Alumni Gather to Celebrate 20 Years
More than 100 Bennington Writing Seminars MFA alumni returned to campus during the June residency to celebrate twenty years of our extraordinary community. The weekend, which coincided with the commencement ceremony for the June 2014 graduates, was filled with everything one would expect when returning to the Vortex—creative energy, lively conversation, the Dog House Band, literary readings, inspiring lectures, and beautiful Vermont weather.
What it is to be back at Bennington—amongst other alumni, current students, and the faculty mentors who guide us—defies words but is most evident in the warm expressions of gratitude for what the Bennington experience gave us all. As new alum Keith Lesmeister (fiction, June ’14) said, “Bennington’s a special place. But it’s really about the people. They make it what it is.”
Alumni are at the center of the Vortex. Ciaran Cooper (fiction, January ’04) designed a beautiful labyrinth in honor of the program’s twentieth year. Anita Taylor (nonfiction,January ’04) recruited a crew of alumni volunteers to fill more than 1600 paper bags with sand and candles, place them according to Ciaran’s plan, and light them as the sun went down. Everyone agreed the result was simply stunning!
YahNe Ndgo (nonfiction, June ’13) continues to lead the good work of the Diversity Initiative as interested alums, faculty, and current students find innovative ways to introduce new voices to Bennington’s curriculum, attract a broader range of visiting and core faculty, and raise money to support scholarships for prospective diverse students. Camille Renshaw (fiction, June ’99) came forward at the reunion and offered to match any donations to the Diversity Scholarship Fund up to a total of $5,000. Please give generously to help us take full advantage of this wonderful support. The Diversity Initiative is always looking for new ideas and inspired volunteers.
At the graduation dinner, Lee Hancock (nonfiction, January ’14) and Charlie Lewis (nonfiction, January ’14) announced their commitment to fund a new nonfiction prize named in honor of Writing Seminars MFA director, Sven Birkerts. The inaugural prize will be administered similarly to the Liam Rector Poetry Prize and will be awarded in June 2015 to a January or June 2015 graduate who studied nonfiction or did a third-term switch to nonfiction. During their announcement, Lee and Charlie challenged alums who had studied fiction to start a similar prize. By the next morning, a group had promised to fund The Bennington Writing Seminars MFA Prize in Fiction, modeled after the poetry and non-fiction prizes. The group dedicated the first year’s award in honor of Cat Parnell’s (fiction, Jan. ’00) herculean efforts planning and managing the reunion festivities.
V. Hansmann (nonfiction, June ’11) continues to host a monthly reading series featuring Bennington MFA writers at the Cornelia Street Café in New York.
Now is a great time to get involved—whether it’s supporting one of our scholarship funds, speaking with prospective students, hosting an event in your city, or getting involved in the Diversity Initiative. Please feel free to contact me. I love hearing from each of you. And please be sure to like The Bennington Writing Seminars Of Interest and Bennington MFA in Writing pages on Facebook and to follow us on Twitter at BennMFA_Writing.
–Molly Thomas, Writing Seminars MFA Alumni Development Officer