An award-winning poet and author of several books, Kathleen Driskell has taught at Spalding University’s Master of Fine Arts in Writing program for many years. The school just announced it has created Kentucky’s first School of Creative and Professional Writing, and Kathleen begins a new chapter as the department’s chair. Together, the three programs create a three-tiered offering for writers seeking graduate education. Meet this week’s FACE of Louisville, Kathleen Driskell!
Tell us about your job.
We’ve been an MFA program, and we’re going to add a master’s of arts in creative writing and professional writing. We want to lower barriers of cost, so there will be two tracks: The MFA is 65 hours, and it’s a terminal degree. The MAW is 35, so it’s a more traditional master’s degree. So, we asked President Tori Murden McClure and her advisors to make us a school, and they said that was a good idea. So now I’m the chair of the School of Creative and Professional Writing. Working at Spalding, it’s always been that way. They really reward innovation, and our president is our alum in the MFA program. I always say she was my student before she was my president, which is true. She’s really supportive of what we do.
Tell us about your journey into this job.
I went to the University of Louisville, and it took me 10 years to get my bachelor’s because I tried everything. I even tried nursing for a little while. When I finally decided I was just going to go into creative writing, which is what I always wanted to do, I went to the University of North Carolina Greensboro and got my MFA. My husband got his MFA in fiction there too. We moved back here, and I got a part-time job at Spalding. I taught undergraduates for a while, and then when they started the MFA program, Sena Jeter Naslund was the cofounder with Karen Mann, and Sena was my teacher at U of L. When they started, they needed some help, so I just moved over. Sena retired in 2017, and I was made program director, and now I’m chair.
What is it about teaching writers that you enjoy?
It sounds corny, but I just feel like I’m making the world a better place. I like to be involved in nurturing creativity in my students, which the world needs big heaping doses of — the progress that creativity fosters. Writers practice empathy when they walk in the shoes of other characters. You have to imagine the way other people live and their landscapes and who they love and what they eat and how they work. And I just believe it’s a great way for people to be more fully human.
Tell us about your books.
I’ve published four books of poems and then what I call a graphic poem. It’s kind of like a comic book. My last book, “Next Door to the Dead,” won the Judy Gaines Young Book Award from Transylvania University in 2018. It’s about my experience living where I live. My husband and I bought an old country church on Pope Lick Road, and we’ve been working on it for 25 years. We raised our family there. There’s still scaffolding actually outside my kitchen window and a little old graveyard, so it’s an adventure.
What do you do for fun?
I love Pope Lick Park. It’s life-changing. I walk a lot there. It’s really made my quality of life so much better. I call it my office hour. I try to walk three or four times a week, and I have these trails that I love, and I get a lot of thinking done there.
What do you like to read?
I’m kind of an eclectic reader. I have lots of things going on. I’m reading Paula: A Memoir by Isabel Allende. She’s a really beautiful writer. I’m reading a lot of Neruda. I’m reading Camille Dungy’s Guidebook to Relative Strangers: Journeys into Race, Motherhood and History. I’m reading Rigoberto Gonzalez’s memoir, What Drowns the Flowers in Your Mouth: A Memoir of Brotherhood, about being a Mexican immigrant and being gay in that machismo society. I’m not reading a ton of poetry right now, though I’m reading January Gill O’Neil’s Rewilding — it’s a beautiful book. And I’m reading Rebecca Solnit’s Wanderlust: A History of Walking.
What’s something about you that people might be surprised to learn?
I’m gaga over Van Morrison. I mean, Van Morrison when he put out Beautiful Vision and Avalon Sunset. For the last three years, my husband and I have gone to Las Vegas to see him. We always buy tickets for Friday and Saturday night. We always know that Friday’s going to be pretty good, but Saturday is going to be fantastic!
What’s your dream vacation spot?
OK, this is pretty sad, but we go on a beach vacation once a year, because that’s the way my husband grew up. It’s, like, sacrosanct — you have to go to the beach once a year.
And for 10 years, I’ve traveled abroad for the MFA study-abroad program, and then we have the residencies in November and the end of May for the Louisville program. I’m in the Brown Hotel for 11 days on each side of that.
So, if I can just be at home and cook and be on my screened porch and in my garden, I’m pretty happy.
What’s your best advice?
I think people should follow their creativity. I think human beings are made to make things. I don’t care if it’s chili or tinted windows or whatever, but I just think we were just made to create things. I wish more people were involved in the practice of writing because it’s a way to explore your humanity. I mean some of the most beautiful things we have are diaries and journals, so it doesn’t have to be poetry. I’m not a believer, but I think creativity is evidence of the divine.
With the exception of faith, family and friends, what are three things you can’t live without?
I can’t live without literature, and I can’t live without my home, because it’s just been so important to me. I will never move from there. Never is kind of a hard thing to say. And those parks, The Parklands — they’re amazing.
Thank you, Kathleen. To learn more about Kathleen’s books, visit kathleendriskell.com, and to learn more about her work in the School of Creative and Professional Writing at Spalding University, visit spalding.edu.
And thank you to Gretchen Bell for these beautiful photos of Kathleen.
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