You probably don’t remember me whatsoever but I sent you an email last year—September 27th to be exact–for advice on how to be a person of color in a blindingly white MFA program. Bennington was the only school that I applied to and after failing to get employment right out of college, I felt like it was my only hope for making me feel like I wasn’t a complete failure in life. Much to my surprise, the next day, less than twenty-four hours later, you responded, and I haven’t been the same person or writer since. You see, I emailed you on a whim. Although I absolutely adored my MFA program, I felt this pit in the middle of my chest because I was both the only Black and one of the youngest students in my incoming class. I thought that perhaps the admissions committee made a mistake. Most nights during my residency, I retired to my room and watched Netflix or Skyped with loved ones back home.
But one day, I met a rising undergraduate senior from Brazil who came to my dorm room and pulled up your article, “MFA vs. POC,” so that I wouldn’t feel like my experiences were bizarre. I sat and read it under the same lamplight on my desk while my new friend read poems in the corner. When I finished, I leaned back in my seat and I felt like the wind was knocked out of me. You’re such a bold and confident writer and I dearly thanked my friend for introducing me to you.
A few months after I left my residency, I started having those feelings of inadequacy again. I began to wonder if I was just a token and that I was no where near as talented as my colleagues. This desperation lead me to search your MIT email address online and reach out to you. I had no idea what I was thinking at the time. Why the hell would a Pulitzer Prize-winning writer respond to lil’ ol’ me? You probably received hundreds of emails so I was sure that mine would end up in your spam. But when I opened my email on that quiet Sunday morning, September 28th, I saw your name. My clicker hovered over the email. I was afraid it was a fluke, but it was real.
“i wish i knew what to say. our suffering is real and cannot just be waved away. yes, we need your work, without question, but do you need to suffer so much? are there ways to mitigate the pain? i would not worry about what the committee/professors think of your work; in the end they could love it and the rest of the world could be indifferent and what would that prove then? try to focus on what is within your power, like organizing a safer less-lonely experience. how?
through solidarity of course. unfortunately only you can answer what form that should take.
good luck. it’s terribly hard and i wish i could say something of worth but at this distance all we have are encouragements.”
Well let me tell you something, Mr. Díaz, you said more than enough. What you failed to realize was at that moment, you breathed a bit more life into my spirit. You’ve never read my essays or manuscripts but you said that my work was needed. That was all I personally needed to know that I could persevere and succeed someday. That was I all needed as a comfort blanket whenever I stated my opinion in a workshop or walked past houses in town that still hung Confederate flags outside their windows. Even through those moments when I felt like I was going to flounder in the program and have to leave altogether, I was still somebody. I mattered.
There was no need for you to apologize because you have no idea what you have done to this young Black writer’s self-esteem. I was forever changed when you responded to me. The next term, I lifted my head a little higher to the sky and became more assertive in my stances. Colleagues almost two decades older than me had even taken notice of my newfound confidence. I came back loving my program with more intensity and loving myself with more vigor.
Anyways, I know you’re an extremely busy individual but I just want to say thank you. As I evolve as a writer and grow as a woman, I will never forget your words. Though you may have already forgotten me, just know that your words are engraved in my memory and I will indefinitely hold and guard them as sacred treasures.
All my best,
Want more bookish goodness, news, posts about special book deals, and the occasional puppy reading pic? Follow us on Facebook: