The stage was set with a chair and a microphone on Friday night at Mia Cuppa Caffe as first year Fresno State Master of Fine Arts Program creative writing students like Erica Hughes waited patiently for their names to be called to read their pieces for an audience for the first time.
MFA creative writing students gather every year for a Rough Drafts reading to showcase first year program members’ work. The program allows students to study literary theory and to obtain hands-on experience through workshops.
Through these workshop classes students can strengthen their pieces with the goal of eventually completing and submitting a manuscript to literary publishers and award organizations.
One by one students shared their original creative fiction, creative nonfiction or poetry. Each touched on an array of topics such as personal sanctuary, peace, pain, discrimination and grief.
Hughes, a poet within the program, discussed the aftermath of the event.
“It was natural,” Hughes said when asked to describe how it felt reading on stage. “I was a little nervous before. I’ve done readings prior to this so I sort of know what to expect from readings, but it was natural. I love to do it.”
From the perspective of the audience Hughes was calm and collected as she took the stage after a witty biography. The entire room welcomed her with smiles and cheers as she prepared to read three poems.
“I’m notoriously a really bad titler,” Hughes said to provoke laughs from the audience. The room went quiet as she paused for a moment as she took a breath before beginning. Her first poem titled ‘Listening to America’ was emotional as it described the discriminatory horrors faced by the black community in America.
“I want my poems to provoke people to think more deeply about others around them. I want others to glean empathy for others in my poems,” Hughes said.
“I’ve had a lot of different eyes look at these pieces, and I’ve been mulling these pieces over between three to six months. I’ve been writing them for a long time, so I wanted to see reactions,” she said.
All eyes were on Hughes as the rest of her poems seemed to move the room to think, reflect and empathize.
While Hughes enjoyed writing poems as a child, her poetic endeavor took off 2 ½ years ago after taking a poetry class as an undergrad. “It really sort of stuck with me. I think it’s the most important part of my life because poetry is the foundation for all of literature,” Hughes said.
“It’s the most primitive part of ourselves. It’s how we understand the world. There’s this quote by William Wordsworth I believe that says ‘All good prose is poetry,’” she said.