A Conversation with Maggie Felisberto, English major graduate

Dr. Gates: “As a recent English major graduate who specialized in creative writing, would you comment on some of the courses that you took in the major?

Ms. Felisberto: “I took Creative Writing with Dr. Gates which forced me to approach my writing in new ways that challenged my perceptions of how to create a story or a poem, and, more importantly, challenged my relationship to writing and the creative process.  Professor McDuffie’s workshops in fiction and poetry engaged me with two different groups of writers: his workshops prepared me not only to have my work critiqued by others but to be able to read manuscripts as a writer and provide helpful feedback to other writers.

Dr. Gates: “I understand that you also took some courses independently.”

Ms. Felisberto: “The English Department offered opportunities for me to pursue specific areas of interest through two independent studies.  My first independent study with Dr. Beach, Writing the Portuguese Experience, was originally meant to be a piggy-back course based on my attendance at the first Disquiet International Literary Program in Lisbon, Portugal, but the course quickly became so much more.  With the close partnership of Dr. Beach, I began writing a novella—entitled The Tide— and completed over half of the book in three months.  Dr. Beach also worked with me in a second independent study in Advanced Expository Writing: this course was highly transformative for me, as I had the freedom to write essays on the identity politics of being a  Portuguese American among other subjects.

Dr. Gates: “As a liberal arts college, Nyack College offered you the opportunity to expand and develop your views through courses in other disciplines as well.”

Ms. Felisberto: Working with Dr. Amy Davis Abdallah in courses such as Male and Female in Biblical Perspective and Women in Christian Tradition as well as American History with Professor Bethany Johnson, I learned so much from them and their model of scholarship.

Dr. Gates: “How have you been growing as a writer since graduating from Nyack College?”

Ms. Felisberto:  I am enrolled in a low residency MFA in Creative Writing at the University of Tampa.  We meet as a program for ten days every six months for intensive workshops and seminars, beginning at nine each morning and sometimes lasting until eleven at night.  During the residency, students come together from around the world (as far as Moscow, Beirut, and Malaysia.)  The low-residency format is unique in that it allows for highly specialized course work within my field of creative writing.  Nyack’s personal approach was an excellent preparation for my current studies.

Dr. Gates: “If you were to point to one feature about your Nyack experience that set it apart, what would it be?”

Ms. Felisberto: “Perhaps the most important aspect of my education at Nyack College, both within and beyond the English Department, has been the unwavering support I have received from the teaching faculty as a student, as a writer, and as a person.  I was able to rely on my primary professors for support and friendly counseling and mentorship.  The rigorous coursework that I chose to pursue prepared me for my current graduate coursework, but the strength of the Nyack community truly prepared me to be a graduate student.

The foregoing conversation is based on an e-mail exchange between Maggie Felisberto (English Major and  May 2013 graduate) and Dr. Jonathan Gates, Chair of the Nyack College English Department.

Reflections by Jen Stuck, English major and 2008 graduate:

“I am currently employed as a high school English and history teacher at Quisqueya Christian School, in Port Au Prince, Haiti.  The school’s unique mission aims to provide an American-style high school experience for missionary kids and upper-class Haitian children.  The dual goal of challenging students to integrity and excellence in academic work as well as honesty in their spiritual life attracted me to the school in the first place.  I am able to discuss literary themes in relation to the student’s personal life philosophy and to make curriculum choices knowing that many of my students will be future policy makers in Haiti.

Some of the practical challenges of living in Haiti are erratic electricity, tainted water, incredible poverty contrasted with comparative opulence and everything being in a constant state of flux.  And yet, these are some of the things that make my time here exciting.

Attending Nyack, I was able to witness a model of integration between academia and real life.  Education was not separated from the practical.  Professors who had a personal code of conduct that they live out placed the study of literature in the context of social change. Nyack set a standard of holistic practicality, an idea and a reality that I love sharing with my own students now.”