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

Spring 2013: A Record-Breaking Homecoming

More than 100 Spalding MFA in Writing alums converged in Louisville, Ky., from points as far-flung as British Columbia and Florida for the Spring 2013 MFA homecoming, led by MFA alumni association director Terry Price (F ’06). The homecoming broke all previous attendance records and offered more programming than any before.

Alums began to gather on Thursday evening before Tim O’Brien‘s presentation in the Brown Hotel’s Crystal Ballroom (more on that topic in the article above). The next day featured a full slate of activities, beginning with O’Brien’s Q&A session.

Small-group alumni workshops, organized by Marjetta Geerling (W4CYA ’11), convened with about 30 alumni participants. Screenwriting faculty member Helena Kriel spoke to alums about the inherent rewards of the writing life. And a panel of seven alumni spoke about the ways they have used writing as an avenue to serve their communities-teaching poetry, memoir, and journaling in prisons, substance abuse centers, psychiatric hospitals, and memory care facilities; giving young people a safe space to create art; making a documentary about grief; founding a playwriting organization; and more. Serving on the panel were Sonja de Vries (P ’09), Kathryn Eastburn (CNF ’06), Ann Eskridge (PW ’08), Diana Raab (CNF ’03), Barbara Sabol (P ’10), Bob Sachs (F ’09), and Julie Stewart (F ’10).

Later that afternoon, the Celebration of Recently Published Books by Alumni featured readings by Chris Mattingly (P ’10), from his poetry collection Scuffletown; Dave Harrity (P ’07), from his book of meditations and spiritual exercises, Making Manifest: On Faith, Creativity, and the Kingdom at Hand ; Sandi Hutcheson (CNF ’12), from her nonfiction book Looks Great Naked (published as Grace Adams); Charlotte Rains Dixon (F ’03), from her novel Emma Jean’s Bad Behavior; Loreen Niewenhuis (F ’07), from her nonfiction narrative A 1,000-Mile Great Lakes Walk; and Ann Eskridge, from The Raven, a work of historical fiction.

SPLoveFest book fair took place next, a lively mix-and-mingle event featuring 16 student and alum exhibitors showing and selling their books and literary journals. Carmichael’s Bookstore sold books by the Celebration readers. After a break for dinner, an open-mic alum reading hosted by Teneice Delgado (P ’06) concluded the evening.

Saturday’s events included a breakfast mixer for alumni, new graduates, faculty and staff, followed by the second annual Un-Conference, led by Erin Keane (P ’04) and Teneice Delgado; one-on-one practice sessions for pitching to agents, led by Vickie Weaver (F ’05); regional breakout sessions; alumni workshops; and a reading by PGRAs Marjetta Geerling, Barry George (P ’09), Dan Nowak (P ’07), Katerina Stoykova-Klemer (P ’09); Terry Price, and MFA alumni and staff members Gayle Hanratty (F ’06) and Ellyn Lichvar (P ’07). At the graduation ceremony that followed, 32 new graduates joined the ranks of alumni, and class representative Omar Figueras (F) offered remarks on behalf of his graduating class.