Obviously this isn’t all that got me into grad school – I also submitted a 1,000 response to a Zadie Smith essay and a 30 page portfolio of reviews and essays and even an adapted version of my Sober Child In The City essay over at Harpyness. I’m surprised and happy and grateful and still pretty stunned.
As a writer, I’ve learned that left to my own devices I’m at sea, literarily speaking – or at worst, slightly unhinged. A month without delving into a collection of literary criticism or engaging with a challenging book or article, and I get sloppy. Thoughts rattle around my head like the last fistful of Pringles in the can – crumbled and grubby – and I lose track of what’s authentic, meaningful, and funny. I know that I need guidance, focus, discipline, and an energetic community that listens, responds, and expects even more from me than I demand from myself to create the best I’m capable of writing – this is what I hope to find in Columbia’s Writing Program.
When I read the great writers, I feel the rush I knew when I heard Audra McDonald sing for the first time – the thrill of recognizing art, and of sensing something within myself that can do that too, if I work hard enough. Where else but Columbia is the creative nonfiction I want to explore treated just as seriously as The Great American Novel and the Epic Poem? Where else can I bring my love of Sedaris’ hilarious observations, Zadie Smith’s insights, A.O. Scott’s judicious approach, Ian Frazier’s storytelling, the blogging world’s silliness, activism and connection, and my own source material as a Southern-born East Coast-bred Brooklyn-transplanted, feminist, sober, twenty-something musician and lapsed arts critic?
Recently I picked up Zadie Smith’s Changing My Mind at the library – I’d begun On Beauty without finishing it but heard about her essay writing from my dad, the tacit audience for everything I write. I could relate to her process, to her nausea whenever she tried to re-read her work, her funny, dry sensibility – in short, I was hooked. As I contemplated graduate school and my own progress as a writer, I’d been fretting over how to choose between my critical background, my personal essay explorations, and my blogger’s point of view; here, in one wonderful collection, was a writer who managed to juggle those three knives as well as a few more.