Martina Clark Introduction (Stony Brook University ’16)

I’ve been telling stories for as long as I can remember. I’m not saying I’m a liar, just that I’m a writer. At long last, at the ripe middle age of 50 – doesn’t get any more middle than that – I am about to start an MFA in Creative Nonfiction. Surprising on the nonfiction front, considering my love of embellishment, but I digress.

Martina's Desk

As a child, I lived in books. I read voraciously to visit the worlds I could barely comprehend and embrace them as my own. By the time I was ten, I’d been into space, lived at the bottom of the sea, traveled the world and fallen in love at least a million times. Books took me places without ever leaving the back yard of our Central Valley home in Fresno California.

Summers were hot, as in over 100o hot, so calm escapist activities were a plus to avoid wilting in the heat. And the library – oh the wonderful library – was air-conditioned and like mecca for my soul. And so I read and read and read some more.

I told lots of stories but in our busy large family, nobody much paid attention. Sometimes I threw in a few fabricated tales just to be sure and I got away with it. Nothing harmful or dangerous, mind you, just on the edge of reality to see how far I could go. I’d usually be met with a raised eyebrow and a simple, “that’s nice, dear,” and be sent on my way.

But then I got older and it was suggested that life as a writer was a tough one and I was encouraged to focus elsewhere. Finally, by the time I made it through college, I settled on International Relations. It seemed the best way to travel – in real terms versus through books – and still get a degree and on with my life.

Ultimately, I worked for the United Nations (UN) off and on for twenty years. And travel I did. So far I’ve visited about 90 countries and have amassed more material for my writing than I’ll ever work through.

In 2011, I left my job with the UN and refocused my life on my creative passions, namely writing and music. I started submitting some travel stories and even became the Managing Editor of a digital travel magazine. Sadly, the magazine is now on hiatus, but my writing has grown and my determination to do this full time is unstoppable.

Just this year, in fact, I liquidated my one and only investment so I can continue this pursuit of writing and do my MFA. It finally came to the point where I could no longer suppress the writer within, I had to let her out and take control.

Initially, I applied to six schools, three in the San Francisco Bay Area (which I still consider home, even though I haven’t lived there in nearly 20 years) and three in New York City where I have lived since early 2003.


  • San Francisco State University, my undergrad alma mater,
  • University of San Francisco, where my niece recently graduated in architecture, and
  • Saint Mary’s College of California, which has an amazing writing program that wins awards all over the place.

New York:

  • Stony Brook University, which now has a Manhattan campus,
  • The Writer’s Foundry at St. Joseph’s College, walking distance from my Brooklyn apartment, and
  • Hunter College.

To my surprise and delight, I was accepted to all but one of the schools. Hunter, the most selective and least expensive, was my only rejection. Hunter, the school I now lovingly refer to simply as  “#6.” Sigh.

And thus began my unanticipated task of deciding which of these excellent schools to attend. In the end, it came largely down to finances. A few of the schools offered some scholarship money and/or teaching fellowships, but they were still more expensive than I could justify.

My living expenses, after more than a decade of strategic planning, are now relatively low in Brooklyn and so I ultimately also ruled out San Francisco because, basically, I can’t afford it. And that, I might add, is a sentiment I never imagined I’d express – that San Francisco is more expensive than New York City, but there you have it. I can’t afford to move home, at least not yet, and certainly not as a student.

And so it came down to choosing between Stony Brook and The Writer’s Foundry at St. Joseph’s. Both are excellent schools and have remarkable faculty. But I think what tipped me over the edge was when the director of the program at Stony Brook suggested that, indeed, many of their alumnae actually teach at St. Joseph’s. It was then that I decided Stony Brook was the school for me.

Affordable, flexible and, above all, eager to have me – they wrote regularly and encouraged me in so many wonderful ways – Stony Brook won out.

And so it is that in July of 2014, I will start my first class as a part of the Southampton Writers Conference, hosted by Stony Brook, and then my first semester in the fall. I will attend classes mostly in Manhattan at their satellite campus and one out in Southampton. I’ll travel six hours each Tuesday for a three-hour class, but I suspect it will be well worth it. At least I hope so.

At this point, I don’t know exactly what will come out of this educational adventure – maybe teaching, probably editing, certainly writing – but I know that I am putting my all into it.

Studying full-time at this point in my life and, specifically, creative writing, feels like the greatest luxury imaginable. To be surrounded by other students, writers and published authors is a childhood dream come true.

I look forward to keeping you posted along this journey through this blog and hope you’ll enjoy the next chapters as they unfold, literally and figuratively. Let the story telling begin!

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