Summer Reading & Seminar Series


Tuesday, July 23 – Thursday, August 1, 2019

Each summer the Ashland MFA program brings a variety of accomplished writers and editors to the Ashland University campus for its summer residency. Thanks to generous support from the Ohio Arts Council, events listed below are free and open to the public.

Unless specified, readings and panels will be held in Ashland University’s Dwight Schar College of Education Building, Room 138, Ronk Lecture Hall. Parking in Lot C along College Blvd. All events are handicap accessible. If you have any accessibility concerns, please contact / 419.289.5098.

Visiting Writers

Hanif Abdurraqib, Visiting Writer in Creative Nonfiction

Hanif Abdurraqib, Visiting Writer in Creative Nonfiction

Hanif Abdurraqib is a poet, essayist, and cultural critic from Columbus, Ohio. His poetry has been published in Muzzle, Vinyl, PEN American, and various other journals. His essays and music criticism have been published in The FADER, Pitchfork, The New Yorker, and The New York Times. His first full length poetry collection, The Crown Ain't Worth Much, was released in June 2016 from Button Poetry. It was named a finalist for the Eric Hoffer Book Prize, and was nominated for a Hurston-Wright Legacy Award. With Big Lucks, he released a limited edition chapbook, Vintage Sadness, in summer 2017 (you cannot get it anymore and he is very sorry.) His first collection of essays, They Can't Kill Us Until They Kill Us, was released in winter 2017 by Two Dollar Radio and was named a book of the year by Buzzfeed, Esquire, NPR, Oprah Magazine, Paste, CBC, The Los Angeles Review, Pitchfork, and The Chicago Tribune, among others. He is a Callaloo Creative Writing Fellow, an interviewer at Union Station Magazine, and a poetry editor at Muzzle Magazine. He is a member of the poetry collective Echo Hotel with poet/essayist Eve Ewing. His next books are Go Ahead In The Rain, a biography of A Tribe Called Quest due out in 2019 by University of Texas Press, and They Don't Dance No' Mo', due out in 2020 by Random House. Yes, he would like to talk to you about your favorite bands and your favorite sneakers.

(Photo by Andrew Cenci)

Dan Chaon, Visiting Writer in Fiction

Dan Chaon, Visiting Writer in Fiction

Dan Chaon’s most recent book is Ill Will, a national bestseller, named one of the ten best books of 2017 by Publishers Weekly. Other works include the short story collection Stay Awake (2012), a finalist for the Story Prize; the national bestseller Await Your Reply and Among the Missing, a finalist for the National Book Award. Chaon’s fiction has appeared in Best American Short Stories, The Pushcart Prize Anthologies, and The O. Henry Prize Stories. He has been a finalist for the National Magazine Award in Fiction, the Shirley Jackson Award, and he was the recipient of an Academy Award in Literature from the American Academy of Arts and Letters.

Justin Phillip Reed, Visiting Writer in Poetry

Justin Phillip Reed, Visiting Writer in Poetry

Justin Phillip Reed is an American poet and essayist. He is the author of Indecency (Coffee House Press), winner of the 2018 National Book Award in Poetry and a finalist for the 2019 Kate Tufts Discovery Award, as well as the chapbook A History of Flamboyance (YesYes Books, 2016). His second full-length collection of poetry, The Malevolent Volume, will be released in Spring 2020. He is the 2019-2021 Fellow in Creative Writing at the Center for African American Poetry and Poetics. His work appears in African American Review, Best American Essays, Callaloo, The Kenyon Review, Obsidian, and elsewhere. A three-time high school expellee and an ex-college dropout, he received his BA in creative writing at Tusculum College and his MFA in poetry at Washington University in St. Louis, where he served as Junior Writer-in-Residence. He has received fellowships from the Cave Canem Foundation, the Conversation Literary Festival, La Maison Baldwin, and the Regional Arts Commission of St. Louis. Reed was born and raised in South Carolina.

(Photo by Raven Jackson)

Visiting Editors

Mary Biddinger, Visiting Editor in Poetry

Mary Biddinger, Visiting Editor in Poetry

Mary Biddinger is the author of five full-length poetry collections, including Small Enterprise and The Czar. Her sixth book, Partial Genius, will be published by Black Lawrence Press in August 2019. She teaches literature and creative writing at The University of Akron and NEOMFA program, and edits the Akron Series in Poetry for The University of Akron Press. Biddinger has been the recipient of three Individual Excellence Awards in poetry from the Ohio Arts Council, and received a National Endowment for the Arts fellowship in 2015. Find her online at and @marybid on Twitter.

Kelly Caldwell, Visiting Editor in Creative Nonfiction

Kelly Caldwell, Visiting Editor in Creative Nonfiction

Kelly Caldwell works and writes at Washington University in St. Louis. Her writing has appeared or is forthcoming in Fence, Phoebe, Quiddity, The Seneca Review, Small Po[r]tions, Entropy, PopMatters, MAKE Magazine, Slant, Pacific Standard Magazine, The Rumpus, and VICE, among others. She is the winner of an Academy of American Poets University Prize and the 2019 Greg Grummer Prize, judged by Jos Charles. She is the Co-Editor-in-Chief of The Spectacle.

Cassie Donish, Visiting Editor in Creative Nonfiction

Cassie Donish, Visiting Editor in Creative Nonfiction

Cassie Donish is the author of the poetry collections The Year of the Femme (University of Iowa Press, 2019), selected by Brenda Shaughnessy as winner of the Iowa Poetry Prize, and Beautyberry (Slope Editions, 2018). Her nonfiction chapbook On the Mezzanine (2019) was selected by Maggie Nelson as winner of the Gold Line Press Chapbook Competition. Her writing has appeared in The Cincinnati Review, Best New Poets, Colorado Review, VICE, jubilat, Gettysburg Review, Kenyon Review Online, Tupelo Quarterly, and elsewhere. She earned her MFA from Washington University in St. Louis, and she currently teaches and writes at the University of Missouri in Columbia.

(Photo by William Youngblood)

Eric Obenauf, Visiting Editor in Fiction

Eric Obenauf, Visiting Editor in Fiction

Eric Obenauf founded the publishing company Two Dollar Radio with his wife, Eliza. Their publications have been honored by the National Book Foundation, named Notable Books at New York Times, finalists for the Los Angeles Times Book Prize, and placed on the best-of-the-year lists at O, The Oprah Magazine, the Washington Post, NPR, and others. He was included in Publisher’s Weekly’s “50 under 40” list, and was a finalist in the magazine’s 2016 “Star Watch” program. Two Dollar Radio runs The Flyover Fest, which is a multidisciplinary festival featuring artists working in music, literature, and film over the course of 3 days in Columbus, Ohio. In 2017 they opened a bookstore/bar/plant-based café and event space called Two Dollar Radio Headquarters. Read more at

Hilary Plum, Visiting Editor in Fiction

Hilary Plum, Visiting Editor in Fiction

Hilary Plum is the author of the novel Strawberry Fields, winner of the Fence Modern Prize in Prose (2018); the work of nonfiction Watchfires (2016), winner of the 2018 GLCA New Writers Award; and the novel They Dragged Them Through the Streets (2013). She has worked for a number of years as an editor of international literature, history, and politics. She teaches at Cleveland State University and in the NEOMFA program and is associate director of the CSU Poetry Center. With Zach Savich she edits the Open Prose Series at Rescue Press.

Participating Faculty

Dexter L. Booth 2017 Visiting Writer

Dexter Booth, MFA Faculty in Poetry

Dexter L. Booth is the author of Scratching the Ghost (Graywolf Press, 2013). His poems have been included in the anthology The Best American Poetry 2015 (edited by Sherman Alexie), as well as Blackbird, The Southeast Review, Ostrich Review, Grist, Willow Springs, Bat City Review, Virginia Quarterly, and other publications. Booth is currently a Contributing Editor for Waxwing, and a Ph.D. candidate and Provost Fellow at the University of Southern California.

Brian Conn, Ashland MFA Fiction Faculty

Brian Conn, MFA Faculty in Fiction

Brian Conn is the author of The Fixed Stars: Thirty-Seven Emblems for the Perilous Season, which won the Bard Fiction Prize and appeared on’s list of the top ten science fiction and fantasy books of the year. His short fiction has appeared in The Year's Best Weird Fiction, Conjunctions, Unstuck, The Cincinnati Review, and Greatest Uncommon Denominator, among other journals. He co-founded, and for seven years co-edited, the literary journal Birkensnake. He earned his MFA from Brown University, and has also taught at Bard College, UC Santa Cruz, and the University of Rhode Island.
Christian Kiefer, Ashland MFA Director

Christian Kiefer, Director and MFA Faculty in Fiction

Christian Kiefer joined Ashland University as the new director of the Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing in January 2017. He is the author of The Infinite Tides (Bloomsbury), The Animals (W.W. Norton), One Day Soon Time Will Have No Place Left to Hide (Nouvella Books), and Kingdom of Wolves (Liveright / W.W. Norton), in addition to other works in poetry, fiction, and drama. Kiefer's scholarly publications focus on American literature. As a professional musician, he has released a number of albums primarily in the folk rock and avant garde traditions. Kiefer came to Ashland from American River College in Sacramento, California, and has taught fiction in the Sierra Nevada College low-residency MFA.

Lauren Markham, Ashland MFA Creative Nonfiction Faculty

Lauren Markham, MFA Faculty in Creative Nonfiction

Lauren Markham is the author of The Far Away Brothers, which won the 2018 Ridenhour Prize and the California Book Award Silver Medal, was shortlisted for the LA Times Book Prize, and was named a Barnes and Noble Discover New Writers Selection and a New York Times Critics’ pick for 2017. A graduate of Vermont College of Fine Arts, her essays have appeared in outlets such as Orion, Harper’s, LitHub, The New Republic, Guernica, and VQR, where she is a contributing editor.

Sarah Monette, MFA Faculty in Fiction

Sarah Monette, MFA Faculty in Fiction

Sarah Monette was born and raised in Oak Ridge, Tennessee, one of the three secret cities of the Manhattan Project. She got her B.A. summa cum laude from Case Western Reserve University, majoring in Literature and Classics, with a minor in Women's Studies, her M.A. and Ph.D. in English Literature from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. She wrote her dissertation on ghosts in early modern revenge tragedy. She has published more than fifty short stories, five solo novels, and three collaborations with her friend Elizabeth Bear. Her most recent novel, The Goblin Emperor, written under the pen name Katherine Addison, won the 2015 Locus Award for Best Fantasy Novel and was a finalist for the Hugo, the Nebula, and the World Fantasy Award. Her work has been translated into Russian, Japanese, Chinese, German, Turkish, Hungarian, Portuguese, and Czech.

Nayomi Munaweera, fiction Ashland MFA

Nayomi Munaweera, MFA Faculty in Fiction

Nayomi Munaweera's debut novel, Island of a Thousand Mirrors, won the Commonwealth Prize for Asia. It was long listed for the Dublin IMPAC Prize and the Man Asia Prize. The novel was also short listed for the Northern California Book Prize and the DSC Prize for South Asian Literature, and was a Target Book Club selection in January 2016. Her second novel What Lies Between Us was hailed as one of the most exciting literary releases of 2016 by venues ranging from BuzzFeed to Elle Magazine. She writes about the consequences of living in a female body and her voice has been compared to that of Michael Ondatjee and Jumpha Lahiri. The book was awarded Sri Lanka's State Literary Award for English novel. Her short fiction and nonfiction is also widely available.

Sandra Simonds, Ashland MFA Poetry

Sandra Simonds, MFA Faculty in Poetry

Sandra Simonds is the author of six books of poetry: Orlando (Wave Books, 2018), Further Problems with Pleasure, winner of the 2015 Akron Poetry Prize, Steal It Back (Saturnalia Books, 2015), The Sonnets (Bloof Books, 2014), Mother Was a Tragic Girl (Cleveland State University Poetry Center, 2012), and Warsaw Bikini (Bloof Books, 2009). Her poems have been included in Best American Poetry in 2014 and 2015 and have appeared in many literary journals, including Poetry magazine, the American Poetry Review, the Chicago Review, Granta, Boston Review, Ploughshares, Fence, Court Green, and Lana Turner. In 2013, she won a Readers’ Choice Award for her sonnet “Red Wand,” which was published on the Academy of American Poets website. She lives in Tallahassee, Florida, and is an associate professor of English and Humanities at Thomas University in Thomasville, Georgia.

Michael Spurgeon, Visiting MFA Faculty in Fiction

Michael Spurgeon, Visiting MFA Faculty in Fiction

Michael is a tenured professor of English at American River College. His writing has appeared in regional and national journals, including The North American Review, Sonora Review, The Packinghouse Review, and many others. He is the author of two short collections of poems–Valente’s Delicate Wrist (1998) and Prosthetic Breath & Other Poems (1995)–and his poetry has been anthologized in Burning the Little Candle and Late Peaches: Poems by Sacramento Poets. He is co-founder and former Board President of 916 Ink, a Sacramento area non-profit dedicated to promoting children’s literacy through creative writing. His first novel, Let The Water Hold Me Down, was published in 2013. 

Kelly Sundberg, MFA Faculty in Creative Nonfiction

Kelly Sundberg, MFA Faculty in Creative Nonfiction

Kelly Sundberg's memoir Goodbye, Sweet Girl: A Story of Domestic Violence and Survival was released by HarperCollins in 2018. Her essay "It Will Look Like a Sunset" was anthologized in Best American Essays 2015, and other essays have been listed as notables in the same series. Her work has appeared in Guernica, Gulf Coast, Denver Quarterly, Alaska Quarterly Review, Slice, and other literary and commercial magazines. She has been the recipient of fellowships and awards from Vermont Studio Center, A Room of Her Own Foundation, Dickinson House, and the National Endowment for the Arts. She has a PhD in Creative Nonfiction from Ohio University, and she lives in Ohio with her son where she is an Assistant Professor of Creative Writing at Ashland University.

Naomi J. Williams, Ashland MFA fiction faculty

Naomi Williams, MFA Faculty in Fiction

Naomi J. Williams is the author of Landfalls (FSG 2015), long-listed for the Center for Fiction First Novel Prize and the National Book Critics Circle’s John Leonard Award. Her short fiction has appeared in numerous literary journals, including Zoetrope: All-Story, A Public Space, One Story, The Southern Review, and The Gettysburg Review. A five-time Pushcart Prize nominee and one-time winner, Naomi has an MA in Creative Writing from UC Davis. Williams was born in Japan and spoke no English until she was six years old. Today she lives in Davis, California, where she teaches creative writing and serves as co-director of the literary series Stories on Stage Davis. New writing projects include a collection of retellings of Japanese ghost stories and a novel about the early 20th-century Japanese poet Yosano Akiko.


Tuesday, July 23

1:30-3:00 p.m. Craft Seminar: Michael Spurgeon, “The Art of Saying That Which Cannot Be Said: Images, Settings, and the Distances Between Words and the World” Dauch 105
7:00 p.m. Guest Reading: Justin Phillip Reed Schar 138

Wednesday, July 24

1:30-3:00 p.m. Craft Seminar: Justin Phillip Reed, “Monster-Making as Confessional Practice” Dauch 105
7:00 p.m. Guest Reading: Dan Chaon Schar 138

Thursday, July 25

1:30-3:00 p.m. Craft Seminar: Dan Chaon, “Strategies for Writing Dialogue” Dauch 105
7:00 p.m. Reading: Michael Spurgeon, Laura English, Kelly Sundberg, Jeff Knorr, Bethany Gustavsen Schar 138

Friday, July 26

1:30-3:00 p.m. Alumni Panel: Life After the MFA (with Kristin Ryan, Jason Gaidis, Amanda Rush, Ashley Bethard, moderated by David Baxley) Schar 138
7:00 p.m. Reading: Sandra Simonds, Renee Beck, Brian Conn, Doug Talley, Brian Kuhn Schar 138

Saturday, July 27

1:30-3:00 p.m. Publishing Panel (Eric Obenauf, Mary Biddinger, Hilary Plum, Cassie Donish, Kelly Caldwell, moderated by Paige Webb) Schar 138

Sunday, July 28

7:00 p.m. Open Mic: Student & Alumni Reading Dauch 115

Monday, July 29

1:30-3:00 p.m. Craft Classes:
Fiction: Brian Conn & Sarah Monette, “From Idea to Detail: Making World and Character into Story” Dauch 240
CNF: Lauren Markham, “Finding Structure, or How Do I Fit All These Pieces Into One Cohesive Whole?” Dauch 243
Poetry: Sandra Simonds, “The Long Poem: Utopias, Dystopias and Atopias” Dauch 246
7:00 p.m. Guest Reading: Hanif Abdurraqib Schar 138

Wednesday, July 30

1:30-3:00 p.m. Craft Seminar: Hanif Abdurraqib, "Language As An Instrument" Dauch 105
7:00 p.m. Reading: Lauren Markham, Sarah Battilana, Nayomi Munaweera, Andrew Rosser, George Gladden Schar 138

Wednesday, July 31

1:30-3:00 p.m. Craft Classes:
Fiction: Naomi Williams & Nayomi Munaweera, “Apply Yourself: Tips for Going After Grants, Fellowships, & Residencies” Dauch 240
CNF: Kelly Sundberg, "Language-Driven Lyricism: The Art and Shape of the Lyric Essay." Dauch 243
Poetry: Dexter Booth, “Whittling Bone II: More Tips for Revising and Reshaping a Poem” Dauch 246
7:00 p.m. Reading: Dexter Booth, Eileen O’Leary, Steph Greegor, Kristi Schirtzinger, Paige Webb Schar 138

Thursday, August 1

1:30-3:00 p.m. Reading: Naomi Williams, Julie Cyburt, Sarah Monette, Arlena Lockard Schar 138

Learn more about the low-residency MFA in Creative Writing Program at Ashland University

home of The Ashland Poetry Press and The Black Fork Review

For more information, contact the MFA Office, 419.289.5098 or

Thank you to these organizations for their support and partnership

The Ashland University MFA Program is grateful for the support of the Ohio Arts Council, whose funding helps make this program possible. We're also grateful for past partnership with the Coburn Art Gallery, and the Ashland Public Library. 

Ohio Arts Council        Akron Public Library Ashland University MFA Summer Reading Series