Tomorrow—Friday, December 29—students from across the United States will gather in the hills of Appalachia to begin West Virginia Wesleyan’s winter residency, a component of the school’s MFA program. WVWC follows the low-residency model where students come to campus twice a year (in the summer and winter) for an intensive, ten-day residency featuring a series of craft seminars, workshops, and readings presented by the program’s core faculty of writers and the semester’s visiting faculty. Each residency kicks off the semester that follows when students return home but continue to work one-on-one with an advisor through regular and frequent email, mail, telephone and/or Skype contact.
As Andrew Raines (Poetry ’19) looks toward this winter’s residency, he says, “I'm really excited for both the schedule of seminars, and for readings from our graduating students. In general, my favorite things about residency are the community and the environment.”
An alum of the program, Lisa Hayes Minney (Nonfiction ’17), echoes these sentiments from her own time on campus: “I loved being in an environment where writing and learning are a priority. It had been 20 years since I was in an academic environment, and I had forgotten what a privilege and joy it was.” Minney will return this winter as the program’s residency assistant.
Mornings of the residency are devoted to lecture- or discussion-style seminars. These mornings are interdisciplinary, offering all students instruction in fiction, creative nonfiction, and poetry. Graduating students also present seminars. In the afternoon, students separate into genre-specific writing workshops, and in the evenings, students attend readings by visiting authors and guest faculty in the MFA program. These readings are free and open to the public. For more about the visiting authors and the schedule of public readings, see our blog post from earlier this month.
“I’m always really excited to see some of my favorite people,” says Julia Kastner (Nonfiction ’19). “Snow is an interesting novelty as I come from Texas, and the immersion in the reading/writing life is a feature, too, since my day-to-day life lacks that.” Reflecting on the readings she did in preparation for this residency, Kaster especially enjoyed the packet assigned by Katie Fallon (Nonfiction Faculty), including “Good Bones” by Maggie Smith, “Leap” by Brian Doyle, Jo Ann Beard’s “The Fourth State of Matter,” and “NeVer ForgeT” by Matthew Vollmer; Visiting Faculty Jacinda Townsend’s entire reading packet of magical realism; three punchy short stories assigned by Richard Schmitt (Prose Faculty); the online art project “Looking at Appalachia” assigned by Rebecca Gayle Howell (Visiting Faculty); and Jane McCafferty’s brief “Thank You for the Music,” assigned for Vicki Phillips’ graduate seminar.
WVWC alumna Elizabeth Damewood Gaucher (Nonfiction ’15) says, “I never for one minute viewed the residency as competitive. For me, it was always communal and shared, and no one was ever ‘ahead.’ In residency, we were all building one another up.”
The town of Buckhannon, where WVWC’s winter residency takes place, usually sees snow and chilly temperatures at this time each winter, but as current students and alums agree, that only adds to the atmosphere. “The winter residencies were always my favorite residencies,” says Allison Pugh (Fiction ’15). “There’s a difference in the atmosphere that comes with the winter weather across the campus. The words seem deeper, the purpose fuller somehow.”
Joyce Allan (Fiction ’15) adds, “Being at winter residency was always special. One year, it snowed six inches, and no one else was on campus but us MFAers. It only added to that united feeling we all shared!”
In addition to the busy days filled with classes, workshops, readings, and possibly snow, this residency will be the fifth and final residency for six students in the program as they prepare to graduate. Larry Thacker (Poetry ’18), one of the six, says, “I always look forward to this break from my usually strange world. I count my blessings when, after more than a week, we can all manage to leave in one piece.”
Velicia Jerus Darquenne (Fiction ’18), who will also be graduating, agrees: “What I love and am always most excited for with residency is the mix of creative people and backgrounds who come from all over the continent together for one passion: Writing. The personalities of creative folks like ourselves always keep things interesting and intelligent. I am always in awe of my cohorts.”
Thacker and Darquenne will join Vicki Phillips (Fiction ’18), David Evans (Nonfiction ’18), Aaron Morris (Poetry ’18), and Rebecca Elswick (Fiction ’18) as WVWC’s newest graduates.
Shauna Hambrick Jones (Nonfiction ’13), who was in WVWC’s very first MFA graduating class, sums up the general consensus that students and alums express as they reflect on residency: “Every residency hummed with energy from these imperfect, talented, vibrant personalities that took risks on paper and with each other. This was and is my mishpocha, my tribe.”
Congratulations to this year’s graduates, welcome to WVWC’s newest MFA students, and best of luck to all WVWC MFA students as tomorrow’s residency gets underway. To learn more about WVWC’s low-residency model, visit the program website.
View photos from residencies over the years in this slideshow below.