Interview With San Francisco State University
Author: Yume Kim
Let’s start by talking about the culture at your program. What’s the location like? What are some local hangouts for writers?
The location for my program is located in the outskirts of San Francisco. Otherwise known as the “sleepy” part of the city. Which means that it has a more “calmer” feel than the usual sounds of crowds and ongoing traffic that occurs in the downtown parts of San Francisco. Considering that the campus is indeed located in the quieter part of town, there aren’t necessarily an abundance of places to hangout. Luckily, since there are bus stops and light rail train stops directly in front of campus; you can easily take a break from the quietness and just go on an adventure into other parts of San Francisco.
Local hangouts that I would recommend, especially for writers, are pretty much anywhere in the Mission, the Inner Sunset, the Haight-Ashbury, Church, and Castro. Lots of great spots for eating/drinking with friends in any of these districts. Especially, the Mission, since there are so many coffee shops for writers that prefer to do their writings in a public space. Downtown San Francisco also has some great hangouts spots as well.
Tell us about your experience in class. What’s the focus of your workshops? What parts of your writing have you put the most focus on?
The focus of my workshops really depends on who is the instructor. Some allow their students to pretty much bring in any style of writing to class for workshop while others may assign a specific writing prompt for every class. But, the essential focus, I believe, is simply for students to allow their craft in writing to expand and evolve.
In regards to my writing, the most focus I’ve put in is the tone. I primarily work in poetry and so lately I’ve been really focusing on how to make my writings appear not so juvenile. My past works of poetry ended up being so caught up in my own personal bias that the tone ended up coming across as too preachy. Plus, since I like to be comedic as a poet, I would sometimes try too hard which then morphed those poems into overtly-gimmicky lines. So, I now have tried to branch out into more subtle tones when creating new poems. I have recently become extremely fascinated with the concept of found poetry. A recent project that I’m experimenting with right now involves found dialogue. That is, I take lines of dialogue that I’ve overheard or have been directly told and place them into poetry. The titles usually are the indicators for each poem’s specific purpose. So far, the common theme throughout my project is on ignorance being said against the Asian-American community and also spoken ignorance said within the Asian-American community. It’s still a work in progress but I do know for so that I want to kind of develop of documentary of sorts, only through poetry.
What sort of funding opportunities are available? What are you teaching? How easy is it to balance your teaching and writing?
Ehehehehe. As for funding opportunities, there unfortunately isn’t enough being offered for many graduate programs at San Francisco State University. You can take on student loans and even try to obtain some scholarships offered outside of the school system. There is the possible option of becoming a Graduate student instructor in which you get paid to teach an undergraduate Creative Writing course but it’s pretty competitive and is usually offered to second year students. But, the whole interviewing process is a good experience for students, especially since you must develop a syllabus, cover letter, and resume. There are also other job options that can be possibly obtained elsewhere as well.
As for teaching, I’m currently a Teacher Aid (TA) for a MFA peer/friend since she recently was awarded with a student teaching position. The class I TA for is called the Fundamentals of Creative Writing(CW 301), a required course for all undergraduate Creative Writing majors. My responsibility is to lead my own workshop group of 9 students and keep track of who is participating, turning in homework, etc. This is actually my third semester in being a TA which is beneficial for me since it helps me build up my teaching experience and to learn from whoever I’m TAing for. Such as my friend.
As for balancing teaching and writing, I wouldn’t say that it’s “easy” since it can be challenging to find time for writing when you feel exhausted from work. However, it’s possible to do. A great advice told to me during my undergraduate years was to develop a writing schedule. Like, let’s say you usually have spare time on afternoons every Monday and Wednesday. Perhaps you could set about maybe 15 minutes of writing during those afternoons. And it could be anything, from drabbles of ideas to a descriptive essay of what surrounds you. Whatever you write on a daily basis has potential for further development into a full-length piece of writing. As I said before, it’s certainly not the easiest task, especially if you have a hectic work schedule or if you’re undergoing so much in your life. However, if you try to keep a few moments of your daily life to writing, then it can develop into a good habit.
What’s been your best memory of working with faculty?
Oh, this is a good question! It’s so hard to choose because I’ve had so many wonderful opportunities working with wonderful professors as an undergraduate and I currently get to work with an amazing faculty as a graduate student. But, I guess I’ll have to pick a moment from my first semester in the MFA program. Since I was so new to the program and the San Francisco area at the time, I of course struggled with adjusting to a different aesthetic. My writing at the time was still very controlled and rather one-note. I would always try to be a comedian and have it end with a punch-line of sorts. Which, I guess, is fine but kinda out-of-place in a class on the creative process of Persona poems. My professor for that course, advised me that I ought to branch off into a different poetic form for the class. So, I had to humble myself and just write something that wasn’t biased and gimmicky. I then allowed myself to develop a Persona poem that was quite personal to me. At the end of the semester, my Persona professor told me that she was proud of me for growing as a writer. I felt so touched and honored by her statement. Looking back, I’m still thankful about that whole experience.
What’s been your greatest struggle in graduate school thus far? How has this program shaped your view of craft?
My greatest struggle in graduate school thus far is having more confidence. In comparison to my undergraduate years to now, I have to say that I have improved. However, my insecurities get the best of me still and there are times when I’m still so quiet during class. It’s kind of a bad habit I guess. In regards to my writing, I have allowed myself to be more confident. I guess I’m more comfortable with my voice in writing form rather than in public speaking. Heh. Though, with me now allowing more confidence in myself is all thanks to my program. If it weren’t for my faculty and peers, then I wouldn’t have realized on just how important confidence is in regards to craft. Insecurities can pretty much be the blocking force in a writer’s craft. By having confidence in yourself as a writer, your craft then can truly be developed into its true potential.
What’s your next step? What sort of steps does your program take to prepare you for your post-graduate experience?
My next step? Well, after I graduate from the program, I’m hoping to possibly teach for a local community college in the area since I would like to remain in the city. It all depends on what happens after graduation. In my program there are opportunities of taking courses that help aid in your goal of becoming an instructor such as Practicum in Teaching and Teaching Creative Writing. There is also the opportunity of earning a Teaching certificate in either Composition or Reading which is needed if you want to teach in a community college. It is offered through the MA English program but it is possible for MA/MFA Creative Writing majors to earn a Teaching certificate as well.
What tips would you give a prospective student who is considering attending your program?
I would advise any prospective student to research the program and perhaps try contacting some of the faculty members and current students as well. If possible, prospective students should also try visiting the campus and maybe sitting in a class or two. Also, really think hard on your options and plan ahead, especially in regards to tuition and living expenses. All in all, if you truly want to attend SFSU, then go for it.