Wednesday, January 13, 2010

MFA Statement of Purpose: “Writing as Human Connection and Divine Calling"

All the MFA programs I am applying to require a "statement of purpose." The best advice I got was to write it with three things in mind: 1. your past as a writer. 2. your current experience as a writer. 3. your future hopes as a writer. This was my attempt (we'll see in a couple of months if it worked):

Hearing the Call.

This is it. The voice in my head was the loudest it had ever been. In fact, I am not really sure if I had ever heard it before that moment. This is it. It came quickly and with so much clarity; I paused from my performance to look to see if anyone else heard it. I was reading a story aloud to my 5th grade peers. A story I had written. The boys and girls were in rapt silence, a silence broken only by a burst of laughter at my brilliant punch line.

This had never happened before. Did I mention that? I, the awkward incessant talker, loved being around other kids, but never quite found a bridge that connected us. I was neither attractive, nor athletic. I was bright, but that did not do much for my social standing. I tried to make friends, but I could always tell I made others uncomfortable. Maybe I was too loud. Maybe I pointed out our differences too quickly: “Isn’t is strange how much bigger you are than me? I think it’s cool that you could probably throw me pretty far.” But, in this moment, all the students in Miss Frink’s language arts class had their eyes fixed on me with…What was it? Ah, yes, attention and admiration. When I finished, my friends applauded. I got several congratulatory smiles the rest of the day. They were all impressed with my story. I was impressed with my story.

Defining the Call.

Fast-forward twenty-five years: Teaching English to immigrants and refugees in the public school system and, more recently, at the university level, has provided me with ample audiences for my stories. Using humor and personal anecdotes has always been, for me, a successful methodology in creating a safe environment for English Language Learners. They laugh at my clumsy mistakes in life and, in return, they allow me to correct their silly language mishaps. But mostly, my stories permit them the freedom to fall down, get up and try again, a context that engages them in authentic dialogue.

Choosing my undergraduate major was difficult. I was between a fine arts degree and a teaching one. Until recently, I have valued service-oriented work over the creative kind. My life has been filled with adopting cross-racially, serving the poor in third world countries, living in the inner city, and educating and advocating for the marginalized and under-served. I sacrificed any formal pursuit of art in order to answer—what my actions, not my belief system revealed—a “higher calling.”

Years of being a voracious reader, a doubtful believer and an intent observer of others’ lives and cultures, have shown me that communicating honestly and creatively is the highest of callings. Stories that reveal our true condition connect us and help us understand the world around us. The art of storytelling is a means of grace that brings hope. John L’Heureux writes:

A short story is a writer’s way of thinking through experience… Journalism aims at accuracy, but fiction’s aim is truth. The writer distorts reality in the interest of a larger truth.

Whether writing about my neighborhood, Hard Bargain, the first and only African-American owned subdivision in Franklin, Tennessee, or describing being propositioned by a one-armed elderly man, I am called to be honest, and this call is worthy of ordination. Barry Lopez, an award-winning writer and frequent lecturer at the Bread Loaf Writer’s Conference, translates the word for storyteller in the Inuit language as “the person who creates the atmosphere in which wisdom reveals itself.” Writing is a sacred work, an industry that gets and gives wisdom.

Answering the Call.

Lately, I have had more time and attention to give to this industry due to my children both attending elementary school. Blogging, writing curriculum for Vanderbilt’s English Language Center and writing a column for a local community online resource have fueled my desire to tell stories. Although I did not begin writing seriously until the summer of 2009, my commitment to communicating truth through storytelling has been chronicled by my joining several local writing groups and my pursuit of writing mentors. I have grown already by exchanging criticism with other writers. But, my stories, like my kids and students, need time in a structured, nurturing and accountable environment.

The MFA program at _______ offers just that environment. I have so much to learn about my craft and I am anxious to glean all I can from the faculty there. The low-residency program meets my unique needs as my husband’s photography business is based in Nashville, Tennessee. I believe that the demands of the MFA program will help me become the writer and storyteller I would like to be, and I am more than ready to meet them.

After earning a degree in creative writing, I hope to be able to write stories that continue to connect me with others in our attempt to understand life. I want a mastery over my art so that my stories are able to convey a piece of the human experience that others will immediately connect with. It’s the reciprocity I hope to achieve between me and the world. We are all experiencing the confusion of human existence, and we need one another to sort it all out. We need mirrors held up in front of ourselves so we can see ourselves clearly. That seeing is true wisdom, and I look forward to a time when my art will create an atmosphere for wisdom reveal itself. Doesn’t that sound divine?


  1. Divine, indeed. You already know that I like it. I am IMPRESSED that you put it up here for all the people to see—very writerly. Write on, sweet Sarah!

  2. a divine work of fine art!

  3. I can't quite tell you how much I enjoyed reading this! What an amazing window into the person you have become. I'm privileged to have read this.

  4. As always off the beaten path and perfect in all its originality with a strong voice and individual style. Of course you are baring it all as always.

    You are hired.

  5. It's some writing. I could feel your passion for being a storyteller. I really enjoyed :)

  6. really neat to see you pursuing this, miss sarah. as always, i love your voice and perspective (and frankly, needed a good dose of you today).

    we'll be awaiting word with how you move forward...

    we're missing y'all. any spring or summer plans to head north?

  7. So glad you are continuing to share your stories, and pursue writing. Can't wait to see where this year takes you! Miss you lots!

  8. wonderful. Can't wait to read more.

  9. One key element that students should need to think and understand that there should be good writing in order to be part of sop and they also have to allow themselves all the way.