Cornell University Creative Writing

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Or: I don’t want to write about race, I want to write about that a graduate program full of artists dedicated to seeing beyond the world’s masks would be better on the race front—that despite all my previous experience with white-majority institutions the workshop would be an . In those days I must have needed that little fantasy, that little hope that somewhere shit might be better. Maybe it was the fact that I didn’t want to move back to my mother’s basement for anything.

Like I said: I was young.4It’s been twenty years since my workshop days and yet from what I gather a lot of shit remains more or less the same. Maybe I just got lucky—I didn’t snap or fall into a deep depression or get completely demoralized.

Where our contributions were not an adjunct to Literature but its core.

We’re on our fourteenth year now and the workshop has become a lot of things. We’re a space of learning, of personal growth and yes, at times, of healing. For me it’s an attempt to do over that lousy MFA I had.

These days you got that can talk your ears off about MFAs.

This is the Age of the Writing Program—but in the early 90s none of that had come to pass. My professor told me some stuff, but these things are like the Matrix—no one can really you what they are; you have to experience them for yourself. I never visited the schools I applied to, didn’t look up their faculty or try to communicate with any of their students.If we Calibans hadn’t all retreated into our separate bolt holes. What might have been if the other writers of color in the workshop—the ones who were like —had at least been open to discussing why that might be the case.I wonder what work might have been produced had we writers of colors been able to talk across our connections and divides, if we’d all felt safe and accounted for in the workshop, if we’d all been each other’s witnesses.This white peer, of course, had never lived in Latin America or Spain or in any US Latino community—he just knew. (One of our crowning triumphs, something I still take pride in, was that we were able to push through our first fiction faculty of color in the MFA program, Helena Maria Viramontes—how perfect is that? Wrote about her Island and its diaspora, their beauty and agonies with a clarity and sympathy I’ve never seen matched. Instead of pulling together we Calibans had all descended into our own spaces, taking the bus home every chance we got.The workshop professor never corrected or even questioned said peer either. Another young sister told me that in the entire two years of her workshop the only time people of color showed up in her white peer’s stories was when crime or drugs were somehow involved. If I wrote it in a book no one would believe it—too pat—but that’s exactly what happened. She was also about the only ally I had in my actual workshop and one of the people in workshop who had the greatest impact on how I write today. Early that fall (I think) Athena moved home; and I have never heard from her again.Never got any kind of instruction in that area—at all.Shit, in my workshop we never talked about race except on the rare occasion someone wanted to argue that “race discussions” were exactly the discussion a serious writer should be having.I should have known better but hey I was young; I was naïve.2I didn’t have a great workshop experience. In fact by the start of my second year I was like: … Too white as in Cornell had almost no POC—no people of color—in it.Too white as in the MFA had no faculty of color in the fiction program—like none—and neither the faculty nor the administration saw that lack of color as a big problem.Something right out of my wildest MFA dreams, where writers of colors could gather to develop our art in a safe supportive environment.Where our ideas, critiques, concerns, our craft and, above all, would be privileged rather than marginalized; encouraged rather than ignored; discussed intelligently rather than trivialized.


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