The Growth Chart is a new series that intends to mark and celebrate the presence, progress, and evolution of our current Fresno State Master of Fine Arts students. During their graduate studies with our program, they will be gaining new professional skills and experiences. This occasional series is an effort to capture and acknowledge their development and give space for them to reflect on their MFA years in progress. In sharing their journeys, we hope that it will make visible what it means to grow as a writer.
Compiled by Nou Her
for The Growth Chart series
Fiction, 1st year
A first-year graduate student who wouldn’t mind being a mango, Alejandra comes from Cantua Creek to study fiction.
What do you hope to accomplish in your graduate studies at Fresno State?
Overall, I look forward to improving my writing skills, but I’m also very interested in editing and publishing so I look forward to learning about that process.
What’s your current writing process like?
During my time between undergrad and this first year of graduate school, I tried to write every once in a while. Now, I’m writing at least twice a week. I’m trying to revise and finish the sample work I submitted with my application for the program.
What writing styles or genres are you curious to experiment with?
I’m interested in working more with creative nonfiction because I’m curious to learn how to take the ordinary—or extraordinary—situations someone has experienced, and put it in writing. Personally, I feel like I struggle to put my own experiences into words compared to when I write something completely fictional.
How do you hope to grow as a writer?
Being able to share my work is a very big step for me because I’m very shy and cautious about it. I look forward to growing as a confident writer.
Fiction, second year
Writing a collection of stories, second-year fiction graduate student Aaliyah Green enjoys the smell of cinnamon.
What so far are you trying to accomplish with your thesis manuscript?
I’m trying to explore this myth that African Americans don’t have a culture or have our own mythologies and folklore. So I want to shed light on these concepts and ideas.
What concerns you the most about the process of writing your thesis manuscript?
The length. I’m not a slow writer, but I have a tendency to stop in the middle of projects and not really finish them. So this is forcing me to see projects through.
How have the things you’ve read so far shaped you as a writer?
Growing up reading horror and fantasy, I can say that as a Black girl it was very annoying that I didn’t have representations in those genres. It wasn’t until I was much older that I was introduced to authors of color who were writing in these genres. So I just wanted to write to include someone who looks like me into the genres.
What reading experience do you hope your writing will give to readers?
I want them to enjoy it. If they get something deeper out of it, that’s great. If they just thought it was an enjoyable read, that’s great too. I want them to feel represented in the stories they are reading.
Tara Mae Williams
Fiction, third year
With the superhero power of love, Tara began her fiction-writing graduate studies in Fall 2015, and she is set to graduate in Fall 2018.
Looking back, what moments stand out to you most about your MFA experience?
I would say our diversity and inclusion workshop in year one was a highlight, as was a subsequent meeting I had with Francine Oputa from the Cross Cultural and Gender Center, which I will always treasure. My medieval lit topics classes with Dr. Lisa Weston. The opportunity to explore creative nonfiction with Steven Church. Lit Hop, Rogue Festival. The Blended Arts Festival, reading of one of my stories. Fiction workshops with Randa Jarrar and Tanya Nichols and Joseph Cassara. Getting to know other writers in the program and having the opportunity to teach creative writing. Working with the UCMLA conference. Taking my creative writing students into the Laureate Lab Visual Words Studio. Reading for The Normal School. Interviewing Beth Bich Minh Nguyen and Angela Morales. Interactions with Jefferson Beavers in the office. Talking to Venita Blackburn about my thesis and getting feedback from her and Randa and Steven. Getting to know a whole bunch of awesome writers, and going to readings. There are so many great experiences and memories.
What do you think your next step will be as a writer after the MFA?
Revise my thesis novel, then publish it and more stories and essays and novels, and become a wildly successful award-winning author.
What’s something you wished you may have done differently?
Because I was writing a novel as my thesis project, I do wish we had had a form and theory class available that centered on the novel as a form. The fiction form and theory class I took focused on short stories, and that was good. I just would have appreciated an option to study the novel in the same kind of depth. I also wish we’d gotten our new fiction faculty sooner. I think it was a lot of weight on Randa, too much. I’m glad that at least I get to take a workshop with Joseph, since I added a semester.
There’s never enough time or space for me to take all the literature classes I want. I’m definitely going to miss the luxury of sitting for hours talking to people about books and craft. I think it would also be a plus to have some kind of class on the business side of being a writer, on submissions and agents and publications and looking for a professorship after the program. Being in the Central Valley and distant from hubs like NYC and L.A. and Chicago, those are things we need to understand better in order to get our work out there.
How have you grown as a writer?
I have some idea of what I’m doing craft-wise now, and a more current sense of who’s writing what and how. I’ve noticed I gravitate toward stories that radiate from women, always with an element of social criticism. I’m interested in cultural and power dynamics, especially those that produce violence and how we can intervene in that cycle.
I care about this planet and the rich array of life in and on it and I hope, with my writing, to help wake people up in time to give us all a chance at continued existence. At this point, given our general inaction around ubiquitous threats like climate change, war, oppression of women, disregard for “others” however we define them, we are collectively behaving as if we have the right to decide whether or not future generations will even exist. I don’t think we should have that right. As writers, if we can speak clearly and truthfully from where we stand about what we see and experience, there’s a chance it might empower others to do the same and make it a little easier to take each other into consideration, to respond with more heart.