Faculty, BFA in Creative Writing Program
Residency Site: Plainfield VT
Arisa White received her MFA from UMass, Amherst. She’s a Cave Canem fellow, and the author of Post Pardon, Hurrah’s Nest, and A Penny Saved. Her debut collection, Hurrah’s Nest, won the 2012 San Francisco Book Festival Award for poetry and was nominated for a 44th NAACP Image Award, the 82nd California Book Awards, and the 2013 Wheatley Book Awards. A 2013-14 recipient of an Investing in Artist Grant from the Center for Cultural Innovation and an advisory board member for Flying Object. Arisa is adapting Post Pardon into an opera with a Cultural Funding Grant from the City of Oakland.
MFA in Poetry, University of Massachusetts Amherst
BA in Literature/Creative Writing, Sarah Lawrence College
Areas of Expertise
Creative Writing: Poetry, Short-form Playwriting
After completing my graduate study at UMass, Amherst, I moved out West. Born and raised in Brooklyn, New York, I needed to venture elsewhere to put into practice who I believed I was as a poet. I want my poetry to be broadened by my interactions with the world and the communities in which I live. My life, and the lives of others, has taught me a great deal about human struggles and triumphs. Being African American, queer, and a woman has deepened and informed my poetry, and as I continue to grow as a writer and individual, I’ve learned to uncover a self and voice not limited to, or held by, social labels.
I’m an active citizen through my poetry: I teach and share it, enrich it through collaborations with choreographers, theater artists, and musicians, and use it to become socially engaged. From working with and being in community, I’ve learned self-discipline, gentleness, accountability—how I show up for others and myself. I’ve expanded my capacity for patience and letting go, and all of these lessons have refined my artistic and writing processes.
Teaching is an opportunity for me to reframe my experiences as a writer, thinker, and individual; my knowledge then becomes something that my students can use to cultivate their own self-expression, develop goals, and deepen their writing practice. For my students and myself, I want creative writing to be a vehicle to go beyond the surface, recover and restore, and create authentic relationships that leave the world a little bit more just.
I’m a Cave Canem fellow and author of two full-length poetry collections. My debut collection, Hurrah’s Nest, which is a memoir in verse, was nominated for a 44th Annual NAACP Image Award and 2013 Phillis Wheatley Book Award, and was a finalist for the 82nd Annual California Book Awards. A Penny Saved, inspired by the true story of Polly Mitchell, who was held captive in her Nebraskan home for 10 years, is my second collection, published by Willow Books.
Most recently, with funding from The City of Oakland, Cultural Funding Program, I am developing, in collaboration with tenor saxophonist and composer Jessica Jones, the libretto and score of Post Pardon: The Opera, which is an adaptation of my chapbook Post Pardon, published by Mouthfeel Press. The writing of the chapbook was prompted by the death of poet Reetika Vazirani and her son.
As part of the PlayGround writers’ pool at the Berkeley Repertory Theatre, writing short-form plays, my work has been staged for the PlayGround Monday Night series and The Best of PlayGround Festival. Frigidare, which was staged for the 2011 Festival and reviewed in The Huffington Post, depicted the life of an upper-class teenage boy whose mother is doggedly determined to make him gay.
I’m an advisory board member for Flying Object, a nonprofit art and publishing organization, based in Western Massachusetts, and a board member for The Center for Transformative Change in Berkeley, CA, which is dedicated to bridging the inner and outer lives of social change agents, activists, and allies to support a more effective, more sustainable movement of justice for all.
I have always felt that it is my moral and ethical responsibility, as a writer and editor, to create opportunities for other artists to hone their craft and tell their stories. As one of the founding editors for HER KIND, an online literary community powered by VIDA: Women in Literary Arts, we’ve implemented a forum that serves women writers and their issues that are often dismissed or disregarded by the mainstream literary world.
I’m a 2013-14 recipient of an Investing in Artist Grant from the Center for Cultural Innovation, and I’ve also received residencies, fellowships, or scholarships from Headlands Center for the Arts, Port Townsend Writers’ Conference, Rose O’Neill Literary House, Squaw Valley Community of Writers, Hedgebrook, Atlantic Center for the Arts, Prague Summer Program, Fine Arts Work Center, and Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference. Nominated for a Pushcart Prize in 2005, my poetry has been widely published and is featured on the album WORD with the Jessica Jones Quartet.