All posts filed under: Guest post

Literal Accessibility

Image: haru__q There are six steps in front of my apartment building. They are made of marble and get slick when it rains or snows. I never forget that they are there. Before my car accident—before I became disabled—I didn’t pay too much attention to such things. Now I am always keenly aware of what lies ahead of me. For someone whose thoughts should revolve around words, I am constantly thinking of numbers; I calculate the distance from A to Z, whether one flight of stairs will be less painful than a thousand steps to the elevator, whether I can afford a cab to go the five blocks because I’m especially achey that day. And, ever since I decided to apply to MFA programs, I’ve thought about learning my way a whole new campus. Iowa’s program is located at Dey House, a two-story former residence converted for use by the Writers’ Workshop. On the Iowa website, it states that disabled students would only have access to the main floor. Columbia’s MFA program is held in …

Don’t Speak

Image credit: Miki Yoshihito I don’t talk. At least not in class. I am the person in the back corner of the classroom diligently taking notes who always knows what’s going on but doesn’t say a word. And I’m more than comfortable in that role. I like that role, especially since coming back to school. From that first day about two years ago on I got it in my head that I was behind the rest of my classmates somehow in education and ability. Listening to the discussions around me was my way of catching up to them. Plus, I’ve always been a better writer than speaker. I knew I could show my knowledge through the papers and essays assigned. I was more than fine trading in class participation grade for not embarrassing myself in front of everyone. Back in January, before the start of my final semester of undergrad, I made it a goal of mine to speak more, to participate more, to not just be the girl in the back of the room …

The Inevitable Stumblings of Beginnings

Image: finchlake2000 The reality of it already (somehow! how!?) being November was the catalyst for writing this small testimony, think piece, whatever you’d like to call it. In other words, my first semester in an MFA program is a blur—one great, big, ginormous blur that’s stretched and yanked and shouted at and taught me things I thought I’d already learned—but actually hadn’t. Not the right way, at least. I came to my program with all of the excitement and uncertainty and the strange partially-pompous-partially-humble mind-state that us writers seem to have an affinity for convincing ourselves into. I’m sure everyone before me and after me has felt and will feel this similar peculiarity, too. And that whole “imposter” syndrome you hear about? Yeah—that’s really real. There are days when I’m nearly convinced I was let into my program by accident. There are also days I’m so damn grateful to be here—usually after a high-energy, bright-spots-of-flushed-cheeks-and-points-being-made discussion in my workshop where there’s this amiable discord, the sharing of ideas, completely done for the sake of a story, …

Shakarean Hutchinson Introduction (Applicant ’16)

Image: Andrew Taylor I finished my first application today (December 8th) with the mailing of my writing sample. I expected to feel something when the USPS worker took the envelope from me—happiness, relief, nervousness. Instead I felt what can only be described as meh. A 5 on a scale of 10. Baked but lightly salted crackers. Water. And not the icy cold water you drink after being out in the hot sun for hours on end either. Just plain, room temperature, straight from the tap water. *** I didn’t know anything about MFA programs until about three years ago while reading the bio of a random writer who had a short story published in an online journal I enjoyed. And even after doing a casual Google search on MFA programs I didn’t give it all that much thought. My future plans included getting an advanced degree in…something (hadn’t decided at the time), become a professor, and spend the rest of my life teaching and paying off student loans. And should I write a story or …

Jess Silfa Introduction (Applicant ’16)

Image: Laura D’Alessandro Some say that when you’re making a stack of pancakes, you always throw out the first one. It’s a test to see if the batter holds together; if the griddle is hot enough; if your flipping technique is finally perfect after years of making stacks upon stacks upon stacks of pancakes. The first pancake is the first try, the freedom to make a mistake, and to be flawed. I thought about this when I showed a professor the first draft of my statement of purpose for an MFA program in fiction. I was apologizing for my draft’s shortcomings before my professor even said anything. “It’s just a first pancake!” I’m not sure if I meant the statement or the application process overall. In case it wasn’t obvious, this is my first year applying to MFA programs. I’m currently a psychology student at Columbia University—that probably makes me seem younger than I am. I was a high school dropout at 13, a GED earner at 23, and I applied to Columbia at the age of …

On Finishing my MFA

Image: waferboard In September 2012, I embarked upon a creative writing MFA at Stony Brook, Southampton. This was my first return to academic environs since my completion of an MA in sociology in 2010. In the intervening years, I taught briefly. I also attempted to write on my own. The idea appealed to me romantically—sitting down each day at my desk, a diary open in front of me, and just writing, writing, writing. Ever since my childhood, I have been an inveterate consumer of notebooks, always eager to finish one as soon as I bought it. I was, as yet, unfamiliar with the idea of revision, happy to believe that the words I had just penned would make their way unassailed to the printed page. Writing on your own is harder than it sounds, much harder. It is difficult to stick to a routine when you are your own master. It is so easy to give up and say that you have no idea what to write, that you are suffering from a mental block. …

Goth in the Southamptons

When describing the Stony Brook Southampton campus to friends back home, I tell them it’s more like a hippie commune than a traditional campus, with more empty buildings than occupied ones. And seemingly more deer than actual students, without the annoyance of dubstep-filled floor parties, but also without the comforting buzz of voices in the hallway. It’s the perfect place to write, isolated, surrounded by nature and very laid back. Then I went off campus for the first time. Everyone in downtown Southampton was wearing white, with pastel hoodies draped over their shoulders and cotton boating shoes on their feet, as if they had just jumped off their yacht to buy a ten-dollar coffee or some organic, artisan fudge. My boyfriend and I whispered about how out of place we were, and I was sure the townspeople knew I was one of the new, weird writing students just by looking at my eyeball-shaped purse. I was convinced that I’d feel much more at home when classes started. After all, writers are said to be a …

“‘Passion Without Flesh, Love Without Climax’”

Image: Reji For the last few weeks, I had not gone to sleep before 4 a.m. on most nights. A poet going to bed late is, of course, no big deal. Edna St. Vincent Millay once left a note for her housekeeper saying not to wake her because she’d been up working until 5 a.m.;  Emily Dickinson routinely wrote during her “morning hours,” which is to say at 3 in the morning. The trouble is, I’m not writing; I’m not memorizing modern Greek or Arabic conjugations (though I should be;) I’m not studying something about which I’m so passionate that time melts like the interval between kisses. No, for the last few weeks, I have been kept awake by the fact that it’s what anyone, with the briefest glance at the calendar, might call “late August.” “Early September,” even, by the time you read this . Grad school, though it was something I was looking forward to so much during the spring of last year as I was completing my Senior year at Kenyon, has …

A Summer With the Prose Poem

Image: Jain Basil Aliyas The first day of the Prose Poem class I was dismayed. My professor wanted us to write haiku. It was a moment before I could process what she was saying. Hai-who? Hai-What? No. No not that. It can’t be that. I write fiction and free verse poetry. Not that stuff.  She wasn’t joking. She led the class on a walk around campus for them to gain material. I, being stubborn, decided to stay in the classroom, which she said I could if I could vividly recall something that would help with my haiku. I thought about the rooftop party I had attended the day before while overlooking Prospect Park. Of course, I could recall something from that for my haiku. I took out my phone and began to look at the pictures of the party. I wrote haiku. Albeit, terrible examples of what I considered haiku. But when she returned with the class I had something written down. At the end of the Monday class, the assignment was to return to class …

The MFA Vs. Everyone Not a Straight, White Male

I am a black woman. I consider myself lucky that I chose a program that houses other black women, making me not the token for the first time in my experience of higher education. I chose a program that even has black men, and other types of people of color in it. I chose a program that has people in it who fight for the voices of marginalized populations as their daily bread, in and out of what they do for writing or for work. However, even paradise (which I consider my program to be) has its flaws. I came to the program brimming with enthusiasm, and ready to write. My first fiction workshop made me self-conscious. I was the only black woman in that class. I, coming from a predominantly white institution for undergrad, have been known to carry the weight of race. I felt conflicted. I didn’t want to submit something for workshop that was urban or street fiction. I felt that gritty urban fiction was something my peers expected me to be …