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November 2013

Dear fellow Benningtonians,

There’s that famous, and completely sentimental, story by O’Henry, “The Last Leaf”—how many of you remember reading this? The dying painter paints a perfect autumn leaf and fixes it to the branch of the tree outside the window of a very sick woman who is convinced that she will die when the last leaf falls. His action saves her—this is his final masterpiece, illustrating the triumphant illusionism of art—though he himself perishes. I think of it because it’s the peak of the season here in New England, and because one needs to start somewhere, why not with something inspirational and heavy-handed?

Have I depressed you, or lifted your spirits? I hope the latter.

The latest twice-annual nail-biter of admissions is finally done with, and the new class—could it really be the Class of 2016?—is on board for January. Delivering the news of acceptance remains one of the more enjoyable parts of that process—that and getting into the most unlikely mini-conversations. People getting the news while walking their dogs, while disciplining their children, while driving on the L.A. Freeway…We have writers coming to us from all parts of the map, with special concentrations, as expected, from California and New York. I look forward, as ever, to the new student meeting on the morning of the 10th, that 4-D jigsaw puzzle of putting faces to the names.

I have quite a few announcements to make. Faculty first. Joining us this upcoming semester will be Wesley Brown (fiction), Joan Wickersham (nonfiction) and Nathalie Handal (poetry). Martha Cooley is returning from a semester off. On leave: Paul Yoon, Brian Morton, Ed Ochester, and David Daniel.

The guest roster for the January residency has now been set. We are delighted to have our own Doug Bauer returning to give a lecture in fiction and to have former faculty member Thomas Sayers Ellis be our visiting poet. Essayist/memoirist Jo Ann Beard will lecture in nonfiction and be Commencement speaker. There will be more information (biographies/lecture topics) in a later letter.

You might as well get used to seeing and hearing the number 20. There will be a great deal going on as our anniversary year begins in January, and plans are being laid out on drawing boards everywhere. Before mentioning those, however, I am pleased to tell you about our new position. Molly Thomas (2006) has just been hired as Writing Seminars Development/Alumni Relations Officer. Molly will be vitally engaged with many of the activities for the 20th. She will also have an important role to play in shaping our fund-raising efforts and promoting our new social media presence. She brings great credentials and organizational know-how, and, as a fiction alum, her deep devotion to the program.

As for some of those activities… here are some of the things that will be happening. In January, the Seminars will have the first of what we hope will become an annual tradition: a fundraiser. The debut event will be a party held in Brooklyn and hosted by alum Julia Lichtblau (2011). It will be followed at the end of February by a Bennington reception/party at the Seattle AWP, to be hosted at Hugo House (near the AWP events)--Tree Swenson is very generously offering the venue. Tom Schabarum (2002) will be head planner of the event, with help from half a dozen other Seattle alums. In June 2014, Cat Parnell and Elaine Fletcher Chapman will be staging our grand reunion during the last three days of the June residency—June 27th-29th. Then, in the fall, alum V. Hansmann (2011), who has been active running the Bennington Alumni Cornelia Street reading series in New York, will throw a Bennington 20th Anniversary reading at his home in New York on Sunday, October 12th, Columbus Day weekend.

On another front, I’d like to remark—better: praise—the work being done by the Diversity Committee, especially their very thoughtful (and useful) hiring recommendations and their initiative in launching their own fundraiser on behalf of the Diversity Scholarship. That event will be held in Chicago on November 17th—from 5-7 p.m. at The Ribcage (3036 Lincoln), and will feature “noshes and wine” along with readings by Angela Jackson, Bill Ayers, Irene Oppenheimer and Alice Kim.

Finally, I wanted to let you know more about our going “social.” Twitter and Facebook pages have been designed (coordinated with our very fine-looking anniversary re-brand materials) and have been given the kiss of life. Within a week after you receive this letter, we expect the Writing Seminars will already have a pulsating Twitter presence, with Facebook not far behind. As many of you know, I am not on record as being a digital enthusiast. When I hear something is going viral I want to suggest gargling with salt water. But in truth, I am full of gratitude for all of the people—at the College, and among our student and alumni ranks, who have given advice and volunteered time. Though we're about a week out from our launch of a full-tweeting presence, our Twitter page is live and ready for you to follow us @BennMFA_writing.

The allowed Tweet characters may be few, but the spirit is immense—and generous. We hope you will follow us and retweet us, and on Facebook like us, friend us, share us, do all those things that people do (within legal limits) to announce their affinities with others.

Wishing you all a good fall season. More news will be coming before long.

–Sven