On Process and Change: Past Emerging Writer Award Winner Shares Story

Michael Lee
Michael Lee, 2018 Emerging Writer Award winner in poetry

by Michael Lee

I’m incredibly excited and grateful to announce that this fall I’ll be on the road east again to Cornell University to get my MFA in creative writing with a focus in poetry. I’ve been holding on to this one for a while, partially because so much has been tossed into the unknown with COVID-19 that I wasn’t sure if I would be able to go. And also because as my work is so personal and my professional life is increasingly public, I like to keep more and more to myself. (I’ll continue to do so until I unceremoniously disappear into the woods to become a subsistence farmer writing under a pseudonym.)

I wanted to share this because what my creative process requires has changed so much, I think it’s worth noting. Twelve years ago, I simply needed to get sober. Then I needed to read obsessively and feverishly. Then I just needed to be heard. Open mics and slams became my life blood and my community. Then I felt the need to be alone, to trave, and to connect more deeply with nature. Finally, I turned partially from writing and focused heavily on youth and community work. I will always be glad I did that, but after some years I felt my writing slipping away more each day until I thought I wasn’t going to get it back.

At that point, I was lucky enough to receive an Emerging Writer Award from Key West Literary Seminar, where I had the good fortune of working with Rowan Ricardo Phillips. His workshop changed my life and trajectory—I wrote more in the two months following that workshop than I had the previous two years! Many of the poems ended up in my first book and are among my all-time favorites. I learned I needed dedicated time to workshop, to study, to dialogue, and to critique—to focus my energy on craft. I made a decision to put my writing first for the first time in several years.

We are always changing: how we see and relate to the world, ourselves, our pasts, and, thus, our processes will also change. We must be open to these shifts. I’m making a big decision to fully invest in my dreams, and I’m hoping everyone is able to make one decision—small or large—each day, bringing you closer to your own. I can’t wait to see what writing comes out of this and share it with all of you.

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