2014, Archives, June 2014, The MFA Years

Martina Clark Introduction (Stony Brook University ’16)

Martina Clark is blonde and wearing a pink shirt. The background is pink, red, and green, and resembles watercolors.

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 a writing MFA in creative nonfiction. Surprising on the nonfiction front, considering my love of embellishment, but I digress.

Martina's desk complete with a MacBook, notepad, lamp, coaster with an A on it, sunglasses, and various other desk accessories

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 10, 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 100 degrees 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 a 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.

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 off and on for 20 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 could continue the pursuit of writing and do my creative writing MFA. It finally came to the point at which I could no longer suppress the writer within. I had to let her out to take control.

Initially, I applied to six creative writing MFAs, 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.


New York:

To my surprise and delight, I was accepted to all but one of the MFA programs. Hunter, the most selective and least expensive of the New York creative writing MFAs, was my only rejection. Hunter, the school I now lovingly refer to simply as  “Number Six.” Sigh.

And thus began my unanticipated task of deciding which of these excellent MFA writing programs 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’s MFA 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’s MFA in creative writing, and then my first semester in the fall. I will attend classes mostly in Manhattan at their satellite campus with 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 storytelling begin!