Why did you choose Alabama for your MFA? What were you doing before you came here?
Let’s be honest—there was some degree of hesitation. Here I am, heavy-set black girl smack dab in the heart of the South, surrounded by a sea of very similar, very unfamiliar faces. Community was a key factor in my MFA decision, and I wasn’t sure I was going to find that at UA (and I was pretty upfront about that hesitation). But I think we all know at the end of the day community isn’t built on race, familiar faces, or similar histories—it’s built on compassion. And the level of commitment and dedication to each other I felt here between members of this MFA were beyond comprehension without experience. That first visit changed everything for me. I fed on the love, care, and concern I received. The community this MFA builds depends on intimacy, an intimacy that develops from respect for one another’s (amazing) work and needs. Rather than sole competition, this MFA moves on support and growth. In the courses, you learn to develop as writers together. There’s something so meaningful about that.
How have the courses, faculty, and resources here helped you define and carry out your projects?
To answer this question, I first turn to a quote by Saeed Jones in his Buzzfeed essay “Self-Portrait of the Artist as Ungrateful Black Writer.” He is standing amongst the literati in the wake of his first poetry book publication, and he’s struck by how alarmingly grateful he is to be there—“almost exhaustingly grateful.” A close-to-home feeling he describes as “the kind of gratitude that, I suspect, is very familiar to those whom our culture has a habit of reminding they should be happy ‘to just be here.’”
I am using the resources here at UA to relieve myself of this submissive gratitude in the literary world. Am I grateful? Absolutely. But there have been multiple points in my time as a creative writer where I have attached gratitude to my blackness, as if my accomplishments as a writer happen despite my blackness instead of in tandem. What I mean is, I am using UA to assert and establish my agency, to feel comfortable in that agency. I want to be at a place as a writer where I always feel pride for my work. I want to know I belong instead of thinking that I am lucky enough to belong. In short, I want confidence.
Putting yourself out there as a writer is, as everyone knows, difficult, terrifying. Stepping out as a writer of color has its own set of obstacles; it requires the kind of strength that comes only with believing in yourself. That kind of belief only comes from understanding what you’re capable of. UA courses and faculty give me free rein over my work. As the final arbiter, I determine my level of experimentation, control, involvement. The faculty are open when I need them and hands-off when I don’t. I can make mistakes without fear here and for that I am grateful.
How does getting an MFA degree fit into your goals for the future?
Because I plan on taking over the world with my poetry, the MFA seemed like a pretty good start. In all seriousness, the MFA has given me some great opportunities, even right now, that I might not have necessarily accomplished on my own. Just this past summer I was able to attend the Callaloo Creative Writers’ Workshop, which furthered my development as a black writer more than any other experience I have had so far, and I couldn’t have attended that fantastic workshop without the help I received here at UA. And tomorrow I have a meeting with one of the faculty to discuss some of my future goals/dreams/big dreams (Civitella Ranieri Foundation, anyone?) and how I might accomplish them one day (surely? hopefully?). I’d say that even if I am only shakily aware of what I want to do with my future, my experience with the MFA has been useful in not only aiding me to accomplish what I know I want right now, but also helping me figure out what else I could do that I am not yet aware of. Plus, this MFA is teaching me how to be a better person. It gives me a chance at community involvement, teaching high schoolers with the Creative Writing Club. The workshops equip me with skills in poetic discernment and compassion. I’m learning how to interact with people—both personally and professionally. No matter what I decide to do, these skills are irreplaceable.