Beyond Graduation: Keeping Connections Alive for Spalding MFA Alumni

Katy Yocom | May 2024

                         Spalding alumni gathered together at the American Library in Paris.

As a member of the charter class of Spalding’s low-residency MFA program, I remember the tears—my classmates’ and my own—at our graduation in 2003. The two-year program had been life-changing, and we didn’t want to leave. But at the time, there were too few of us for an alumni organization to make sense. I kept my own connection by joining the program’s staff. But other alums needed a different way to maintain the bond.

By 2006, when then student Terry Price and a handful of others began dreaming of an alumni association, the time was right. The program leaders gave Price and friends their blessing to make it happen.

“For me, the idea began selfishly,” Price says. “I was trying to figure out, how can I find a way to not leave? There was a critical mass of people who felt the same way.” And so the Spalding MFA Alumni Association was born. Price served for fifteen years as director of the association, which now has more than 800 members. Its mission? To keep alumni connected to each other, to the program, and to their art.

“I’m very proud of our alumni offerings,” says Kathleen Driskell, chair of the Sena Jeter Naslund-Karen Mann Graduate School of Writing, home of Spalding’s MFA program. Driskell also served as chair of the AWP board from 2019 to 2022. “It’s wonderfully satisfying that we’ve created a writing community our alumni want to stay connected with,” she says.

                 Spalding alumni and students looking out over a beautiful lake surrounded by mountains.

A rich palette of programming lets alums broaden their community long after earning the degree. “Some of my best friends from Spalding are writers I met after I graduated,” notes alum Marjetta Geerling, the current alumni association director. During her MFA years, Geerling studied writing for children and young adults, but her last three books have been adult fiction. Genre switching becomes more popular the longer alums have been out of grad school, bolstered by cross-pollination among the genres, which also include poetry, creative nonfiction, and writing for TV, screen, and stage.

Walk through the lobby of the historic Brown Hotel during a residency and you’ll likely spot groups of alums who’ve flown back to Louisville, reading or holding informal workshops on the cushy sofas of the hotel’s elegant lobby. Located near Spalding’s downtown campus, the Brown—which provides residency lodging for students and faculty—is so much a part of the Spalding experience that a picture of its lobby is splashed across the alumni association’s website.

During Homecoming each spring, alums socialize and learn, and the entire residency community celebrates alums’ newly published or produced works. Class reunions bring together graduates from ten and twenty years ago. A twice-yearly writers’ retreat takes advantage of the glamorous 1920s-era hotel (which is a stop on Louisville’s Urban Bourbon Trail) and lets alumni retreatants attend residency events.

Alums hail from across the country and the globe, so virtual opportunities are essential. Enter Zoom, where weekly and monthly meetups keep alumni connected from home for accountability groups, writing-life discussions, and submitting sessions. Twice a year, the School’s Business of Writing seminars offer virtual sessions on publishing, production, and the business of writing. And during the School’s virtual summer residency, a Zoom-based Homecoming welcomes alums from around the world.

In-person gatherings pop up around the country as well. Every AWP conference is a happy excuse for a reunion. Regionally, alumni-led events get inventive: in August, alums and a guest literary agent will gather at a haunted B&B in the famously spooky town of Cassadaga, Florida. The MFA Alumni Association helps fund these gatherings.

Unofficially, in pairs or larger groups, alums connect to support each other. Kentucky short-story writer Whitney Collins and Louisiana playwright Donna Gay Anderson hold weekly Zoom sessions and occasionally travel together for writing retreats. “Our one-on-one accountability meetings address not only writing, but the business of writing as well,” says Anderson. “Have I submitted this week? Have I followed up? Have I done my research? We help keep each other on track.”
                  Spalding Alums faculty and guests in Paris

A post-master’s certificate program offers a return to mentored study for alums and other postgrad writers. It’s a special draw for those seeking to explore a new genre, like fiction grad Roy Burkhead, who returned for poetry. “I had missed being an active part of the Naslund-Mann literary community,” Burkhead says, “and I had missed the mentor experience. Being back was so fulfilling that I ended up earning two certificates!”

The splashiest offering each year is alumni travel. This September, twenty-five alums and their guests will gather in Portugal to revisit the Spalding experience—but in another country, and minus homework and deadlines.

As the alumni liaison, I take joy and pride in the way our alums dedicate themselves to the community. Every gathering leads to a new idea, a new connection, a new event. Everyone wins.


Katy Yocom is the associate director for communications and alumni relations for the Naslund-Mann Graduate School of Writing at Spalding University. She is the author of an award-winning debut novel, Three Ways to Disappear (Ashland Creek Press). Her work has been published by Lit Hub, Salon, Newsweek, and American Way (the American Airlines in-flight magazine), among others.

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