Author: Gionni Ponce

Blog of a Power-Hungry, Controlling TA

Thanks to my primary school teacher parents, I entered my MFA program with teaching experience. In middle school, I began volunteering and tutoring in classrooms and libraries across the U.S. and I kept that up throughout college. As an undergrad, I spent two summers abroad teaching and writing about my experiences in the Volta Region of Ghana and the Shanghai region of China. Despite all that, I was nervous when I stepped into my classroom on the first day of the semester. I was a newly minted first year MFA student and suddenly, I was leading a group of students as someone “knowledgeable” in my field. Looking out over those fifteen students who were staring blankly back at me, I was grateful for my week of pre-teaching pedagogy training when my professor asked, “What will your first words to your students be when you walk into your classroom? What impression do you want to make?” The semester put me through the wringer. Between difficult personal relationships, Trump’s election, and trying to establish a rigorous writing …

Grad School Offers: Making a Major Life Decision in Nine Hours

[Featured image: Uditha Wickramanayaka] So you got into two (or more) awesome MFA programs… Congrats! Now, if your situation is anything like mine, you’re freaking out. On the morning of April 15th, while I was getting dressed for work, I received a phone call from a Miami area code. My previous conversations with the director about being waitlisted gave me high hopes for the call, but I was too nervous to pick up. Instead, I watched my phone vibrating on the bed. After a minute, I had a voicemail. The director of Miami had called to say she was thrilled to offer me a spot in next year’s cohort. During the previous week, Indiana University had offered me a spot and told me that, for funding purposes, they needed a decision by the end of that day. In order to send my signed copy of the acceptance, I had to make a decision by 6 pm before I left my office. I had no idea what to do with myself. Between 9 am and 6 …

How to Actively Wait…list

[Photo cred: teo_ladodicivideo] Up until March 17th, the signs were not looking good for me to get into grad school. It was my second round of applications and I had been rejected by eight different programs already. My creative writing spirits were low. On that fateful day last winter, I was waitlisted at Indiana University. While being waitlisted was encouraging, it wasn’t what I needed. What I needed was to distinguish myself. What didn’t the selection committee know about me? I sent a hardcopy (and electronic copy) of a letter updating both the director of the program and the director of admissions on my writing life since submitting my application (projects I was working on, recent publications, and creative writing mentorship I had undertaken) as well as my continued interest in IU. I didn’t hear back from them but I confirmed receipt of delivery with IU’s program coordinator. You’ll see from my previous post on choosing a diverse program that I had also sent in an application to the University of Miami. That winter, I had …

On (Not) Writing in a MFA Program

[photo cred: Jorgen Kesseler] When I came to IU, I was assigned a MFA mentor, Willy Palomo. Before long, our relationship shifted from mentor-mentee to a friendship of mutual support. It was at the end of this semester, as we were commiserating together over ice cream, that Willy shared a nugget of wisdom, “I feel like every three or four months in grad school, I’ve become a completely different person than before.” When I think back to my life in August compared to now, I have to agree. They say that the first semester of graduate school is the most difficult. For me, the day-to-day schooling (showing up to class, doing assigned readings, participating in discussion) wasn’t the problem. My classes were set up similarly to those I took in undergrad. Since it’s only been a couple of years since I was there, slipping back into that schoolwork routine was natural. Yet, this has been my most difficult semester of school ever. By the end of it, I was truly unhappy. I only had to …

An Imprecise Method for Seeking POC

Image: Mike Cerrillo In my first creative writing workshop, a young white man wrote a stereotypical story about the experience of a young, white man who went to Lima on his study abroad trip and met a wife beating Peruvian man who scared the narrator into buying a pocket knife to carry around with him in the city for protection. Imagine my eyes rolling back into my brain. We workshopped his story focusing on “craft” until the only other Latino person in the class brought up the story’s race problems: “This piece reenacts the stereotype of violent Latino men.” I agreed and between the two of us, we pointed out Latino related issues including improper Spanish translations, weak characters, and an assumption of white readership. After a few minutes, our old white man professor said, “I think it’s cute that you guys want to discuss race in this story. But this is a problem of craft. This story isn’t working because it’s just not good. The race stuff is secondary to that.” In four sentences, …

Gionni Ponce Introduction (Indiana University ‘19)

Image: Joey Lax-Salinas More aptly titled: How I Failed My Way into MFA Candidacy. This fall, I’ll begin Indiana University’s creative writing MFA program in fiction. It’s a fully funded program that will cover the cost of my tuition, insurance, and provide me with a teaching stipend to pay my rent and buy food. IU’s program has consistently been ranked the Top 15 in the nation and is known for supporting a diverse student body. In short, this is a HUGE blessing that is allowing me to work towards a lifestyle I’ve wanted since I was 13. Summed up like that, as any social media post might be, it really sounds like I have my shit together, right? Whatta joke. Even as I sit on my new bed in southern Indiana, writing this post and putting off prepping for my first day of class tomorrow, I feel a sense of disconnect. How can someone who made so many mistakes still end up in such a good place? I don’t want to add to the toxicity …