Desktop News | October 2023
The University of Alabama’s Creative Writing program has recently embraced a diverse cohort of international students, injecting fresh perspectives into the English department and opening doors for the infusion of global pedagogical approaches into the College of Arts and Sciences.
Among these pioneering international scholars are Chiagoziem Jideofor and Kanyinsola Olorunnisola, both third-year MFA students. Their narratives offer profound insights into the transformative journey they’ve embarked upon, beginning with their decision to leave Nigeria for the United States in pursuit of an MFA in creative writing at the University.
For Kanyinsola, the choice was clear: “The United States has the biggest literary market, and it also has the best system for studying creative writing. It was kind of a no-brainer when picking UA. UA’s program has full funding for non-fiction and there aren’t a lot of programs like this. The program [also] allows me to experiment a lot with genres.”
Chiagoziem, on the other hand, saw it as a personal challenge: “Taking the bold step to go for an MFA program was a choice I made for me. I felt like I needed to convince myself that I was serious enough about writing, that I had the mind and discipline to be a writer. I chose The University of Alabama because I wanted a program that allowed full-range creative exploration. Also, I wanted a program that stressed teaching the same way it stressed independent writing. UA offered all of that and that’s why I’m here.”
Chiagoziem reflects on how the UA creative writing program has profoundly impacted her growth as a writer, “I still can’t believe how much my writing has grown since coming to the University. I have become more patient… Shunning the initial high of spontaneity has allowed me more interaction with [my] drafts, more clarity… simply allowing the drafts to be what they want to be without unnecessary pressure or tinkering. It has also helped with being intentional about the creative choices I make within poems.”
For Kanyinsola, the transformation is in the “the freedom to do creative work more”. In addition, he said, “I have been more productive since I have been at UA. Also, because the creative work I do is defined by research, I have been able to have access to things that gives me a lot of room to pursue more scholastic development.”
Yet, studying creative writing as international students at UA has its share of challenges. Chiagoziem candidly speaks of grappling with imposter syndrome, describing it as: “It’s like that small voice in your head calling you a fraud. It’s not necessarily the voice of doubt, but more like internalized fears and pressure. I used to have a hard time with workshops. I mean it wasn’t easy listening to others say things about my babies, sometimes things that I wouldn’t always call helpful or encouraging. [Also], naturally, I am a very anxious person, so having to read my poems out loud, even say things about my writing process felt like a death sentence.”
Kanyinsola’s challenge centers on navigating workshop feedback: “I feel like I have always been self-sufficient in my writing in a way that my writing doesn’t really suffer from systems. But it can be frustrating when the response to your work doesn’t turn out to be what you were hoping for. Not even in terms of negative or positive but [in terms of] the breadth of perspective.”
Despite these hurdles, both international students have discovered invaluable resources within UA to overcome these challenges.
Chiagoziem said, “Patience has helped. Working at the Writing Center helped a lot [too]. I sort of regained confidence by helping students with their papers and assignments. Having friends within the program also helped. The more you talk with these friends [and professors], the more you understand that it isn’t just you, that people are also struggling.”
Kanyinsola highlights the assistance from International Students Services, the guidance of mentors like Wendy Rawlings and Nana Nkweti, both professors of English at the University, and the responsiveness of Jennifer Fuqua, Graduate Studies Coordinator for the English department.
In their two years at UA, these creative writers have achieved remarkable milestones. Chiagoziem has seen her poems published in prestigious literary magazines and has participated in collaborative exhibitions. Kanyinsola completed a novel and a chapbook titled “Shakespeares in the Ghetto,” set for release in August 2023. He has also received awards, including the Don F. Hendrix Prize, AWP Intro Journals Award for Nonfiction and the 2022 Outwrite Chapbook Prize.
Both MFA students believe that the program’s impact will be enduring. Chiagoziem notes the personal and ideological growth she’s experienced, emphasizing the importance of retaining the joy of writing and fostering a supportive community. Kanyinsola appreciates the opportunity to study his intellectual interests within an academic setting, guiding his path for the future.
Incorporating international students into the program has not only expanded the University’s presence in the global literary sphere but also facilitated cultural exchange and collaboration. Kanyinsola and Chiagoziem’s eloquent reflections on their future aspirations underscore UA’s reputation as a breeding ground for literary luminaries.