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Interview with Nagueyalti Warren

Interview with MFA in Creative Writing Graduate Nagueyalti Warren

The following interview was conducted by MFA in Creative Writing faculty member Jan Clausen (JC)  in April, 2006:

JC: You completed your MFA with an ambitious two-part creative thesis: a long narrative poem, Margaret, and a novel, Wade in the Water. This is quite unusual in that many MFA in Writing programs restrict students to a single genre. What was it like to work simultaneously in two genres?

NW: While at times the process was taxing, mainly due to time constraints, ultimately I think that I was able to employ the many techniques that I learned and practiced in writing and revising poetry to solve some technical problems in the novel. So in this way the poetry did influence the novel. However, an unintended consequence of working in the two genres was that the fiction/narrative process helped me in the creation of the persona poem. The greatest aspect of working in two genres was this synergy that resulted in what I hope are examples of good writing. If my works miss that mark, I believe they certainly are better than they would have been had I been confined to only one genre.

JC: Both of your creative manuscripts bring together an artistic vision and commitment to formal exploration with an impassioned involvement in representing the voices and struggles of African-American women. In other words, you reject the prevalent “mainstream" separation of literary values from social involvement. Could you talk about Goddard as a place to work from this inclusive perspective?.

NW: Goddard is the perfect place for walking/writing a different pathway. There is no overriding theory of art, no "official" aesthetic that one is forced to follow or emulate. Goddard's own history of social involvement and innovative approach to teaching and learning offer a paradigm for the creation of art and the development of a social consciousness.

JC: How did you respond to the low residency experience and the collaborative, self-directed approach to learning emphasized in the Goddard College MFA in Creative Writing Program?

NW: This was the best and at the time the only way for me to complete an MFA program. With a child still in college it was unlikely that I could resign my position. The self-directed approach and the one-on-one feedback from the instructors were so helpful. The residency was an opportunity to be in a community of writers and to be energized by like minds with similar dreams, goals, and projects. The cross-pollination that took place at the residency was valuable and encouraging.

JC: What about critical writing in Goddard’s MFA program? How was it different from the approach to literary criticism you'd learned in your Ph.D. studies? How did you connect critical writing to your poetry and fiction?

NW: Critical writing in Goddard’s MFA program is just the opposite of what I had learned in writing about literature. In literature classes I was taught to look for meaning and to explicate the text. The MFA approach focused on the form of the text, how it is put together, why it functions as it does and why it works or doesn't. By entering the text in this way, I saw how to do what in many ways I attempted to do with my own work. Reading for form is a valuable tool that I will continue to use.

JC: Could you talk about one of your really tough moments in the program and one moment that felt transformative?

NW: In my second semester at Goddard College my grandmother died, the senior associate dean at work retired (a humanitarian), and a social scientist replaced him transforming our office culture. I felt overwhelmed. I had to complete the critical paper, plus the annotations, plus the poetry, and the novel. I seriously contemplated dropping something, but since I could not decide which, and since my adviser said that I did not have to complete both projects, her statement magically relieved the pressure. Once I completed the critical paper I felt rejuvenated, maybe transformed. At any rate, I remembered why I'd come, not to do one but both and so I did.

JC: Is there anything else you'd like to comment on?

NW: Goddard had the perfect combination; one that I think is foolproof. It worked for me: reading, writing (annotations), writing (creative work), feedback (great advisers), revising.

JC: Now that you've graduated, what's next for your writing?

NW: Next for my writing is to be published, published, published! But while I am waiting, I plan to complete another writing project--a collection of poems.