An old expression goes, “He’s a poet and doesn’t know it.”
At Episcopal School of Baton Rouge, a more appropriate expression is, “We have a poet and everyone should know it!”
That poet is none other than the Head of Upper School, Dr. Thomas “Spree” MacDonald.
It is not surprising that few members of our community know about Dr. MacDonald’s poetry. He is genuinely humble about his accomplishments. Rather than discuss his accolades, he prefers to engage students, parents, and visitors in conversations about the amazing projects and events happening at our school. Also, during the school week and most of the weekend, he is focused on his duties at Episcopal and on his family rather than on his creative pursuits. For a few hours on Saturday mornings in local coffee shops, however, Dr. MacDonald, Upper School Head, becomes Spree MacDonald, published and prize-winning poet.
Dr. MacDonald has been a creative writer since elementary school, when he wrote a poem in 3rd grade that his teachers praised. In middle school, he delved into the poetry section of a discarded literature anthology he found and was inspired by the poems of his two greatest influences, Langston Hughes and T. S. Eliot. Throughout high school and college, he wrote hundreds of poems and some fiction. Soon after graduate school, and no longer having to focus on academic writing, he felt a sense of urgency about taking his poetry to a professional level, seeking not only to improve his craft but also to learn the ins and outs of being published. Within a year, he began to see the coffee-induced fruits of his labor rewarded, as his poems were published by such literary journals as RHINO, Transition Magazine, and Berkeley Poetry Review. One of his poems, “Snow Globe Explosions,” was even nominated for a Pushcart Prize, one of the most prestigious literary awards in the United States.
Dr. MacDonald describes his poems as “narrative, with plots and characters.” He also values the musical and imaginative qualities of his poems’ language. While some of his poems are challenging, he strives to infuse his work with a sense of playfulness. He finds inspiration for his poems mostly through observation: sitting in coffee shops, taking long drives with his wife, being a spectator at Louisiana’s many festivals and parades, and listening to his children’s conversations. While his short-term goal is to continue publishing individual poems or chapbooks, he aspires one day to write a book-length poem, one that would combine his interests in storytelling and lyrical language. He also hopes to write more about memories of his childhood spent in Oregon and Michigan, as well as his experiences in South Africa.
Though he manages to separate his roles as Upper School Head and award-winning poet, Dr. MacDonald believes his work at Episcopal informs his poetry in important ways. He states, “I’m fortunate to be able to talk to teachers and administrators who love knowledge and have made a lifelong commitment to learning.” Conversations with his colleagues keep his mind active and searching for ideas. As important, his daily interactions with students show him the necessity for growth, an important theme in many of his poems. “To see young people rapidly embracing change,” he states, “reminds me of my own potential for change – in life and in poetry. I want my writing always to be evolving.”
With its embrace of change, its striving for intellectual growth, and its celebration of playfulness and adventure, Episcopal School is a natural fit for Dr. MacDonald, Upper School Head and poet. And we know it.
Dr. Alan Newton
Dr. Alan Newton hails from Alabama and received degrees from UNC-Chapel Hill, University of Virginia, and University of Kansas. At Episcopal, he has taught eighth grade World Geography and History of Religion in addition to his new roles as English teacher, Writing Center Director, and College Block Coordinator. Dr. Newton has taught English and Social Studies classes and served as a college admissions consultant for more than twenty years, predominantly at college preparatory schools in the United States and South Korea. He is also a published poet and playwright whose play, Whiteout (2001), won a national Kennedy Center award. Outside of school, he enjoys theater, world travel, and playing drums. He is married to Dr. Rebecca Kuhn.