Alejandro Alonso Galva is a second-year MFA in the nonfiction program.
What made you decide to pursue an MFA in creative writing? Why did you choose the program at UW?
I’d been working as the assistant news director of a community radio station in Madison, Wisconsin. I loved it. Loved journalism, loved working in my community and shining a light on local issues that really affect people daily. I also loved freelancing for a local weekly newspaper. But the grind of daily news doesn’t allow a lot of time, energy, or space for bigger projects, especially in today’s media world.
I’d actually avoided MFAs for a long time–the stubborn boy in me sort of wanted to pave my own way. Years of pounding the pavement in radio and print made the idea of getting an MFA and having space to breathe too wonderful to ignore.
When I told my mom I was considering Wyoming, she immediately said “That’s the one, that’s where you are going.” I hadn’t even applied yet. When I got the phone call from Brad Watson and later visited in the spring, it was clear my mom was right. You can’t ignore mom magic.
Do you think living in Wyoming has changed your writing process, or your perspective on writing?
Yes, absolutely. As a journalist in a major media market in a state capital, the noise was at fever pitch all the time. I would listen to 5 news podcasts before breakfast, read half a dozen newspapers, then pound through the wires. All of this ahead of coming to the station to prepare for the 6 PM broadcast. It was a full day and exciting and anxiety-fueled and insane.
When I arrived in Laramie, it felt like my whole world got quiet, like I could hear myself think in a different way. We are sitting up here at 7,220 feet and it is isolating in exactly the way I want. The world is at arm’s length and it allows me the space I was looking for. There’s a kind of peace in that.
What have you been working on lately? What is your thesis about?
Lately I’ve been working on a lot of performance writing. I wrote my first screenplay over the summer and performed at a handful of story slams. This semester I’ll take my first stab at the theater and playwriting. I’m really excited about that.
What do you think the major influences on your work have been? Any particular books, movies, albums, or experiences that have shaped you as a writer?
Lately: Junot Diaz, August Wilson, Luis Alberto Urea, Maya Angelou. Toni Morrison is jumping back into my world for obvious reasons. Reading through all our MFA faculty’s work.
Aaron Sorkin, Pablo Neruda, the Beatles, Led Zeppelin, and the Russians (Tolstoy, etc.) are constants in my life. But most of all, Hemingway. It’s hard to explain what it was like to be a Puerto Rican boy at an all-white school in Nebraska and discover a writer who wrote in Spanish. He lived in Cuba, Spain, places where I came from and that no one around me seemed to know existed. His work reminded me of my Abuelo and deceased father in a lot of ways.
What’s the best writing advice you’ve ever received? What advice would you give to people who are starting an MFA program?
The best writing advice I ever got was not advice at all, but a passing comment from someone while we were wandering around downtown after bar close. I told her my dream was to be a writer and she said, “you are a writer.” She gave me the sort of grace and acknowledgement I wasn’t giving myself at the time.
That would be my advice to others: give yourself the grace to succeed. Give yourself the grace to fuck up, fail, struggle, and have time to figure it all out. I tell my students to have “patient urgency.” Be urgent with your efforts and patient with your progress.
Alejandro will be reading at the first event in the 2019-2020 MFA Reading Series, which will be held at Night Heron Books & Coffeehouse on Thursday, September 26, at 7 PM.