#63 An Interview with Kyle Lucia Wu, MFA Candidate at The New School, by Paul Florez
November 19, 2014
Kyle Lucia Wu is a second year MFA student at The New School. I first met her last year when we were wide-eyed first years in Dale Peck’s (author of “The Garden of Lost and Found”) workshop and immediately admired her ability to write wayward characters looking for connections in dangerous places. She is currently balancing the responsibilities of being a graduate assistant, intern, and also a research assistant for John Reed (author of “Tales of Woe”). Her work has appeared in Bird’s Thumb, Catch & Release and Joyland Magazine.
I sat down with Kyle to discuss her writing, how she went about selecting The New School’s MFA program, and her recently published short story, The Art of French Cooking.
My first question is a bit cliché but one I love asking: Have you always wanted to be a writer?
Yes, I’ve wanted to be a writer since I was very young. Actually, I wanted to be a writer and actress, but I found out I don’t like being the center of attention.
For Christmas one year I got one of those Apple laptops that looked like a fishbowl, orange-and-white with a little handle, and I’d write on that. I don’t really remember the stories I wrote, but I know that I used to very pointedly make all the protagonists dark-haired, because I felt out of place for my looks.
When did you decide to pursue an MFA degree?
I thought about it in college, but my favorite writing professor discouraged applying so early because she said it was impossible to get in right out of college. She said we needed life experience first, which is something I didn’t understand at twenty-one.
It’s interesting that so many professors encourage their students to take a few years off, gain life experience and then apply to MFA programs. Did you feel differently about MFAs when you applied a few years after college?
I wasn’t even sure I wanted to go when I began applying. It was a little impulsive because I was frustrated with how I’d been saying I wanted to be a writer but I was working at restaurants. I’d heard that some people had to apply two or three times and I thought I’d start, or that maybe if I didn’t get in I’d feel okay quitting writing.
Speaking of acceptance, you were accepted to both the MFA programs at The New School and Columbia.
When I applied to MFAs I visualized going to Columbia. Columbia was the first school I was accepted to and I remember being so blindly happy when I got the letter. But it didn’t end up being right and I did find it difficult to set aside what my fantasy had been, even when the choice was obvious.
Why did ultimately decide to attend The New School if Columbia was your dream school?
It took several e-mails for anyone at Columbia to respond or set up a meeting with me. I visited Columbia first and just was really put off by the whole atmosphere, and I dejectedly went downtown to The New School after, where [program directors] Luis Jaramillo and Lori Lynn Turner were eager to speak with me. The office was so much warmer, and I met with a current student who was in love with the program, and when I put finances in the mix, The New School was the clear choice.
The New School is well known for being experimental. How has your writing changed since attending the program?
My writing style is very realist, but I think sometimes my structure can be experimental. I was not an experimental writer going in and I think if I had realized The New School’s reputation it might have deterred me, but it’s been great. I love the guiding force of The New School, which is that you can do whatever you want.
Recently, you complimented your studies at The New School by taking a summer workshop at the University of Iowa. What was that like?
It was an invaluable experience for me, being isolated in this bucolic setting where I read for two months straight. I’ve been in New York for eight years so being in such a quiet and peaceful place felt very new to me.
How was the experience at Iowa different from The New School?
It differed most in terms of setting. I had no obligations to anything and I had unbelievable amounts of free time, so I just read and read and wrote.
I studied with Amber Dermont who is wickedly encyclopedic with books and would say at least three times a class, “You guys haven’t read that? Oh my God, have you read anything?” because she had read everything.
Amber was very tough with her criticisms but I always appreciate professors like that (I mean, Dale Peck is my thesis advisor at The New School). At my first workshop Amber tore what I wrote apart, and I was unbelievably motivated to make her like my second submission. It felt like a life-or-death mission for me. That story was eventually published a few weeks ago in Joyland Magazine.
I’ve read many drafts of that story, The Art of French Cooking, and love the final version that made it into Joyland Magazine. Do you think being published is an essential part of the MFA experience?
Publishing isn’t my first priority and I don’t think it’s as highly stressed in the program as much as creating good work is. However I think it’s nice to feel active and have some sort of validation for what is otherwise just a Word document that you’re obsessing over, and to hear the response to your work from other people in the world.
Kyle Lucia Wu is an MFA candidate for fiction at The New School. Her work has appeared in Joyland Magazine, Bird’s Thumb, and Catch & Release. Follow her on Twitter @kylelucia.
Paul Florez is currently receiving his MFA in fiction at The New School. He is a contributor for the Huffington Post and his work has also appeared in Slice Magazine, Queerty, and The Advocate. You can follow his misadventures over on twitter @mrpaulflorez.