Whether Writing Poetry or News, Alum Kimberly Reyes Is Always 'Running to Stand Still'

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Wednesday, July 03, 2019
Photo of Kimberly Reyes standing next to a brick wall
Photo by Ilene Squires

After a successful career in journalism, Kimberly Reyes has pivoted to a more abstract style of writing. The recent Master of Fine Arts graduate in Creative Writing is now an award-winning poet and a Fulbright scholar.

Reyes has written articles for the Associated Press, Entertainment Weekly, The Atlantic, Time.com, New York Post, Village Voice, Alternative Press, ESPN the Magazine, Jane, Honey and NY1 News. Her chapbook, Life During Wartime, won the 2018 Michael Rubin Book Award from SF State’s 14 Hills Press.

Assistant Professor May-lee Chai judged the award contest, describing Reyes’ essays as “at once tender and tough, witty and wise.” The chapbook “rigorously examines important issues ranging from how the body absorbs the pain of objectification, misogyny, racism and colorism to the daily microaggressions faced by a woman of color working in tech to the sheer volume of noise associated with urban living,” Chai adds.

Born in New York, Reyes was the first person in her family to attend college. Her M.F.A. from San Francisco State is her second master’s degree. For her Fulbright this fall, she will pursue yet another master’s degree, in Irish literature and film, at University College Cork in Ireland.

Reyes discovered her place in poetry while attending Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism, taking a Black poetry elective with Alice Quinn.

“Prose has always been my bread and butter, as I came to creative writing later in life,” she says. “Once I found poetry I sort of abandoned prose for a while, and I found success in the poetry world.”

dancing girl press published Reyes’ debut chapbook, Warning Coloration, in 2018. Her first full-length poetry collection, Running to Stand Still, is forthcoming from Omnidawn Publishing in October. Life During Wartime is a prose collection.

“In the process of putting this book together, I’ve rediscovered my journalistic voice,” Reyes says.

Her most recent feature story for The Atlantic, from April 22, explores the challenges that African American youth face when attending elite schools.

“I’ll never go back to being a journalist, but my journalism background is a handy tool to have for the sort of writing I do, which concerns contemporary race, sex and class,” she says.

“Maybe the plainest difference between creative writing and journalism, in terms of research, is that journalism requires an investigation and synthesis of the outside world,” Reyes adds, “while creative writing demands honest, personal examination.”

“Creative writing demands honest, personal examination.” — Kimberly Reyes

Reyes chose to pursue her M.F.A. in San Francisco State’s Creative Writing Department “because I wanted the diversity of age and class in the student body that the program offered. I could also work to support myself while in the program as it caters to part-time students. I also liked that I would be able to take an equal amount of nonfiction and poetry classes. And, of course, the chance to live in San Francisco.”

The faculty helped her improve her writing, she says.

“One of the great things about this M.F.A. program was the ability to take electives. SFSU has such a robust humanities department,” Reyes says. “I think my work and the subject matter of my work benefited most from Women Studies classes with Jillian Sandell, and lit classes with Meg Schoerke and Sarita Cannon.

“In fact, Meg’s Emily Dickinson workshop was probably my favorite class at State. I was able to explore how race is sort of always the ghost in the room in American writing, even when ‘it’s not about race.’ Meg later served as the third reader for my thesis and wrote a recommendation for my winning Fulbright application. She’s an amazingly supportive teacher and an inspiring scholar and writer. I highly recommend her classes!”

For students applying for scholarships and awards, Reyes recommends being selective.

“Do your research because applications can be very time consuming and applying too broadly can take away from valuable writing time perfecting the applications that actually mean the most to you,” Reyes notes. “Be very protective of your time and energy — and aim high.”

— Ufuoma Umusu

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