By: Kesia Alexandra
Working in high-schools now as a substitute, I realize in some ways I was luckier than most. In twelfth grade, I had a college counselor whose purpose was to help determine which schools would be a good fit for me. Unfortunately she had very little advice to offer when I expressed interest in being a creative writer. She suggested I majored in English and recommended schools with good English programs.
I finally chose Boston University, the college my aunt had gone to. It wasn’t until I actually got to the school that I realized I had made a very big mistake. BU has one of the top creative writing programs in the country. However, this is a graduate program and I was not eligible for it. I suffered through two years at BU, majoring in English and taking core classes to meet my requirements.
This is when I realized the importance of acknowledging creative writing as an art. It does not fit into the rigid regulations of academia and neither did I. Most people accept this about poetry but have difficulty accepting this about fiction. Creative writing is, in my opinion, more art than academic. School may be helpful to you, but ultimately it comes from the soul. It’s about feeling.
I ended up leaving BU for a year because of money and stress. I did not feel there was much point in being in school if I was not going to do well. During that year, I worked to save up money but I also took a creative writing class at Howard University. That class proved to me, if nothing else, that I needed to pursue a career in writing, one way or the other. I was passionate about it and I was good at it.
In the fall of 2012, I returned to Boston University. I began to get into the classes for my minor, African-American Studies. I loved these classes dearly and put all my efforts into studying for them. Though BU did not offer creative writing as a major or minor, I was able to take undergraduate writing classes. I felt myself improving at what I now considered “my craft”. I was developing my own voice and as it turned out my classmates, even at a predominantly white school, were entertained and engaged in my stories.
By the time I graduated from BU, I had co-authored a young adult book with my mother called Freshman Year: Bullies Beware! I felt it was a good book, but I was eager to continue on my path to becoming a traditionally published author. So eager, in fact, that I skipped my graduation and attended a writing conference in Barbados with Callaloo the Journal of the African Diaspora.
I applied to Boston University’s graduate creative writing program and had been in correspondence with the director of it. He had already heard about me from one of my professors and was impressed with my work, calling it “brave”. His praise gave me confidence that I would be accepted into the program. But I was not. I applied to the creative writing program at UVA (again, one of the best) and also did not get in. These were the only graduate programs I seriously considered. Although Iowa has what is considered the best writing program, it is also a state where the KKK is still active. Needless to say, I did not apply.
My researched proved to me this: if you are a black female creative writer, you have to consider some things that other writers do not. The more writing programs I looked at the more I realized there are rarely spaces for people under 35. There seems to be some belief that the longer you live the wiser you are. You do need to have some wisdom to write fiction, you have to understand people at least. But I’ve never felt that came with age.
Another thing I noticed was that there were only a few spaces for writers of color. I don’t believe that writers of color do not apply, but that there are only a certain number of brown faces they’re willing to see in those seats. Personally, I’ve never been in the habit of staying where people don’t want me. As Zora Neale Hurston said, “sometimes, I feel discriminated against, but it does not make me angry. It merely astonishes me. How can any deny themselves the pleasure of my company? It’s beyond me.”
So I had to make a decision: was a Masters of Fine Arts degree what I really wanted? Was an MFA necessary for me to accomplish my goal? For me, the answer to both of those questions was no.
Of course, every person has to decide for herself how she will pursue her goals but it can be helpful to know how other people do it. Currently, I work part time as a substitute teacher. I live an extremely modest life, renting a room with my boyfriend and paying $400 for rent a month. I also make a payment on my student loan every month. If living with either of my parents were an option, I would be doing that.
Writing is not something I expect to become extremely rich from, unless I start writing for television. Not many writers start off wealthy either. JK Rowling began writing Harry Potter on a napkin, while living in her car. Maybe it’s because hardship lends to good stories. I have certainly borrowed many things from my childhood, when my mother was in prison and I lived with different families.Of course, you don’t have to have grown up in poverty to be a good writer. But hardship does help with perspective.
What I do think is true is that you have to be willing to live modestly in adulthood as a writer because your paycheck is never guaranteed. It can be a major sacrifice and I would be lying if I said I wouldn’t have a more stable income if I worked a 9-5. But writing is not about income. Money is important, but as with any art, it’s not the point. Writing is about soul and feeling. Anyone writer that understands that can never fail.
Kesia Alexandra is a 25 year old writer from Washington, DC. She is the author of “It Ain’t Easy” and most recently “Eating off the Floor”. She can be found on Twitter @kesialexandra.