Each January, Converse welcomes a distinguished guest writer to serve on the faculty for a month-long residency. This year, Anita Skeen of Michigan State University, author of five volumes of poetry and director of the Creative Arts Program at Ghost Ranch in New Mexico for 32 years, returns for her second appointment as the Sara Lura Mathews Self Distinguished Writer-in-Residence. Skeen will present a public reading of her work on Wednesday, Jan. 18 at 8:00 pm in the Bain Room of Wilson Hall. Admission is free of charge.
Throughout her residency, Skeen will teach the Advanced Tutorial in Creative Writing, a course that combines weekly one-on-one student sessions with a series of master class workshops. She will also give a craft lecture, Building the Ship as You Sail it: Risk-Taking in the Writing of Poetry, and provide a workshop and reading for students in Converse’s low-residency MFA program.
“I met Anita more than 20 years ago when she was teaching in the MFA program at Wichita State University and I’ve had the pleasure of being her guest as a visiting writer at Michigan State University where she now teaches,” said Rick Mulkey, director of Converse’s creative writing program. “Anita has an inexhaustible amount of energy that she gives to students. She is the very definition of mentor, giving of her time, knowledge, energy and talent to her students and her writing peers.”
Writers bring with them the ambiance and culture of the university, the community, and the region of the country in which they live and work which is very often different from the place where they are invited to spend some time as a visiting writer
Skeen firmly believes that residencies such as this bring great value to students, faculty and the visiting writer alike. “Writers bring with them the ambiance and culture of the university, the community, and the region of the country in which they live and work which is very often different from the place where they are invited to spend some time as a visiting writer,” she says. “They also bring a knowledge and familiarity with writers who have influenced their life and work, which is again often different from the influences of the faculty the students work with every day. Plus, from the students’ point of view, I think it’s exciting for them to meet new writers with new books they may not have read, and writers who the students are not likely to have a chance to hear in person.” She readily acknowledges that Converse students and faculty also benefit her teaching and writing. “I always take something away from these residencies. I also meet writers whom I think might enrich the lives of my MSU students if I can invite them to our campus. I picked up an idea for a series of poems from Rick Mulkey when I was with the MFA folks last week and just today I got an opening line for a poem from an exercise I had my students work on in class. I’ve met a student in my workshop who is as enthusiastic about Canadian literature and culture as I am and another who, like I am, is working on a series of poems related to birds. I love discovering these commonalities in unexpected places.“
A great believer in small classes, one-to-one relationships with students, and passionate sharing of intellectual pursuits between students and faculty, Skeen says she found all of that during her first residency at Converse a few years ago. “I found the community here, both in and outside of the college, to be welcoming, interesting, and curious about learning. Now there is the low-residency MFA program, which did not exist when I was here the first time. I was pleased to be asked to interact with them. I think having the MFA Program here at Converse College spills over into the undergraduate writing program. The creative and scholarly pursuits the creative writing faculty are engaged in at the MFA level strengthens their ability to offer quality intellectual experiences to the undergraduates.”
A professor in the Residential College in the Arts and Humanities at Michigan State University, Skeen is the arts coordinator and director of The Center for Poetry. She began her teaching career at Bowling Green University, where she received an MA in English Literature in 1970 and an MFA in Creative Writing in 1971, then went on to teach in the MFA Program at Wichita State University where she was a recipient of the Regents Award for Excellence in Teaching. She moved to Michigan State in 1990 and joined the Department of English at MSU. In 1997 she began serving as the Director of the Residential Option in Arts and Letters Program (ROIAL), a residential living and learning program for selected freshmen and sophomores in the College of Arts and Letters. ROIAL increased her interest in and commitment to undergraduate education, and to building bridges and links between ROIAL students and other units on campus as well as in the East Lansing community. She has taught in the MSU Study Abroad Program in England and Ireland, and has served as a Visiting Writer and Writer-in Residence in numerous venues.
Skeen has taught with the Kansas Arts Commission’s Artist in the Schools Program; in traditional venues such as college classrooms as a Visiting Writer and Writer in Residence; and in senior citizens’ centers, libraries, and at Ghost Ranch in New Mexico. She has been the Director of the Creative Arts Program at Ghost Ranch for 32 years, and the Fall Writing Festival for 16 years.
She served on the Board of Directors for the Kansas Humanities Council where she helped to found in 1987 Talking about Literature in Kansas Libraries, a reading and discussion program that still continues today
She is the author of five volumes of poetry: Each Hand A Map; Portraits; Outside the Fold, Outside the Frame; The Resurrection of the Animals; Never the Whole Story; and a fifth, with Oklahoma poet Jane Taylor, When We Say Shelter, with whom she also edited the literary anthology, Once Upon A Place: Writings from Ghost Ranch. Her poetry, short fiction and essays have appeared in numerous literary magazines and anthologies. She is working on a new collection of poems, Road Down Troublesome.