Real Fellow Profile: Claudia Wilson

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Real Fellow Profile: Claudia Wilson

In their second year as a Research Enhancement and Leadership (REAL) fellow and MFA student, Claudia Wilson is busy. Between teaching College Writing classes in the English Writing Program, taking graduate courses, and writing, Claudia definitely feels the crunch that is graduate study. Awarded to “outstanding doctoral and MFA students from historically underrepresented groups in the humanities and arts, social sciences, education, nursing and business,” the Graduate School’s REAL Fellowship provides recipients with a $4000 stipend each summer and numerous opportunities for professional development and community.

Before their tenure at UMass, Wilson was living in Boston working in social work and public health. While they enjoyed the job, Wilson reflects that they got “disillusioned.” “There was a lot of bureaucracy and politics that meant that we were not supported financially in best practices. Workers didn’t have enough power.” 

Art, however, seemed able to supersede those constraints. While writing had always been something Wilson did on the side—for years they co-led a black queer writing collective—the 2016 election centered the importance of art for them in a new way. “I was always into art and felt like it was a therapeutic modality. I had this sense of urgency to do something I love especially when Trump was elected.” 

The Masters of Fine Arts Program for Poets and Writers has provided many opportunities for Wilson to reflect on their art as both a student and a teacher—and in their first two years they have gleaned much from their instructors. “Poetry is about being a better human,” Wilson says of Ocean Vuong’s workshop. “It’s about remembering your intention.” 

The Real Fellowship has given them avenues for networking, for receiving encouragement and support, and for peer mentorship. “It’s awesome being surrounded by successful black folks. Dean Adebayo (“Funmi”) really cares about how we’re doing. It’s genuine.”
Of Wilson’s first chapbook last February with Game Over Books, Grown, fellow poet, Danez Smith, calls it “brief, brilliant, and surely black.” The Graduate School is ecstatic for Wilson’s work to come.