On July 20, 2014, the final day of the summer residency,
the MFAC program will have a Graduate Recognition ceremony, honoring the men and women who have just completed their studies and will receive an MFA from Hamline University. Between now and then we’ll be posting interviews with many of the grads. Araceli Esparza is today’s grad; she lives on the second floor on a tree-shady lane in Monona, WI.
What do you do when you’re not working on packets?
I’m a mother, Tia (auntie) wifey, nieta (grand-daughter) sister, friend and local supporter. I teach for the local district. I also teach creative writing and Spanish literacy class for young children at local libraries.
How did you hear about the Hamline MFAC Program?
I had been looking for a MFA program that was unique and could fit into my life-schedule. I still remember when I saw the essay question about diversity; it was then that I knew—yep, this is the place.
What was your writing experience prior to entering the program?
I’ve written on walls and paper since my teens, and seriously performing for about 7 years–both slam and poems.
What do especially remember about your first residency?
[MFACAlum] Peter Pearson
telling me about Alexi Sherman’s NPR interview! I thought if this guy is in this program and he’s super smart–well then I gotta do it! Basically, I’m a true believer of osmosis. The veil had been pulled…and still I needed a view… Yep, first res left me twitching!
Have you focused on any one form (Picture book, novel, nonfiction; graphic novel) or age group in your writing Tried a form you never thought you’d try?
First semester, I went over my hands and feet and dove into a graphic novel. If Swati [Avasti]
in her wisdom hadn’t pulled it from my bloody grip, I would be still writing it! She suggested I do a picture book so that I could see through a story to the end. I’ve been hooked since; 700 words have never been so hard and fun to work with.
Tell us about your Creative Thesis.
All of the pieces have some tie to Latino culture in one way or another. Some are tied just by how I see the character, otherwise you might not get the connection. One is Purple Leaves, which began as a poem and grew into a story about self-confidence and speaking up/out about what you know is true! The others are more obvious through language and setting. I wanted to create family stories in any setting: modern middle class home, urban barrio, airports, gardens, jail, living room, school, and under a slide in a park. Any and every place my own children have had to go to. The picture book about jail is a personal one for me. In my research, I only found five picture books written for children with parents in prison or jail. The best one was Visiting Day by Jacqueline Woodson. The illustrator and author notes for that book encouraged me to write the story my way.
What changes have you seen in your writing during your studies?
It’s like I’m empty. For years I have written to exorcise my daemons, and now I’m empty enough to see and take a moment to describe fully what I see. I can tell that my writing is clear, my poetry has elements of child’s play in them—which I love. Has it gotten easier to write: No WAY! There’s still no time, I still scratch on little pink slips
from work, I still stay up way-late at night to get shit done. And my poems still only come in the moment. I have become patient with myself and less critical of my work and focused more on my killer taste (Thanks for the video! Ira Glass!)
With packet deadlines removed as an incentive, do you anticipate it will be harder to keep writing?
I will continue to write. In fact, my whole family finally understands this is my work. So if I stop now—I can’t stop. For my family, for other Latino children, for me–I can’t stop.
Any plans for your post-Hamline writing life?
After Hamline, I will cry and be sad and then probably go back to teaching my community about Latino children’s books through the library programs that I have started.
Any thoughts for entering students or for people considering the program?
If you are a writer of color, writing is hard. Coming to terms that you are a writer wasn’t easy. Neither will this program be easy, but I promise you, there will be nothing that you will value more than all the work you put into it. I say that I didn’t choose writing, writing choose me, from all mi abuelita’s stories down to my daughter’s imagination–I have a need to tell a great story, to hear the joy of a poem. At Hamline I have been able to do that.