From Our Eyes showcases Wilkinson students’ first-hand accounts of their undergraduate and graduate experiences. This post features Tryphena Yeboah (MFA ‘21). Yeboah is a 2019-21 MFA fellows and an international student from Ghana. She recently took 3rd Place for her nonfiction essay titled “The Ravages of an Unloved Life” with Narrative, an online literary magazine for their Spring 2020 Short Story Content.
I had no intention of entering this year’s Narrative Spring Writing contest. As silly as this may sound, I was still grieving my rejection from my last submission and did not think the outcome of this entry would be any different. While it was the last thing on my mind, I kept receiving their weekly emails with a countdown showing how many days were left to submit a piece. I would skim it over and carry on with my day. I don’t know how it happened; but just as quickly as I made my decision to disregard the countdown, I became determined to send my work in.
Nearly everything about the story was already decided on once I made up my mind to sit down and write it. I was writing about myself. All I needed was the courage. For a while, I had been thinking about my reflection and it isn’t something one typically thinks about, at least not me. The moment I moved into a new place during quarantine, the first thing I observed was the mirrors in the house. They were everywhere. And the design, the very idea, to have a home with mirrors hanging at every corner was strange, even frightening to me, if I am honest.
And there I was in this new space where I could not take five steps without witnessing my own movements, without finally becoming acquainted with parts of my body I’ve hated to confront and embrace. On writing, American poet Rita Dove has said it is crucial not to pander to the imaginary audience or accept any compromises. That regardless, the work must reflect its “original isolate impulse” and that is precisely what I sought out to do – tell my story as I’ve known and lived it.
While I couldn’t be any more honored by this feat with Narrative Magazine, there’s a part of me dreading the weight the essay carries and how its reality is no longer mine once it’s published. It is terrifying for me to reveal such hideous truths about myself and even as I admit this, I can very well say nothing comes close to the relief, the burden-lifting, that comes with having written about a painfully quiet and internalized conflict.
I had exactly $27.03 in my bank account when I confronted the reality of paying a $27 submission fee to enter the contest. It’s shocking how close I was to missing out on this opportunity, if I was even a dollar short. Making the payment did, in no way, feel as though I were pushing down a panic button, ready to be haunted by my lack in the coming days, and that, to me, is a little sad. That I have normalized knowing I have nothing, and I have accepted ways of coping so much that I don’t bother to think twice about what could happen afterwards. I won’t glorify the struggle, because it is a grueling way to live, not only as a writer but as an individual. I’ve heard the debates about submission fees, and I understand why each side stands for what it does, especially because I get to be among the few who give only to receive so much more. A prize money of $500 is beyond my wildest dreams, I’m saving this money for my PhD application fees in December.
As with every good news I receive, I’ve cried tears of joy and have gone on to express my gratitude to everyone who supports this creative journey of mine. Under the guidance of talented faculty at Chapman and with the support of friends and readers, this creative experience has been all the more rewarding.
Yeboah’s award nonfiction essay, “The Ravages of an Unloved Life” is not yet published, but you can read some of her other work on narrativemagazine.com where she has been featured as the “Story of the Week – 30 Below 30”.