to online magazines like ours in addition to your literary journal submissions, best practices for pitching editors, and why you should pay attention to pop culture and politics (even if you’re allergic to one or both).

Panel on Submitting to Literary Journals and Small Presses: how to find places to submit and tips on writing query letters.

Book Reviewing: how to write a book review and how to find outlets for book reviews

And if you’ve got a novel manuscript completed, you might be interested in a Novel Manuscript Review. Up to five alumni may submit novel manuscripts for critique by Karen Mann. Karen will make margin notes, give you a 3-4 page letter of comments, and have a 30 minute conference with you while other participants are in workshop. You can use your free time at SpaldingCon (while others are in workshop) to write. All SpaldingCon sessions are open to you except workshop. All manuscripts due by August 1. (Once participants have registered, instructions about how to submit the manuscript will be emailed.)

All of this included just for registering for SpaldingCon!

Homecoming 2015 – May 27-31

Here’s the information about the Spalding MFA in Writing homecoming celebration May 27-31, 2015. Register here.
Below is the schedule, which will be updated when the program announces the writer in residence.
5:15-6:30 p.m. Diana M. Raab Distinguished Writer in Residence (Brown Hotel, 16th floor, Gallery Ballroom)


1:00-1:30 p.m. Registration.  (Brown Hotel, 2nd floor, Bluegrass Room) 

• Pick up short reading for Literary Chat

1:30 – 2:00 p.m. Alumni Gathering, Brown Hotel, 2nd floor, Bluegrass Room
Gather, say hello to old friends, and receive an official “Welcome Home”  from Sena Jeter Naslund 

2:00 p.m. Afternoon programming

• Urban Bourbon trail, led by Marjetta Geerling

Catch up with us at any point on the trail between 2 p.m. and 5 p.m. Text Marjetta at 305-695-9619 for the group’s current location.

• Another option, to be determined

5:15-6:15 p.m. Spalding’s Festival of Contemporary Writing. Readings by MFA Faculty, including program directors Sena Jeter Naslund and Kathleen Driskell (Brown Hotel, 16th floor, Gallery Ballroom) 

7:30-9:30 p.m.  Alumni Film Festival (hosted by Laura Morton Mattingly) and Alumni Play Festival (hosted by Justin Dobring) (Brown Hotel, Secretariat B)


9 a.m.-11:15. Alumni Workshops.

11:30 a.m.-12:15 p.m. A Literary Chat. Alumni gather to discuss a close reading of short pieces of work. Facilitated by Nancy Long. Readings to be distributed at Homecoming Registration. 

12:15- 1: 15 p.m. Lunch. (The ELC deli now serves subs, pizza, and salads.)

1:30-2:15 p.m. Alumni Faculty Lecture. (ELC Lectorium) Silas House. The Transformation of Beauty Into Action

“I have come to believe over and over again that what is most important to me must be spoken…even at the risk of having it bruised or misunderstood,” Audre Lorde once wrote.  This lecture will expand on that notion and explore the ways that writing must seek to transform and be activist in its many ways, by telling one’s truth, by standing up for what one believes in, by observing and preserving. We will look at examples from writers like Marilynne Robinson, Larry Brown, Zora Neale Hurston, and others.

2:30-3:15 p.m. Cathy Medwick, magazine publishing. (ELC Lectorium) 

3:45-5:00 p.m. Celebration of Recently Published Books by Alumni. All students, alumni, and faculty welcome. (Brown Hotel, 1st floor, Citation Room) Book signing with Celebration authors to follow at SPLoveFest book expo. 

5:00-6:00 p.m. SPLoveFest. Alumni and students display their books, journals, and anthologies and/or bring promotional material regarding any artistic endeavor such as plays, movies, podcasts, literary services, blogs, websites, and more. Hors d’oeuvres and cash bar. (Brown Hotel, 1st floor, Secretariat)

6:00-7:00 p.m. MFA Moth: oral storytelling by students (cross-genre follow-up session). Alumni welcome. (Brown Hotel, 1st floor, Citation)

9:00 p.m. Alumni After-Party Literary Reading (hosted by Teneice Durrant) A slate of alumni will be reading from their work. (Brown Hotel, 1st floor, Citation)


9:00-10:15 a.m. Breakfast Mixer for alumni, Spring 2015/Fall 2015 graduates, faculty and staff. (Mansion Drawing/Dining Room)

10:30-11:30 a.m.  Regional Alumni Breakout Sessions. Alumni meet together, then breakout by region to discuss possible regional events. 3rd floor, Library 

11:45 a.m.-12:45 p.m.  Concurrent Panel, Presentation, and Agent Pitch 

• Living the Writing Life Alumni Panel with Teneice Durrant, Katrina Kittle, Terry Price, Julie Stewart, Justin Dobring, and Katerina Stoykova-Klemer. Alumni reflect on the many ways they keep writing alive in their day-to-day lives, including: inspiration and caring for your art in the midst of “real life,” ways that writing intersects with your life and other endeavors, and ways to use your MFA in addition to teaching. Each panelist will speak briefly then there will be a time for questions and lots of discussion.
• Dan Distasio: Creature from the E-lagoon: Navigating the Murky Science and Fiction of Online Teaching

According to the Babson Survey Research Group, about 7.1 million college students take online classes (Chronicle of Higher Education, 2015).  Good news for writers seeking faculty positions that offer flexibility, income and time to write. Sounds great? Not so fast.  Online schools are big business, and traditional schools are following the money trail.  Whether you teach for a private liberal arts school, or a mega for-profit institution, online teaching is a demanding, challenging and frustrating endeavor.   This session will examine the different schools and options available to potential online instructors, and the expectations, exaggerations, and exasperations related to online teaching.  Welcome to the E-lagoon!

• Agent Pitches with Vickie Weaver – If you’re ready to pitch your work to an agent, Vickie will give you a one-on-one opportunity to present to her and then she will give you feedback and ideas to improve your chances of getting an agent that’s right for you. This opportunity must be scheduled in advance of Homecoming with Vickie personally so that you can be prepared and there will be time for each presentation. Spots are limited and it’s first come, first serve. Email Vickie at

2:15-3:15 p.m. Spalding’s Festival of Contemporary Writing. PGRAs read from works-in-progress. (ELC Lectorium)

3:30-5:30 p.m. Alumni Workshops.

6:00 p.m. Graduation. (Brown Hotel, 16th floor, Gallery)

After-graduation reception. All welcome. (Brown Hotel, 1st floor, Citation)

7:30 p.m. Champagne Toast and Farewell Dinner. (Purchase ticket from Katy to attend.) (Brown Hotel, 1st floor, Secretariat Room.


Have a safe trip! Put the next Homecoming on your calendar now. June 2-5, 2016.