On Thursday, August 27th, Potter College faculty and students, both current and former, came together for the English Department’s formal inauguration of the new Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing. Dr. Hale presented opening remarks offering background for the program’s founders and predecessors.
“This is an historic event in the life of the English Department, Potter College and WKU—the first terminal degree in the College and an expansion of graduate education in the arts at WKU,” said the department head.
The Creative Writing program at WKU began in 1968, with Wanda Gatlin. She founded The Zephyrus, the department’s student literary journal still in production to this day. Dr. Hale acknowledged other influential members to the program in its early years, including: Frank and Peggy Steele, Joe Survant, Pat Carr, Nancy Roberts, and Mary Ellen Miller. Because of these early founders, the program today exists as a beautiful collaboration of faculty and staff not only within the English Department, but also throughout Potter College and WKU. The faculty roster for creative writing in the new program includes David Bell, Tom Hunley, David Lenoir, Mary Ellen Miller, Dale Rigby, Shane Book, and Rebecca Brown. However, most graduate faculty in the English Department will teach the MFA students.
Dr. Hale went on to list some distinctive qualities of the new program, “Our program is 1 of 2 public residential MFA programs in the state; the only comprehensive one, that provides full funding, and concentrations in fiction, non-fiction, poetry, and script writing.” The new program is also the only program in the state that offers an emphasis on scriptwriting. Three secondary emphases are available to students within the program: composition and rhetoric, literature, and TESOL. MFA students are given opportunities to participate in internships, preparation and experience as teachers, and exposure to creative writing pedagogy.
The program’s establishment would not have been possible without the support and dedication of faculty and staff of WKU. Dr. Hale thanked President Ransdell; Provost Dr. Gordon Emslie; Vice Provosts Ladonna Hunton, Doug McElroy, and Richard Miller; Associate Vice President for Planning and Program Development, Sylvia Gaiko; Dean of the Graduate School, Carl Fox; Assistant Dean in Potter College, Andrew McMichael; Assistant to the Dean, Gabrielle Hunt; David Lee; office associates Tomitha Blair and Kimberly Nessler; and faculty, those both retired and current, of the department.
“Our retired faculty, living and deceased, are the foundation of the fine work that continues to happen in our department,” said Dr. Hale. The retired faculty in attendance were addressed, asked to stand, and given a gracious applause from the crowd.
Some current faculty members were thanked individually: Wes Berry, for his work managing assistantships, admissions, and bureaucratic matters; Niko Endres and Peggy Otto, for their work on the program development committee; and Tom Hunley and David Bell, for originating the idea of the program and designing, writing, and revising it for its finalization.
The program welcomes six new students: Allison Adams of Laguna Niguel, California; Leigh Cheak of Versailles, Kentucky; Clinton Craig of Flagstaff, Arizona; Will Hollis of Fort Mitchell, Kentucky; Erin Slaughter of Denton, Texas; and Lena Ziegler of Mountaintop, Pennsylvania.
Perhaps the most anticipated event of the evening was the presentation of Mary Ellen Miller’s poem written for those students who now and years from now will begin their own journey through the MFA program.
“Plain Song for Our MFA Students”
Today we walk the road of those who came before;
we salute past pioneers who led us here.
Today, we praise typewriter teachers with their ink-stained hands—
most of whom have lived to see this hour and celebrate with us.
The late Wanda Gatlin would have rejoiced to see the student
creative writing journal going strong and the Steeles, Frank and
Peg, who shared their talent and their vision in the honored journal
PLAINSONG and Joe Survant, our first state poet laureate, and dozens more
who opened doors and led the way to this day and the introduction
of our brand new MFA.
All hail to Hale, Emslie, Lee and Hunley, Rigby, Bell, Lenoir, and Miller.
All English faculty shaped and sharpened a new degree here in the hallowed
halls of academe.
The chimes of Cherry Hall toll the time—our time, your time.
Master of Fine Arts, the MFA: that can be your title and it will;
Come write with us in the marbled walls of Cherry Hall–
High on the ever fragrant Hill.
At the conclusion of the ceremony, the framed poem was signed by the founding students and the department and MFA contributing faculty and staff. During the reception, faculty and students commented on their anticipation of the program.
“It’s very exciting to have the MFA program here; it’s really going to help put the English Department and WKU on the map,” remarked Dr. David Bell, Director of Creative Writing.
Dean Larry Snyder commented, saying, “This is a great moment for Potter College. It’s quite appropriate that the English Department is the first to offer terminal degree; they have been the heart of Potter College for 50 years.”
Three of the program’s new students lingering at the punch bowl expressed much excitement about their enrollment in and foundation of the program. Erin Slaughter smiled, saying, “I am incredibly thankful for the hard work of the people that put the MFA program together and for allowing us the amazing opportunity to be here.”
“Honestly, this is the program of my dreams and what I’ve been waiting for the past six years. I’m extremely grateful to be here,” Lena Ziegler said.
Allison Adams expressed a similar sentiment, saying, “I am incredibly honored to have this opportunity to grow as a writer and be surrounded by incredibly talented people.”
With the semester having already begun, these six students are well on their way to forging their future and learning from the talented and experienced MFA faculty. There is much eagerness and enthusiasm for what these faculty, staff, and students of the MFA will bring the English Department, Potter College, and WKU.