Almost exactly a year ago myself and a group of other frazzled but strong-willed writing students, Zinzi Clemmons, Erin Ehsani, Jen Ohrstrom and Aaron Shin, met in a neon-lit classroom and talked strategy. We largely felt we had not found a space for our own voices within our MFA program, despite two semesters of stunningly well-structured and wide-ranging courses on the art of creative writing.
As an emerging nonfiction author I felt I lacked a strong platform of support or a place to carry out meaningful discussion on the concerns central to my writing – race, cultural dialog, and issues of inequality. As an international student I found I was expected to act as a sort of writerly tour guide to my home country (New Zealand), which was in turn defined by those around me – an enticing land of hobbits, sheep-horde millions and elves (the sheep part, I admit, is partially true). More pertinently, the rest of the Apogee team had all faced experiences of being regarded or made Other, and expected to represent her/his ‘culture’ even if born and bred in the United States. They had regularly met with limiting preconceptions of what their subject matter ought or ought not to be.
We all thought it was important to the health of our writing community, and our own health as writers, to create a physical space for the words of ‘non-normative’ voices. Despite the defining against, we hoped the space would be a positive one – celebrating a multitude of voices rather than a singular voice, and promoting diversity in the altruistic sense of multiple perspectives. We were joined by talented and fresh-minded new students in the fall – Tenzin Dickyi, Chris Prioleau and Alexandra Watson – and spring semester – Elisa Fernández-Arias and Eleanor Levinson – and they have grown the journal’s momentum and vision.
The word apogee denotes the point in an object’s orbit that is farthest from the center. And so our journal seeks to ‘trace the margins’ of the literary world and thereby provide a platform for all writers to thoughtfully engage with issues of race and cultural diversity. Apogee also creates a center for those writers, us, by providing a space in which we can celebrate and feel pride in our diverse voices. We believe the interests of everybody are upheld when diversity is encouraged.
These are the facets of Apogee we aim to present to you in our inaugural issue. This issue is dedicated to the writing students of Columbia University and features the work of Columbia creative writing undergraduates, MFA graduates, and MFA alumni. The issue also includes two guest contributions by writers associated with the Columbia University MFA writing program – Roger Reeves, the Our Word Writer-in-Residence in Spring 2012, and Stephen O’Connor, a professor of nonfiction and adjunct faculty member. We also include contributions by three of our own staff writers.
Thank you to all of the Apogee crew members, who have collectively sent the journal into orbit.
Founding Editor, on behalf of APOGEE