A GATHERING OF FRIENDS:
The first-ever Solstice MFA Program Alumni Celebration
—by Hannah Goodman
“I keep myself involved because when I first [came to Solstice], I felt moved by something I hadn’t felt in a long time. I want to keep being a part of things because I don’t want to lose that again that in my life.”
—Cindy Zelman (Summer, 2010)
That “something” made Cindy Zelman and 14 other alumni return to Pine Manor College’s wooded campus in Chestnut Hill, MA for three days in January, 2012. Representing a third of a growing alumni group (52 strong, and living in over 19 states around the country), this enthusiastic cross-section of Solstice Program graduates participated in readings, classes, a panel discussion, and even an impromptu workshop. While Solstice alumni are always invited back to campus during residencies, this was the first time programming was geared specifically toward alumni concerns. The occasion marked a couple of other “firsts” —in lieu of graduation, the last night of the 2012 winter residency featured a public reading by twelve graduates and a cocktail soiree in their honor.
“Instead of a winter wonderland on campus this January, there was warmth in the air and in every greeting, laugh, and hug during our Solstice Family Reunion. Now I am [home] with memories of new Solstice family members, new ideas from classes, and new energy for my writing.”
—Carol Owens Campbell (Winter, 2011)
The weekend kicked-off with a welcome reception and a reading by Assistant Director Tanya Whiton, poet and faculty member Dzvinia Orlowsky, and special guest André Dubus III —who lingered long after the event, signing books and chatting with graduates and current students. Friday and Saturday mornings were allotted for personal writing time, where alum could find a cozy corner in the Ferry Administration building (a converted turn-of-the-last-century mansion), the Annenberg Library, or —as many grads did while they were students— at a nearby Starbucks.
Afternoons were filled with course offerings designed with alumni in mind. On Friday, Solstice: A Magazine of Diverse Voices editor Lee Hope Betcher taught a hands-on session on “Thinking Like an Editor,” in which she discussed the differences between workshopping a piece of writing and working with an editor. Then guest faculty member Roland Merullo gave an inspirational talk about “The Demons That Keep You From Writing.” Merullo opened by telling his audience that, in his experience, writers who dealt with their demons were more successful than those who chose not to, and then outlined some common pitfalls on the way to a successful creative career. “Ask the Agent,” with guest Katherine Flynn of the Kneerim & Williams Literary Agency concluded Friday’s classes. Flynn offered instructions for how to write the perfect query letter and creative ways to find the right agent, and encouraged writers to create an author platform and take advantage of self-publishing.
“I came away feeling that the Solstice flame is strong and shimmers throughout our community. I look forward to the next “Life After” event, readings and publications by my fellow graduates, and sharing and spreading the word to potential students who can join our community and help us grow.”
—Faye Snider (Winter, 2009)
Saturday afternoon began with a seminar on “Social Media & Marketing” with guest Crystal King, whose presentation on creating a personal brand demonstrated how to use Facebook, Twitter, Google+, and Linkedin to showcase creative work. King’s session was followed by a “Life After the MFA” panel discussion moderated by Alumni Coordinator Faye Snider on the topic of staying accountable to one’s creative writing while also managing the demands of work, family, and other personal responsibilities. Graduates Melissa Ford Lucken, Laura Snyder, Cindy Zelman, Mike Miner, and Hannah Goodman each spoke about a different aspect of accountability and the post-graduate experience, and the result was a sometimes funny, always engaging, and candid discussion about some of the possibilities and pitfalls of being a writer.
“I really missed everybody. I’m glad to see everyone. It creates a good feeling to see people come back and find out what they are doing and what they are working on.”
— Faculty member Laura Williams McCaffrey
Concluding the weekend on Saturday night was an alumni reading hosted and coordinated by Cindy Zelman. Featured readers included Hannah Goodman, Faye Snider, Gloria Estela Gonzalez, Carol Owens Campbell, Melissa Ford Lucken, Melissa Varnavas, Laura Jones, Laura Snyder, Mike Miner, Jim Kennedy, Maryann Jacobs Marcias, and then Cindy, who closed the reading with a short piece that had the audience laughing and applauding. A champagne and hors'dourves party followed, where alumni took the opportunity to reconnect with fellow graduates and faculty members, and meet new Solstice students.
“Our alumni are publishing, teaching, giving readings, writing up a storm, and—I can say happily from the response to this event—coming back to Pine Manor College to celebrate with their peers, faculty, and current students!”
—Program Director, Meg Kearney
Evident by the turnout to this event, Solstice MFA Program alumni foster the same close community environment that Director Meg Kearney emphasizes from the start of each Solstice student’s first residency. She invites students to fall in love with one another’s work “…as the antidote to jealousy and competition.” Those words, repeated several times over the years that students attend the program do, in fact, sink in —the warmth and camaraderie of the first-ever Solstice Alumni Celebration is evidence of that.
“Do we ever really leave? This is a way to recharge your writing battery. As I look back on the alumni weekend, what strikes me the most, what lingers, is the collective talent of the group, as well as the diversity it contains both artistically and individually. What pleased me most was the continuing feeling of belonging to a supportive family, a community of students and faculty that I relish catching up with.”
—Mike Miner (Winter, 2011)