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The MFA Chronicles: Mofiyinfoluwa Okupe

The MFA Chronicles: Mofiyinfoluwa Okupe

The MFA Chronicles blog series offers perspective on the experiences of Nigerian writers who are currently on MFA programs, shedding light on the challenges and rewards of such a journey. 

Nigerian writers who aspire to pursue their writing dreams can gain valuable insight into the application process, program selection, cultural and language barriers, and how to overcome them.

This month, we spoke with Mofiyinfoluwa Okupe.

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Mofiyinfoluwa O. is a writer from Lagos, Nigeria whose work delves into emotional interiorities, womanhood as an embodied experience and the redemptive force of memory. Her work has appeared in Guernica, AFREADA, The Black Warrior Review, Lolwe and elsewhere. She is a first year candidate on the Non-Fiction MFA at Iowa where she is at work on her debut collection of essays. 

What motivated you to pursue an MFA? 

In complete honesty, I pursued an MFA out of desperation. In November 2021, I got posted to Law School in Kano and I refused to go. Something about interfacing with the system in NLS and the general legal industry convinced me that a career in law was not going to be my reality at that time. So I dropped out of NLS, with hopes to pursue my career in writing, however slippery said career was at that time. After dropping out of NLS, I knew I had to give my parents something concrete to believe in this my new writing career. I knew going to school would do that for them. Getting a graduate degree in writing (and being sponsored by the school for that matter) was my sure card out of NLS. I am still very grateful that the program was my way out. 

How did you select the program you attended and what was the most challenging aspect of the application process?

At the start of 2021, I didn’t even know there were MFA programs purely dedicated to non fiction, because most of the ones I’d heard of were for fiction or poetry only. A brilliant poet, and my good friend Obafemi Thanni, made me a comprehensive list of the five funded programs that offered non-fiction in the USA. I chose the Non-Fiction MFA at Iowa, because it was fully funded (I would teach in order to earn my stay), and it was well ranked. It was the only application I did. Every application costs $100 and it was the only one I could afford. My second option that I never applied to was the MFA at Washington St. Louis, Missouri. It was quite risky to apply to only one school but God met me inside that ocean of risk and made a way.

How has the MFA program impacted your writing and creative process?

I had a very idealistic and potentially naive understanding of what the program would offer me. The reality was a little sobering, and if I’m being honest, beneath my expectations especially because of the presence and hegemony of whiteness that seemed to permeate everything. Most reading lists and curriculums have been full of mostly white, male authors with little to inclusion of Black, let alone African voices. This impacted me negatively because so much of my work is rooted in African and Black literary ancestry and stories. However, it is not all bad. Workshop for instance has been useful because it ensures that I write so that I have something to hand in. It has sharpened my editorial skills from reading and engaging with the work of my peers. I have also greatly enjoyed teaching masterclasses, which I have done twice now. My creative process has also been streamlined because I know now, more than ever, the stories that are most important to me and that clarity has shaped my writing in a brilliant way. 

Who are you reading now?

I have just started Toni Morrison’s Jazz. It’s almost time for my annual re-reading of James Baldwin’s If Beale Street Could Talk. The most impactful and memorable book I’ve read this year is BUTTER HONEY PIG BREAD by Francesca Ekwuyasi.

What are your writing goals? What are you working on now? 

I am working on my debut collection of essays at the moment. My current writing goal is to learn how better to revise my work, to let the story come undone and to piece it back together in a way that is free from rigidity and a need to control. I want to be freer with my work. Another writing goal of mine is to write more immersive scenes, rooted in landscapes I have lived in and thrived in. In doing this, I want to bring more emotional complexity to the page and to the characters I weave. 

What advice would you give to other Nigerian writers considering pursuing an MFA degree?

I would say that they should make extensive research especially by speaking to minority students enrolled at the program to find out what their experience has been like. A program is more than its ranking, so you must give significant thought to what it would be like to live in that place, to truly build a life there. Put your foot into your personal statement. Make it some of the sharpest prose you’ve ever written. It’s usually about 500 words, so no time to meander. Go straight in and make your language sing on the page. I would also say they should go into the MFA with a significant amount of work already written, because you will grow and it will be such an enlightening process to see your old work with new eyes, even as you create new things. I would also wish them the very best, and tell them not to be hard on themselves if rounds of applications do not go as planned. The road opens in many winding and unexpected ways and all we must do is continue to place one foot in front of the other. Thank you so much for having me. 

Interested in sharing your MFA experience with us? Please fill out the form here.

About the Writer: Precious Obiabunmo is a graduate of English and Literature at Nnamdi Azikiwe University. She’s the Digital Content/Community Manager at Kachifo Limited. Connect with her on LinkedIn

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