We are excited to begin a new blog post series called, Students Speak. So many of our accepted applicants want to get a chance to talk to actual students and alumni of our MFA program, to feel like they’re getting a more complete picture of how the program works and feels. What’s the residency really like? Is the workload manageable? Do you think you made the right decision by choosing Converse?
Over the next few weeks, we will be sharing interviews with a few of our current students, male and female, newbies and seasoned veterans, so you can get the skinny on the Converse College Low-Residency MFA Program. This week, we begin with second semester poet, Zoraida “Ziggy” Pastor. Ziggy travels from Miami to Spartanburg twice a year for residencies, and we’re awfully glad she makes the commute.
Tell us about your creative work—do you have a preferred genre or aesthetic? Are there forms you want to try?
My preferred genre is poetry. I have been writing poetry since I was 13. My middle school was located across the street from the library. That’s how I discovered Emily Dickinson; that’s when I wanted to be like her. And so, I started writing awful poems, emulating her style in my old composition book. I have tried my hand at fiction, but find it too constricting. I can’t keep up with all the characters and plot development. I lose hope early on with what I am writing. But I find poetry freeing. I enjoy journaling and dabble ever so lightly in memoir.
Why did you decide to pursue your MFA? What did you find most attractive about our low residency program and the low residency format?
I first heard about an MFA degree back in 2010 or 2011. My friend and favorite librarian, Chris Canella, who passed away, told me he was doing his MFA at Florida International University. He told me about the degree, the pros and cons. Since I had always written poetry, that made sense to me. I looked up programs etc. I have always wanted a Master’s degree; I just didn’t know in what . My top choices were English and MFA. With English, it was required to have BA in English, which I don’t have; my BS is in Journalism and Psychology. So that option went out the window. I took some non-degree seeking courses and online writing course to improve my writing. In my creative writing non-degree seeking course, I met Denise Duhamel (pictured above with Ziggy.) She challenged me. She nurtured me and paved my MFA path. It was a long road. I had many stops along the way i.e. unemployment, new job, etc. Eventually I received an email from Denise about a writing conference, Writers in Paradise. That helped me put together the manuscript I submitted to Converse. Denise recommended the program. I like the low-residency model because I get out of town just when I need a change; I focus on my writing. With this model, I don’t have to move, uproot my life. It is very self-directive, no GRE, and everyone is so nice.
In what ways do you hope your writing will be further developed by our Converse core faculty, visiting faculty, and students? Do you have any writing goals you hope to accomplish?
I am looking to grow my writing, to write better, more effective poems. I am praying I get a book deal and that more journals pick up my poems. I have seen my writing grow. I am writing more successful poems, with less telling and more showing. This program really honors my voice. I am guided, but given liberty to choose books, topics, to write where the muse leads me.
In addition to your work on writing craft, how has the Converse program helped you in terms of navigating the publishing marketplace?
I’ve gotten some things published in a chapbook entitled, Bear Echoes, and one of my poems, “Royal Flamenco Dancer,” is featured in Best Emerging Poets of Florida. Other than that, most of my poems remain in notebooks or in Word documents. Rick [Mulkey, our director] told me not to worry [about publication yet], to just focus on the writing and to not be in a hurry to publish.
Why would you recommend the Converse College Low Residency Program to an MFA applicant?
I have recommend the program to a friend. This low residency model is great for people who have families and steady jobs, and it doesn’t require a GRE. The faculty and staff (Sarah, Paula) are so great and so kind. It’s like a big family. Because the program is small, you really connect with your teachers and classmates. You are guided and kept company. You make lifelong writing friends.