Hi! My name is Tiwa, you may have seen a few of my posts here on Brittle Paper. I’m currently in my final year of undergraduate studies in International Studies and English, and like most people I know, I am aspiring to make an impact in this world. How? At 18 I don’t have everything figured out yet, but I know that I want to use my words to tell important stories, I want to grow my skills, interests and passion in order to help people the best way I can, and I want to take advantage of every opportunity that I can to make a difference, so help me God. I only recently joined the Brittle Paper team and thus far, it has been an absolute joy. I think Ainehi is a Queen and I think magic is unfolding right here, in front of our very eyes.
This summer, I got the incredible privilege to spend a month in upstate New York learning with some of the country’s finest writers. It was a tremendous experience in ways that I find difficult to articulate.
How it happened: My creative writing professor at the University of Kentucky, Julia Johnson asked me if I would like to spend a month in New York, and I said yes, of course! I would have been out of my mind not to. She went ahead to nominate me for a scholarship, and I was accepted into the New York State Summer Writers Institute at Skidmore College.
The months that followed my acceptance had me really nervous and unsure of what to expect. I googled the program multiple times and went to the extent of going past the first few pages of Google results for even obscure references to the program. As I wound up what was a very emotionally trying semester for me (for a multitude of reasons I won’t bore you with) I could barely quell my anticipation. And then it was time; I put all my crap in a box and headed to New York.
The Area: I first fell in love with the small, quintessential Skidmore campus. Coming from a much larger school, it was very new to me. I loved the view of the mountains from my window, the way the sun streamed in in the afternoon, and that the woods were right there, with trails for my walking pleasure (though I only went there once tbh).
The campus is only a couple of minutes walk from Downtown Saratoga and it is a very pretty walk. There are some huge beautiful houses on the way which make the walk there somewhat..distracting (I started reconsidering my career path at points. Why didn’t I study accounting or Medicine or Business? I know I can be passionate about numbers. JK. JK.).
The Program Itself: was tremendous. Really. I had learned from the website that the program had students ranging from 19 to 90 years old but I was still mildly surprised to see elderly people who were still very passionate about their work. One of my house mates, Lin is a grandmother, and one of the warmest, kindest people I’ve ever met.
The program is structured so that you have class three days a week and craft sessions (basically Q&A with writers) the other two. We had readings from faculty as well as visiting writers daily. It was very consuming and intensive but also really, really amazing. I mean, that mind-blowing proximity to excellence. What makes the program so special is not just the calibre of writers that came, but the fact that they lingered around to answer questions about their work and give counsel. It was very intimidating at first to meet really accomplished writers but it was easier that everyone else was equally intimidated. 🙂
I studied with Campbell McGrath my first week. It was a generative workshop and he gave us helpful prompts that helped us with getting started. The first week, I had to write an object poem and a catalogue poem. I was given very helpful advice about writing and the writing business and just life, in general. It was amazing how quickly I bonded with my classmates and the rapport we had, in under one week.
I studied with Carolyn Forché the second week who fun fact, fun fact also double majored in International Studies and English in college. Obviously, we were meant to be, haha. Carolyn Forché is honestly one of the wisest and bravest people I met at the institute. Campbell McGrath described her as “a powerful, powerful person” and I am in total and complete agreement. She inspires me on not just a writing level, but also a human level. The humanitarian work that she has done, and the impact that she’s had all over the world is just (for lack of a better word, and I tried hard to find one) goals. One thing she said that resonated strongly with me was this: Poet isn’t something you be, it’s something you do. That’s the attitude I want to adopt to my work, because writing isn’t the culmination of my identity but just one more way I hope to make an impact in this big, bad world.
I spent the final two weeks with co-director of the program and poet, Peg Boyers, who was such a warm and accepting woman. In the two weeks, I wrote a self-portrait poem, an elegy, a place poem and a surrealist poem. She had a very unique approach to writing that I found very useful.
- All the vegetarian options at the cafeteria. It’s easy to feel like an afterthought as a vegetarian but they had delicious and creative options for us, yay!.
- Meeting Joyce Carol Oates, the great.
- Teaching Peg Boyers how to use Instagram.
- The fruits and pretzels at the nightly receptions.
- Meeting Louise Glück and asking a very poorly articulated question that still makes me cringe.
- Meeting the fabulous Jamaica Kincaid and getting spotted in the audience by her 🙂
- Spending a day in NYC with a friend.
- Meeting all the other greats, the greats.
- Getting my books signed by the greats.
The Community was the biggest highlight because: I made really good friends and met some of the wisest, kindest, most intelligent and authentic people. My classmates were all from very different walks of life, all smart, and all incredibly talented. Talented like, how-did-you-write-this-in-one-night talented. Did it eat at my writer’s ego? Yes. Did it also grow me in remarkable ways? Yes.
The biggest lesson that I learned from this program was that I have infinite room for growth as a writer and as a human being, and I. Can’t. Wait. to see it happen.
P.S. My least favorite part?
Hauling all those books back to Lexington Kentucky.