Kristene Cristobal (Writing for the Page, 2020)

I would be writing about race, racism, identity, colonization, political oppression. I took a calculated risk entrusting the IIML with coaxing out that story.

Kristene writes: 'The MA in creative writing at the IIML became the most reliable and solid aspect of my 2020, a year that was unmooring and distressing both around the world and at home. It was a year I wanted to dedicate to becoming a better writer, deepening my craft, finding creative discipline, finding a community of writers. It was all of those things but it was also a global pandemic unleashed; fights for racial justice and protests against police brutality; health and job stressors at home. Amidst my fears about an uncertain future, the traumatic replay of murder recorded and re-shared, fretting over missed and misdiagnoses in my family, I returned again and again to our workshop room at 16 Waiteata Road, our Zoom windows into each other, to my mentor and supervisor; I returned continuously to the page, to my classmates' pages.

'I entered the program knowing something vague about what I wanted to write. I wanted to write a novel about my history, my ancestors in the Philippines and their diasporic ups and downs in America and elsewhere. That meant I would be writing about race, racism, identity, colonization, political oppression. I took a calculated risk entrusting the good people at the IIML with the coaxing out of that story, a risk that felt enormous to me as one of the only writers of color in my class. I knew, however, about Tina Makereti, who became my convener and supervisor. I knew about IIML's efforts in recent years to better support and hold space for Māori writers and to be more inclusive. So I knew that my story would have a place in the array of stories that we would workshop that year, so that I wouldn’t have to spend all of my energy defending its existence, because I wouldn't be doing that alone. And yet, I suspect I started the program unlike many of the other new writers -- with the anticipation of racism or microaggressions that I would experience. It wasn't a question of "if", but of when and of what kind. Indeed, it was Tina's deft ability to center indigenous and POC writing that prevented me from abandoning my experiments with defamiliarizing race, the way I presented Tagalog on the page, or the collective voice of my ancestors. I became a better writer because of her persistent push for more clarity, specificity, groundedness in body and interiority.

'The only cliché I'll allow myself here is "Trust the process." This was shared with us on our first day by a visiting alum, and to follow that advice felt like blind faith. But the IIML MA process is a good one, well-tested and honed throughout its many years -- from the selection of writers in the room, to the exercises, guest writers' talks, that big binder they give you at the beginning, the reading program, the workshop process, and the flexible and empathic care of their students.

'By the end of it, this is how I felt and what I wrote after our last class:

'The rain gave way to the sun a few times during today's workshop. It's September 11. And it feels like the moment where I accept that this MA year is ending. We won't have this, us in a circle, guided confidently by a master, Oriental Bay in the backdrop, tuis chattering their own workshop outside. Hopefully we'll have something else with each other. But this will be gone.

'I'm going to have a completed draft of a novel very soon. It's going to be something that I can edit, and marinate, and edit some more, and share, and push out into the world. And in the throes of that, I will write some more -- another novel, a book of short stories, maybe essays, maybe poetry. It's all out there for me. I will have the time. I will have the community.'

Bio: Kristene Cristobal writes and works 'bi-hemispherically' in New Zealand and California. Her stories live in the spaces where race, politics, myth, and family collide. When she's not writing, Kristene has a consulting practice working with organizations to center equity and social justice; deepen community partnerships; and improve health and well-being. Her work is published or forthcoming in Another Chicago Magazine, Turbine/Kapohau, and Radio New Zealand's Page Numbers. Kristene has a MA in Creative Writing from Victoria University of Wellington's International Institute of Modern Letters, a MS in Public Health from the Harvard School of Public Health, was selected twice for VONA/Voices' Summer fiction workshops, and NZSA's Mentorship Programme. Kristene is completing her debut novel Makibaka! -- about the contemporary Filipinx American experience, carrying the history of colonialism in the diaspora.

Read more:

Rivkah and Floridita (Another Chicago Magazine)

Makibaka! excerpt (Turbine | Kapohau)