The Best Part

A brief address to the Warren Wilson Winter 2024 graduates


Thank you for that kind introduction. And thank you, too, for all those who made this residency possible; they can’t be thanked enough: Alyssa and Caleb, Alex and Carlos, Deb and Rita. Let’s also thank the YMCA Blue Ridge staff who fed us, banked fires in the cold, and kept us safe and dry.

I want to save my biggest thanks, though, for the beloveds. The partners, the friends, the children, the parents, in the audience, out in the world, all of you who saw the graduates through. We spend graduation day celebrating the graduates and rightly so, but we should spend every day celebrating you, the people who made it possible.

You know who you are. You made dinner the night before a packet was due. You delivered tea and soothing words when the thesis wasn’t going well. You shoveled the driveway clear of snow at 5 a.m. in Wisconsin while your partner was in North Carolina, and then shoveled it the next day, and the next, and then, though it was hard to hold the phone since you were developing frostbite, you listened attentively when your writer called from Blue Ridge and said things were going ‘okay.’ That’s great, you said, and they said, ‘you don’t get it,’ and you didn’t, because you didn’t really have time to, because your daughter’s school was calling: she has a stomachache. It’s probably just gas, your writer in North Carolina texted, adding, BTW, I am EXHAUSTED #dance #gymnight #cocoanight #party, hashtag something else, who knows, you’ve stopped reading, it turns out it was appendicitis, and when you finally do text back your writer in North Carolina, you’re sitting on the couch with a glass of your own favorite anesthesia, using your final grams of strength to pick out, ‘no don’t come home, she’s fine now, we’ll see you soon enough anyway.’

Or that’s what my wife texted toward the end of a winter residency seven years ago, and my daughter did make it through her emergency appendectomy just fine without me, the neighbor helped with the snowblower, AAA was super handy when the car didn’t start, and –

Can I just say, though—spouses, partners, kids, parents, friends in the audience today? The dances, the receptions, the workshops, the bookshops, the thesis interviews, the lectures, the grad classes, the conversations that go so late into the night, that—look, it’s morning!—it really is exhausting, this experience. And wonderful.

Especially today. I once got into a debate that, like many of the best conversations at Warren Wilson, ended without a clear answer. The debate was this: what part of the Warren Wilson MFA Program for Writers is the best. Not just good or great, but the best, the very peak.

Again, this may be a place where I must explain to the friends and family here why this is a debate. If you’ve spent money and time to travel all the way to western North Carolina to see someone graduate, this better be the best part of the program. At what school is graduation not?

Maybe…this one. Ask a dozen Warren Wilson grads for the best part of the whole experience and you’ll get a dozen answers. More than a few will say, ‘the call.’ When Deb, and now, Rita, called you to say you were admitted, and said the magic word, “congratulations,” and said it again when you insisted that it couldn’t be true.

Other people will tell you the best part is the opening lecture, everyone buzzing with excitement. Others will tell you about a favorite class or workshop, one that left them mouths agape, forty-five to sixty minutes that changed everything for you.

Some will say the very best part of the Warren Wilson experience was the part they were least looking forward to: the dreaded essay. Some will say the best day was the day the essay was done.

Or, no, it was the thesis, the day when, armed with a mug of coffee, a pencil, and a tenuously cleared calendar, you went through your thesis a final time and allowed yourself to think—shyly, not going to shout about it, but you know, from a certain angle, in this early light—this thesis was all right. You did good. This was time well spent.

Family, friends, that day when your writer came downstairs, circles under their eyes, not necessarily able to form words—and apparently unable, for weeks now, to do a single basic chore around the house—that day when they came downstairs with a quiet smile on their face and gave you a hug, that may have felt like the best day.

Well, it wasn’t.

The best day is what some fear is the worst day. It’s not.

The best part of Warren Wilson is tomorrow.

The best day is the day you leave, walking stick in hand, and return to that other life. To be clear, it’s not easy. It feels lonely. True, it feels amazing to read a book and not have to wrap your head around how you’re going to get an annotation out of this—and two others besides in the next few weeks—but it also feels a little nostalgic, a little empty. Where is everyone?

The best part is that they’re here. The friends you’ve made, the readers you’ve gained, they go with you, stand with you, read with you, write with you. Then there are the other friends you may not even know you have, the 1,150 Warren Wilson graduates worldwide, who, the instant you discover your connection—you’re a Wally, too?—will widen their smile. I guarantee this. In Paris. In Shanghai. In New York, Los Angeles, Miami, Boston, and even Milwaukee, someone already knows you, gets you, eagerly roots for you in all that you do.

Partners, parents, siblings, children, uncles and aunts and grandparents and friends, your writer is going to be a little confused tomorrow morning. It’s going to be the first day in a long while when they wake up and say, “what’s next?”

Here’s what you tell them—what’s next is the best part, the very best part. Getting back to work. Back, when all of us have your back.

Congratulations to you, then, supporters, for getting your writer to the cusp of this wonderful new life, and congratulations to the graduates, too. You have taught us all what ‘best’ really means.


Liam Callanan

Black Mountain, NC 

January 2024            

Was the point always to continue without a sign?

 A substantial number of Louise’s sentences recurringly come to mind, filling a big role in the observation-soundtrack of my life. This began after the first long drive we took together. I was her student at Williams College in Western Massachusetts, hired to pick her up and drop her off each week at the bus stop in Bennington, Vermont, as she commuted from Plainfield. I was also working with her for the first time—on my honors thesis, poems—and she had a reading coming up at the University of New Hampshire, where my younger sister went. Louise proposed that I drive her to Durham. A ways out on Route 2, I asked what she would read [Terns, assassins— ]. She said new poems, from a new book. Ararat. “What are they like?” I asked. We’d known each other maybe six weeks. She paused, “Like yours!” she said, elated. “They are a lot like yours!”

This is not me reporting, Sally = Little Louise. This is how she talked to us.

Also, she and I had already found on our drives a likeness in our relationships with our sisters. [My sister and I, we’re the end of something.]  We drove. We arrived—in the woods, in a glade—at the home of Charles Simic, with whom Louise would stay. Turned out he’d planned for me to stay too, and invited me to dinner. I desperately wanted to accept, but I had this stomach-pit knowledge that I could not bow out on my sister. Later, on campus, I told Jennifer about “Like yours!” and then we went to the reading. After “Paradise”—Adam and Eve—Jen leaned over and said, “So, is that how you feel? an ache where something was taken away / to make another person?” I had tried not to get in trouble, but I got in trouble anyway.

On another drive, later in the year, Louise told me a story about being in her twenties and wanting to write to Louise Bogan, admiring her work, but postponing the letter, being busy, and then Bogan died. Thirty years later, I emailed to confirm my memory of this story, and she said:

Yes, Louise Bogan. There was another such event with Ashbery. I was composing a letter in my head the first night at Yale and the next morning he was dead.

Much love,

Write your unwritten letter.

A painful early romance of mine caused Louise to say, in casual conversation, First you’re the savior, then you’re the target.

 A letter from 1993 (written on the Selectric in all lower-case) is 90% chicken recipe [don’t think of them as guests, think of them as extra chickens], an annotated version of Marcella Hazan. Louise writes, “add fresh rosemary (she says a branch; I use a tree)”; “you can do this two ways: 1) strip needles (they stay in sauce) or 2) use branch and remove. i do both and chew the branches”; “i tend to cover tightly, but then, i hoard by nature”; “something dark green looks nice on the plate.”

When, about a year later, I read Meadowlands (sort of stunned by its being very funny…) I also read, “We can all write about suffering / with our eyes closed. / You should show people / more of yourself; show them your clandestine / passion for red meat.” And there was Louise, chewing the rosemary.

I am responsible for these vines. Louise and John came to my wedding, near the end of their own marriage (oh, there is a marvelous photo of Louise dancing with Chris Nealon)—that whole love was marked by many many Louise-isms: We were artists again, my husband….

No one’s despair is like my despair—

Her way of skewering self-importance. You are showing off again, one speaker says to herself, lambasting her own “ridiculous errand,” weeping in the dark garage with your sack of garbage.

I remember Louise consoling me when my first class of students (high schoolers) seemed unimpressed, like if they went to Williams College they would end up doing something way better upon their own graduations. “It never goes away,” she said, “I sometimes wish for one of those court buglers to go in ahead of me—”  She described the bugle, the scroll of achievements, the red tights.

A white business in the trees, like brides leaping to a great height.

Writing this, I felt something akin to what I felt in the first days after Louise died: refusal. I am tempted to go out to the garage and dig through old files for choice Louise criticisms (e.g.: “you’re writing about feelings you’ve already had, not discovering them”) and for other letters, for more of her to put in here rather than say, What now? Who are you in the world if Louise is not in it?

In “A Work of Fiction” the speaker finishes a novel and feels bereft, and goes outside to smoke a cigarette. “Where had they all gone, these people who seemed so real?” —oh, how this resembles the question from Winter Recipes, when the sister is dying,

Where did you go next, after those days,

where although you could not speak you were not lost?

The cigarette glows in the darkness. “How small it was,” [the light of the tip, it seems—that’s what we see—“a small dot among the infinite stars,” but also, we realize, she means the novel was small]. Brief, brief, but inside me now, which the stars could never be.

Sally Ball (poetry ’94)

November 2023


It’s that time of year again: the Program is seeking your updates to the Alumni Bibliography—which currently lists 1500+ alum publications! In addition to being a point of pride and a source for your reading pleasure, the MFA Program uses the list for accreditation purposes and for recruitment. You can always view the alumni list here:

Please help us keep this list as complete as possible by uploading your new publication information through a form on the site:

The form will ask for your:

  • first name, last name,
  • the year in which you graduated,
  • the genre in which you graduated, fiction or poetry,
  • whether you graduated from Warren Wilson or Goddard,
  • the title of your book,
  • the name of your publisher,
  • year of publication, and specify novel, short fiction, novella, book of poems, chapbook, anthology (of which you were editor), translated poetry, translated fiction, or “other” (explain).

Please also share any additional information regarding awards the publication received.

Thanking you in advance,

Patrick Donnelly

Poetry 2003

The MFA Program for Writers at Warren Wilson College is delighted to announce its faculty for the July-November 2023 semester:


Debra Allbery (residency only)

Lesley Nneka Arimah (residency only)

Sally Ball

Rita Banerjee (Director)

Robert Boswell

CM Burroughs

Gabrielle Calvocoressi

Christopher Castellani

Jonathan Escoffery

David Haynes

Vanessa Hua

Christine Kitano

Akil Kumarasamy

Maurice Manning

Nina McConigley

Alix Ohlin

Matthew Olzmann

Peter Orner

Jason Schneiderman

Dominic Smith

Peter Turchi

Alan Williamson


C. Dale Young

The MFA Program for Writers at Warren Wilson College is pleased to announce the return of the Beebe Fellowship, available only to its alumni or to Goddard graduates from 1976-80.  Originally established in 1997, and last awarded in 2016, the Beebe Fellowship provides an opportunity for a year of undergraduate teaching in Warren Wilson College’s Creative Writing Department.  The coming year’s fellowship will have a concentration in fiction, teaching the equivalent of five 4-credit courses, although all undergraduate CW faculty teach broadly.  Affordable campus housing is part of the compensation package for this role, and there is the possibility of a second-year appointment. Previous teaching experience is required.
Additional details are provided in the job posting. First consideration will be given to those who apply by March 26, 2023.