Maria Cardona won the 2017 English Department Creative Writing Award. Below she reflects on her four years at AU and what the future holds.
The Creative Writing program was the reason I decided to come to AU when I was seventeen. I still remember walking into Dr. Brown’s Comp 101 class and being terrified of my assignments because I’d never had to write a “real” paper before. Coming from Puerto Rico, I had never written very many papers in school. My English classes were mostly focused on vocabulary, reading, and speaking. I’d written a few essays for other classes but never anything big.
One of the papers I wrote for the class was interesting because my argument was about how education isn’t really about where you come from, but rather how you apply yourself. One of the things I heard a lot coming from Puerto Rico was “your English is so good!,” “how come you don’t have an accent?” “but, do you speak Spanish?” and other phrases along those lines. They were tiny things but they made me feel like it was expected that because I grew up in a small country, my education shouldn’t have allowed me to develop my English as well as it did.
That paper was interesting because when I first came here I was really shy and introverted. I was also still on my ADD medication which made me so focused I wouldn’t even speak! Writing had always been my means of expressing myself, and that class definitely helped me develop my own voice and allowed me to really start speaking up about issues that interested me.
As my four years continued, I was presented with many intellectual challenges. Postcolonial literature with Dr. Mondal was a remarkable course, but it came with many challenges. I was being asked to analyze even punctuation! Yet, it was the subject matter that really challenged me. Coming from a country that is still a colony, I could relate to the material in a very different way my American classmates did. I had so many things to say, but I also was challenged with really being careful with my wording in order to not make my opinions feel like attacks. Nonetheless, it was amazing being able to make cultural connections and help my classmates understand colonial issues.
It was the Honors section of Modern Drama that was a huge boon for me both intellectually and creatively. I had never really read very many plays. I’ve always enjoyed the theatre, but having to analyze plays was new to me. It was in this class, with Dr. Waterman, that I really made two of the biggest connections I’ve ever made with literature. Beckett’s Waiting for Godot, and Hutton’s I Dream Before I Take The Stand made me think about how great literature can affect people, touch them, and make them think. It showed me how great works don’t need to be long masterpieces necessarily, but that shorter pieces with powerful language can make incredibly strong impacts on the world.
On creative terms, all my classes presented different challenges. When I took the fiction/non-fiction workshop I originally wrote fifty pages of a story that I hated, and I freaked out because I thought maybe this career path wasn’t for me. Then I landed on what ended up being my capstone and the class the earned me the CW Award. It’s titled “Lares” after a town back in Puerto Rico where a revolution happened in 1868. The story is entered around this time period and the complications of a woman’s awakening and falling in love in times of an independence war.
Writing this piece was so challenging because I had so much research to do before I started writing. I didn’t really learn much about it in history class back home, so it was fascinating but exhausting to learn all this new information. It was also challenging to find a balance between history and my own story, but I think I managed to navigate it well by the end.
This story was also a challenge because I was supposed to have a brother who would have been twenty-five this year but my mom lost him before he was born. I wrote this story for him (naming one of the main characters after him). It was hard to write this story and even harder to finish it because how do you end that? How do you find the perfect ending for your brother? Plus, to finish it would mean to finish that chapter of my life and finish his story. I feel pretty good about the story I gave Sebastián.
The other massive challenge for this piece was how I could make the 2017 world care about an 1860s failed revolution in a tiny island. I think that having this love story plus an awakening element helped to shape this story and create a world that people could care about as much as I cared about this topic.
Another creative challenge I faced was in my short story class. Ask around the department— short is not my forte. I am incredibly wordy, so limiting myself presented a challenge for me. It was hard having to cut myself short and having to sacrifice elements of my story that I loved so much (highly influenced by Beckett, actually!) but it also showed me the importance of being open to feedback and being able to transform my story into something I can still love.
Poetry workshop was its own challenge since I am not a poet – at all! I struggled through that class but I learned a new appreciation for the form and it even ended up playing a role in “Lares.” The first line is actually from a couplet I wrote for the workshop. It was a new challenge to have to manipulate my ideas into forms and rhymes.
I’ve been working on “Lares” for three years, and when I was told it was receiving an award I was blown away! It made me feel accomplished and hopeful for my future career. I feel beyond honored to have been given this award, especially for a story I’ve been building for so long and care about so much. I think all the classes I’ve taken and everyone in the department has played a role in the birth of this story. There are so many stories I’ve read and so many assignments I’ve taken parts and pieces from that have influenced this story.
Up next is grad school in Ireland. It will be an exciting experience to go back after my study abroad. I’ll be studying Translation Studies (Spanish-English) in University College Cork. It will be so strange not being an English major anymore, but there will still be elements of literature in my program. My thesis can actually be a translation of a book of my choice, so I’m sure I’ll still be influenced by my time at AU. I’ll surely keep writing, and hopefully I can find a nice home for my novel and continue growing as a writer.