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How an MFA Prepared Whitney Collins for Literary Life

Guest Post by Katy Yocom

headshot of Whitney Collins

Whitney Collins graduated from Spalding University’s low-residency MFA program in 2018, won her first Pushcart Prize in 2020, and published her first book to universal acclaim the following year. I asked Whitney, author of prize-winning short story collection Big Bad and the forthcoming Ricky & Other Love Stories, how the MFA program at Spalding prepared her for the literary life. According to Whitney, it all came down to volume, community, and craft.

In her own words:


“The sheer volume of work we were asked to generate was remarkable, and, yes, a bit intimidating,” Whitney said. “But it’s doable, and you will AMAZE yourself by being able to do it. The Spalding ‘packets’ prove to you that not only can you write, but that you can also write A LOT. I graduated with a newfound confidence surrounding my generative abilities. I also graduated knowing I had no excuses! Priceless.”


“The community at Spalding is like no other,” she said. “It’s diverse, both culturally and in genre, and delightfully non-competitive. As Sena (Jeter Naslund, Spalding MFA co-founder) always said: ‘Your competition is in the library, not the classroom.’ Your classmates at Spalding will be your cheerleaders not your critics.” 

cover of Whitney Collins' story collection Big Bad


“The short craft essays that you write at Spalding will not just teach you how to think critically about how and why a piece of creative work is working, but you will begin to read creative work differently,” she said. “You will start to dissect successful literature and figure out what is contributing to its success. And if you think critically and read critically, you will begin to write with more awareness. You’ll start hiking with a map instead of relying solely on instinct.”

And then there were the memories…

“My favorite Spalding memory? Just one? Probably just hanging in the Brown Hotel’s lobby bar. Eating, drinking, connecting, and laughing with other exhausted and excited writers.”

Whitney graduated from Spalding’s low-residency MFA program in 2018. Her short story collection Big Bad (Sarabande Books, 2021) won the Mary McCarthy Prize in Short Fiction. Her work has received a 2020 Pushcart Prize, a 2020 Pushcart Special Mention, and a Best American Short Stories 2022 Distinguished listing. Her second collection, Ricky & Other Love Stories, is forthcoming next year.

Spalding University Naslund-Mann Graduate School of Writing logo
Spalding’s Naslund-Mann Graduate School of Writing is now accepting applications for an early-decision deadline of February 1. Email [email protected] to request an application fee waiver code and save $30 when you apply.

Students can begin their studies with Spring residency (May 27 – June 3 in Louisville) or Summer residency (June 25 – July 3 in Québec City). Or apply by August 1 for the Fall semester (November-April).

Learn more at Spalding’s website, or email if you have any questions.

BIO: Katy Yocom is a Spalding alum, associate director of the Naslund-Mann Graduate School of Writing, and author of a prize-winning debut novel, Three Ways to Disappear.