Growing up, I always believed that I was going to be a doctor and pursue my creative interests during whatever spare time I had. I wanted to be a plastic surgeon who was on Broadway in her spare time. Or a brain surgeon who also wrote books. From playing hundreds of games of The Game of LIFE, I understood that doctors and lawyers made the best money. In the game, to become a doctor, the player must follow the “college” path and take out student loans because the card is only available to college-goers, as well as the highest salaries. Each time I played, I followed the same path: college, doctor, LIFE.
While in primary school, I developed two passions: science (especially biology and health sciences) and English, so I followed these two fields to wherever they took me. I had always been different from my peers growing up: I was black, poor, and I loved science and English, while most of them enjoyed math and history classes. And while we all existed in the privileged bubble of our private school, I put my head down and prioritized my schoolwork and my dream of getting into college above all else. My junior year of high school, I petitioned for the addition of an Anatomy and Physiology course to the curriculum and took AP English early, writing my first novel-length piece. As a senior in high school, I enrolled in the school’s first Anatomy and Physiology course, an independent study English course in Greek mythology, and Writing and Publishing. When choosing a college, I applied to schools with quality liberal arts reputations as well as science programs. I knew that I would double major in English and Biology, minor in psychology and neuroscience (if possible) and follow a pre-med track through college—after all, I had to become a doctor.
Of course, the game of LIFE is nothing like the real thing. My first semester in college, I ended up barely passing Chemistry with a D-. My professor let me know that like the many other students who didn’t pass, I would have to re-take the class next semester. The class was scheduled during my required English Composition course, and so I had to choose: re-vamp my entire schedule to re-take the Chemistry class or stay on-track for my double-major. I chose my double-major to continue pursuing both my passions and swapped my Biology major for Psychology. The next semester, I hunkered down and made straight As: President’s List.
My junior year of college, I made the biggest decision of my life: graduate school. I still had two options: graduate school for psychology or creative writing. In college, I’d fallen in love with both, obsessing over human behavior and the brain, pulling that obsession into my writing. But I’d also grounded myself in writing, especially as a nonfiction writer and writer of color, and I was interested in how writing could be used as a form of therapy. Getting a master’s degree in Psychology would mean I’d have to re-take that Chemistry class, but if I had a master’s degree in Creative Writing-Nonfiction, I could learn to control my craft and use it to explore the field of Creative Arts Therapies. After much deliberation, pros and cons lists and discussions with faculty, I chose writing. Suddenly, my family and friends were asking me what I would do with my life—because to them, writing wasn’t sustainable, writing wasn’t a career. But writing is what I was great at! I’d been invited to join Sigma Tau Delta, the International English Honor Society. I’d presented consecutively at Sigma Tau Delta conferences and become the president of my college’s chapter as a senior. I trusted my gut, which told me that writing was the path that I should take.
I got into one graduate school. They didn’t offer me any money and moving there was the most stressful experience. I was the only black student in the nonfiction cohort. One of three black students in the entire graduate program. I reminded myself that if it didn’t work out, I could always go back to Ohio and work before starting all over. So, I threw myself into my work. All I did was read and write. When I was overwhelmed by stress from the world around me, I wrote. I wrote when I woke up, I wrote while I waited for class, and I wrote before I went to sleep. I became a force to be reckoned with because I spent my free-time working on my craft, submitting pieces for publication, publishing work, and developing relationships with my professors and peers.
Everything felt right. I decided that I could spend the next three years of my life writing, reading, and talking about writing. For a long time, I didn’t share my work with anyone outside of my graduate program. My family still didn’t understand where writing would get me, what I was doing in graduate school besides drowning in debt, and what I would do once I had to graduate. My friends didn’t completely understand, but they supported me anyways. I kept writing. I made goals for myself and accomplished them. I took my presence in the program as a form of resistance: diversifying the writing field and paying homage to the black women writers who’d come before me. Slowly, but surely, I established myself as a writer in Midwest, booking public readings, publishing essays and networking with writers all over the country.
Pursuing art as a career is risky and difficult. Many times, especially in the black community, creative arts are viewed as a hobby or a side project—not a career. Currently, I teach Writing at Columbus College of Art & Design part-time. I also freelance for magazines and online publications. I’m working on my first book. Soon, I’ll begin working full-time as a Production Copywriter for Zulily. I’ve turned my passion for writing into a teaching career and writing one. So, my advice is to always follow your gut and do what you love. I’ll never regret moving to Chicago for graduate school because what began as a whim morphed into my career. Pursue what you love and hone your craft so that eventually you can break and recreate its rules. Embrace the challenge of establishing yourself in the city, then the state, the region, the country, and eventually the world. Be unapologetic in your craft—use it to approach topics of social justice, politics, race, feminism, mental health, and more. Ambition is the driving force of all creatives, so I encourage you to keep going, to adapt, and to challenge yourself and the world around you. I’ll never regret choosing art, because in many ways I chose to embrace my truest self.
Negesti is a Midwestern essayist. She is an alumna of Elon University where she received Bachelor of Arts degrees in English-Creative Writing and Psychology (with a minor in Neuroscience). While at Elon, Negesti joined Sigma Tau Delta, the International English Honor Society. As a member, she presented creative work at two consecutive conferences (2014 & 2015) and spent her senior year as President of the organization. In 2015, Negesti received the Ohioana Library Association's Walter Rumsey Marvin grant for Ohioan writers under the age of 30 who have not published a book. At the ceremony in October, it was revealed that, at 22, she was the youngest recipient of the award by four years. Her essays and arts criticism have been published in various publications, including Seneca Review, IDK Magazine, Nailed Magazine, Mosaic Literary Magazine, Wear Your Voice Magazine, Vagabond City Literary Journal, NewCity Lit, FreezeRay Poetry, READY Publication and Cosmonauts Avenue. In 2018, she earned her MFA in English and Creative Writing - Nonfiction from Columbia College Chicago. Her manuscript, a collection of essays, explored the intersections of pop culture, race, history, womanism, location, and heritage. She is a 2018-2019 mentee in the Representation Matters Mentorship Program for people of color interested in publishing. Currently, she teaches at Columbus College of Art and Design as an adjunct instructor, moonlights as a substitute teacher, and works on her manuscript in her spare time.
Negesti Educational History:
2012 - HS Graduate, The Wellington School
2016 - BA in English-creative writing and psychology, Elon University
2018 - MFA in English and creative writing-nonfiction, Columbia College Chicago
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