A Note from Stacia Fleegal
Incoming director of the Elizabeth Ayres Center for Creative Writing
Dear current, former, and future students, and aspiring writers everywhere,
It is with humble pleasure that I greet you as the incoming director of the Elizabeth Ayres Center for Creative Writing. My name is Stacia Fleegal, and I want to tell you a bit about how I came to be here.
I have always been a writer, living in books and my own poems and stories since I could hold a pen. In 2006, I earned my Master of Fine Arts in Writing from Spalding University’s acclaimed brief-residency program, but I wasn’t sure about teaching. I was young, unconvinced of my new alleged “expertise,” and truthfully had no interest in academia. I wanted to start a literary journal, so I co-founded one with an MFA colleague and ran it for 10 years. I wanted to make books, so I worked for a variety of small, independent presses in every capacity you might imagine. I worked for the journals department of a university press, then for an online scholarship repository at a university library, then as a features writer, blogger, page designer, and books editor at a newspaper. Throughout all of these professional positions and moves around the country, I published two full-length collections of poetry and three poetry chapbooks. I was making a writing life work, in my own way.
Then one dark day, I looked in the mirror and didn’t recognize myself. Multiple traumas, life hurdles, and inner demons left me struggling day to day to survive, let alone to write at length. A newly-unemployed single mom, I wasn’t sure how to re-center writing in my life while providing for my little boy; but I’m stubborn, and so is the call to write. I resolved not to let this part of my identity be diminished.
I made my resolution, and I swear it was the very next day that I found the Elizabeth Ayres Center for Creative Writing through a job posting in Poets & Writers magazine.
My first phone call with Elizabeth was powerful. We clicked right away, engaging in the kind of verbal topic-hopping you do with an old friend with whom you are desperate to catch up after a long silence. Elizabeth spoke with passion about fostering a space where beginning and “stuck” writers could nurture their fledgling or floundering writing practices in a non-competitive community, and I probably pulled muscles from grinning and nodding along with her. We connected over a shared philosophy about the sacredness of art as part of a collective journey—a relationship between writer and reader, history, world—and an endeavor toward oneness.
The Center began to take shape in my mind as so much more than a good job prospect: I realized Elizabeth had built a sanctuary of a school for aspiring writers 27 years ago, running it out of her own living room for a decade before moving the courses exclusively online in 2000. In other words, she made a writing life in her own way, too. I was in awe of her vision and longed to be part of a community of writers again. She hired me shortly after that phone call nearly three years ago, and I’ve been happily teaching since. I took over one of Elizabeth’s original and seminal courses, The Writer’s Eye; designed and launched new courses in poetry and trauma writing; and mentored writers one-on-one, gently guiding them to build upon their strengths and dig for the deeper meaning, helping them revise, and delighting as they developed regular writing practices and occasionally published in literary magazines.
And then, on New Year’s Eve 2016, Elizabeth called me out of the proverbial clear blue and announced, “Stacia, I’m moving to a monastery and leaving you the Center,” giggling with the carefree joy of someone who has worked so hard for others and is finally following her own true calling, her higher purpose and bliss. For the second time, I accepted a generous and transformative offer from Elizabeth Ayres.
I discovered the Center for Creative Writing at the moment I needed it most, and that is a large part of why I, as first a teacher and now director, am so committed to its continuation. I want this Center to thrive, just as I want its students to flourish and its teachers to be fulfilled and sustained by their work.
I have always been a writer because I have named myself so. Some writers are just now naming themselves. Some are returning to creative impulses after long careers in other fields, and others at all stages of life are awakening to a call to connect, to tell their stories and record their truths, whether for themselves or for an audience, in their own way. For my part, I can think of no better way to honor the choice to write, theirs and my own and anyone’s, than to continue to foster this community Elizabeth created and keep helping writers get to the page.
That’s why I’m here.
Stacia M. Fleegal