Book: Spalding rolls out the Fest of Contemporary Writing

May 20, 2009 at 5:00 am
Claudia Emerson
Claudia Emerson

This one’s for readers and writers. Spalding University’s Festival of Contemporary Writing, which starts Saturday, May 23, will offer free readings for eight days. The 30 presenting writers include faculty, guests and alumni of Spalding’s brief-residency Master of Fine Arts in Writing program.

Featured attendees at this spring’s program include the winner of the 2006 Pulitzer for poetry, Claudia Emerson, who’ll read from “Late Wife” on Tuesday (6 p.m. at the Brown Hotel, 335 W. Broadway). Sena Jeter Naslund discusses the evolution of her bestselling novel “Ahab’s Wife” on Saturday, May 30 (3 p.m. at Spalding).

A Friday, May 29 gathering of published Spalding alumni includes Kaylene Johnson, an Alaskan whose previous book was the sole biography of Sarah Palin on bookshelves when America was discovering the governor last year (and thus an instant bestseller).

Johnson’s appearance marks a homecoming, says Kathleen Driskell, a renowned poet and the program’s associate director. It’s been five years since the MFA program’s first class. This “center for enthusiasm for writing,” as Driskell calls it, has grown to encompass a supportive community of students and alumni authors throughout the country.

“I’ve been on tour with my latest book — almost unheard of for a poetry book today. A lot of that is from networks that have a connection to Spalding,” Driskell says.

The attendees at the readings of Spalding’s twice-yearly festivals usually include a few people who are curious about the program. To show them the diversity of the offerings, as well as the strength of the network, most of this spring’s open-to-the-public gatherings have representatives of several types of writing. For instance, Monday night’s program includes two participants who write for children, along with a poet, a playwright and fiction specialists, including Crystal Wilkinson (“Water Street”). Among newly published authors scheduled for Thursday, May 28 are Nancy Jensen, whose fiction collection “Window” has come out through Fleur-de-Lis, a publishing house affiliated with Spalding.

Tori Murden McClure, the record-setting Louisville athlete and author of the memoir, “A Pearl in the Storm: How I Found My Heart in the Middle of the Ocean,” is also reading Thursday evening. McClure has a powerful story to tell, and prestigious HarperCollins is her publisher.

But even that New York house has had to shut down an entire division. This is a tough time to sell books in quantity. Driskell doesn’t have to be reminded of this — she’s a poet who’s quite ready to accept that her chosen form of artistic expression will probably “always be on the margin of the literary community.” But she looks at the response that Spalding’s program and events have drawn and is reminded that writers “won’t be deterred — people do it because they feel they have to.”

Most of the events for the Spalding Festival of Contemporary Writing are held at the Egan Leadership Center (ELC) lectorium, at the corner of Fourth and Breckinridge streets. Admission for the readings is free. Call (800) 896-8941 x2423 for more info, and a complete listing for all readings can be found at


Spalding University’s Festival of Contemporary Writing
May 23-30