Continuing our profiles on SCAD Atlanta students, this week we’re featuring student and staff member Tamara Joyner. Many will recognize Joyner as the academic advisor to graduate students. Here, we see what her life is like as a student in the writing M.F.A program.
Lawren Gabrielle McCord: How do you keep your education separate from your career?
Tamara Joyner: Actually, it’s funny working at SCAD and being in the M.F.A. writing program as well. A lot of times when new students come in I don’t tell them, so when I show up in their classroom they are shocked. It is not like I am keeping it a secret. But when I walk into the classroom, I am not your advisor — I am a student just like you. It’s a fine line, so that’s difficult at times.
LGM: Where are you from?
TJ: I’m originally from Virginia. When I finished grad school I moved to Atlanta. I didn’t have a job; I was still working at a record store. I was writing on my own but I didn’t tell people. One of my friends introduced me to someone who wanted to be a writer. She was always writing and asked me if I wanted to start a blog, I had never thought about that. So, I started my first blog.
LGM: What brought you to SCAD?
TJ: While I was here working, all of a sudden the writing program expanded from Savannah. Only a few faculty members knew that I wrote. They kept saying I should apply to the program. I finally made up my mind to do it. Here I am! It is a lot of work. It is a tremendous amount of work. I have so much respect for the students here at SCAD. I am only doing one class a quarter. I have students that are full-time parents, who work, commute and take a full load. I applaud them all of the time. I am screaming and whining about my one class.
LGM: Do you remember when your passion for reading and writing began?
TJ: My mom always made me read as a kid. She would buy all of these books for my birthday and she would put money toward the back. I couldn’t get the money until I read the book. I was always like, “I want my money.” I tell people I read “The Color Purple” when I was in elementary school. As a child a lot of the concepts went over my head. I think that my love for reading transformed into my love of writing. It gives you that whole imagination and it takes you to a whole new place.
LGM: When did you have that “light bulb” moment that school was going to be the next phase for you?
TJ: It wasn’t anything that I was taking seriously, then I noticed that I had notebooks and notebooks laying around the house. I never even thought about going back to school. I was not interested in school anymore. I was already in enough debt. My best friend encouraged me. I think the first poem that I wrote was called “Why I Can’t Get a Man.” Everybody loved it.
LGM: How has the Internet played a role in your writing?
TJ: My friends and I used to sit around, when we were single, and talk about men. We would always have this conversation about how black girls don’t date. We were like, “we just don’t know how to date, we just don’t do it right.” One day I said to my friends, “I am going to start a blog and it’s going to be called “Black Girls Don’t Date.” I am just going to tell stories of all the bad dates I have been on. And the horrible — just bad experiences with men I have had. I started that blog and when I did, everyone was like “you really have an idea with this.”
LGM: How has being enrolled in classes affected your blog writing?
TJ: I still have my blog. I do not blog as often. It is funny to blog about not dating because I have been dating the same person for a really long time. I took some of the blogs into my classes and made them into longer detailed stories. One of my stories was selected for a reading at the Decatur Book Festival. It was wonderful; my parents drove from Virginia.
LGM: How has your writing improved since taking classes at SCAD?
TJ: There is always room for improvement. I take the information that I am given and I share it. A lot of times when people write the point they are trying to make is totally missed because one element is missing — maybe the scene is not described well. I like to learn, I hate to not know, school has always been important to me.
LGM: How has your real world experience compared to your classroom education?
TJ: I think that my imagination has helped me tremendously. I tell people, even in the way that I talk, I am a storyteller. Sometimes it comes out better with me speaking it. That was my problem. I feel like I tell people better than I write it. When I found out how to write it like I tell it, then it all came together for me. I have to attribute that to the classes that I have taken here at SCAD.
I think that everybody feels like they are the best artist in the whole world. When you get into class and they critique you, you get some reality. You have to understand that everybody that comes to grad school, everybody, is the best of where they are from. You have a collective group of people who are the most fabulous — that is only going to make you raise your game.
LGM: Have you fantasized about your dream career?
TJ: When I was in undergrad I had no idea what I was going to do. One day I visited one of my advisors and it totally changed my life. If I was that lost I wondered how many others were that lost. She is the reason I have done what I have. I went back for homecoming and thanked her. It was the way that she spoke to me that made me comfortable and gave me enough gumption to do it on my own. I do not mind a 9-to-5. I am pursing an M.F.A. because I want to teach. Patting myself on the back, I think that I could convey my lessons well to others. Somewhere in the Caribbean! During the summers I would be laid up [smiles].