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New creative writing program at Hofstra made for Spanish-language writers

Miguel-Angel Zapata, director of the new MFA program

Miguel-Angel Zapata, director of the new MFA program in creative writing in Spanish at Hofstra University, talks with student Victoria Valenzuela at the university on Thursday.  Credit: Newsday / J. Conrad Williams Jr.

Hofstra University is looking to foster the next crop of promising Spanish-language writers.

This semester, the university launched its master's degree in fine arts in creative writing for those who write in Spanish. The graduate program is bilingual and one of only a handful currently offered in the country, according to its director, Miguel-Angel Zapata.

“There are 50 million Spanish speakers here,” Zapata said. “We’re giving them a place to develop their talents.”

The first bilingual creative writing program was developed at the University of Texas at El Paso more than a decade ago, where many students are used to thinking and creating in two languages, said Álvaro Enrigue, one of the Hofstra program’s instructors. He believes the Hempstead campus also seemed like a natural setting for a bilingual program.

“There is an enormous amount of people in the metropolitan area living bilingual lives, so why not be realistic?” said Enrigue, a Mexican author. “Why not represent that in the writing?”

Workshops — a major part of the program where students critique each other’s work, including novels, poetry and plays — are conducted in Spanish. Students study the work of prolific Spanish-language authors such as Miguel de Cervantes and Gabriel García Márquez and also take courses taught in English. Currently they’re delving into the work of the Russian playwright Anton Chekhov, Zapata said.

The first class of about 15 students is made up of mostly bilingual Americans, Zapata said. He thinks the program will expand in the coming years and that many more bilingual writing programs will crop up at other universities, reflecting the country's growing Hispanic population. 

Victoria Valenzuela, 37, a Chilean author now living in Brooklyn, enrolled in the program because she thinks studying writers in both Spanish and English will strengthen her work and help her write about the Hispanic experience in the United States. She’s currently working with Enrigue on her third novel, which will be written in Spanish and set in Brooklyn.

“To read authors from other backgrounds totally enriches my writing, and has opened my mindset," she said.

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