|First BFA Graduate of IAIA’s Creative Writing Program|
|By RAMONA CROFOOT|
|SANTA FE””Terry Gomez, Comanche, has been blessed by the Pope at the Vatican and staged productions of her plays in New York City. She can now also add receiving IAIA’s first bachelor’s degree in creative writing to her list of accomplishments.
Many people told Gomez that she didn’t need to get her degree because she is already published, but she felt she needed to finish her degree for herself. Gomez also hopes her two children will get their college degrees.
“I can get after them better to complete their education if I have my degree,” she said.
Although Gomez could have completed her Bachelor’s degree in one semester at the University of New Mexico, she decided to return to IAIA after learning of the creation of the four-year program. The prior support of creative writing professors Arthur Sze and Jon Davis and her fellow IAIA students influenced this decision. She had previously attended IAIA from 1992-95, graduating with her associate’s degree in 1995 with a double major in creative writing and two-dimensional art.
Gomez returned to IAIA the fall semester of 2001. “It took a year longer to get my degree but I feel like I definitely made the right choice in coming back to IA,” stated Gomez. She was really impressed with the improvement of the facilities and the new classes. She also enjoyed meeting a whole new group of IAIA students.
“I feel like the second time around the people that I met were a lot more dedicated and serious about what they were doing and becoming artists and writers,” shared Gomez.
The Productive In-Between Years
The six years separating her two different IAIA experiences were busy ones for Gomez. She participated in a number of readings and exhibitions and also organized two readings with IAIA, one with alumni and one with students. Two of her plays, “Intertribal” and “Reunion,” had staged productions in New York City. She also had several different jobs ranging from substitute teaching, illustrating for the National Indian Telecommunications Institute, and working at the IAIA Museum examining the collection for damage.
A playwright and short story writer, Gomez has been published numerous times. Her work can be found in the 1996 “Contemporary Plays by Women of Color;” various IAIA student anthologies; the University of Arizona student journal, “Red Ink”; the 2002 anthology of native women writers entitled “Sister Nation”; and the 2003 women’s academic journal of the University of Nebraska “Frontier.” Her plays have also been taught in university classes at the University of California-Los Angeles and Oklahoma University.
A recently divorced mother of two children, this graduation is a personal accomplishment for Gomez. Her education has taken many turns throughout the years.
Not An Easy Path
“I came from the kind of high school where most of the Indian kids were told to go to Vo-Tech,” stated Gomez. She was not encouraged to plan for anything and she doesn’t remember anybody asking her what she wanted to do or what her goals were.
“I liked to write, paint and draw but I had no idea I would ever be able to do anything with it. There weren’t too many Indian artists. Two of my uncles painted and struggled all their lives. It wasn’t until after he died that my Uncle Doc Tate Nevaquaya was recognized as a national treasure,” shared Gomez.
Gomez has always had an interest in writing. “I’ve written since I was a little kid. My family life wasn’t exactly stable. Whenever anything would go wrong, I would go to my room and write,” she said.
Gomez also remembers winning a prize from the Forest Service in fourth grade for writing about trees. She has known that she wanted to write towards an Indian audience since she was young, but her mother kept telling her she couldn’t do that.
“She probably knew it would be a hard way to go and it has been. But when I do art and write is when I feel best about myself. And teaching””I like working with little kids,” Gomez shared.
Two Fateful Events
With much pressure from her mother, Gomez first went to college at the University of Colorado in Boulder, Colo., at the age of seventeen. It was during this time that Gomez first heard of IAIA. She hitchhiked from Boulder to Santa Fe to visit her boyfriend at IAIA, back in the days when the school was still on the Indian school campus.
Gomez remembers this time as a period when she was more interested in having fun than going to her classes. Although she rarely went to class, she did keep up with her assignments.
As a creative writing major, Gomez dropped out during her third semester after a negative experience with a creative writing professor and her teaching assistant (TA). Her professor called her in after she handed in a story about her grandmother she was proud of, and knew was good. Her professor wanted to know where the story came from. Gomez responded that she had written it the night before and it was about her grandmother.
“I thought the TA would help me since she was Native, too, but she was the one who was running me down. I had no support there,” stated Gomez.
The TA claimed that she had read this story somewhere else and Gomez could not have written it. This situation, the lack of support from the college, and Gomez’s inexperience and naÃ¯veté led her to drop out.
“The whole experience was pretty devastating. I didn’t understand why they were telling me that I plagiarized even though I kept saying it was about my grandmother.”
When asked if she still had the story, Gomez said she had ripped up the original and thrown it away. While at IAIA she tried to re-write it, but the story was lost to her. Gomez feels this situation is a good example of how a professor can affect your life negatively without even knowing it.
Following this, Gomez returned to her home state of Oklahoma.
Changing Directions And Feeling Lost
“I was pretty lost. I didn’t know exactly what I wanted to do. I worked as a waitress, a DJ in a club and at a daycare center””stumbling around from one thing to the next. I even got married for a short time when I was nineteen.”
She decided to leave Oklahoma and eventually found herself in Portland, Oregon. She worked as a secretary for personnel at the BIA. The routine of the job eventually led Gomez to feel like she needed to be doing something else. Her mother was an RN at IHS in Santa Fe at the time and her younger sister in Albuquerque had just had a baby. Her mother suggested she come to New Mexico while they were there. In 1982, Gomez decided to go to school at UNM and moved down to New Mexico.
Her first major at UNM was creative writing. Unfortunately, Gomez had bad critiques of her writing that focused on the grammar and not the content. This led her to believe that her writing was horrible so she changed her major to psychology and sociology. She went to school for one more year and then had her daughter, Autumn Dawn. Her family grew again four years later with the birth of her son Matthew.
After she had her son, Gomez decided she wanted to go back to school. “I felt like writing was what I was meant to do. I’m the happiest when I’m doing it and really feel like myself,” said Gomez.
Following An Instinct
Since she was living in Rio Rancho at the time, she could have gone to UNM. But something told her to go to IAIA.
“My mom would see all the emergencies and the bad things with students coming into the hospital so she wasn’t too encouraging. People kept telling me it was just a party school but I took a chance. With all the luck that I had with writing before, I had an instinct that I knew what I was doing.” And her instinct paid off.
Gomez received positive feedback from Creative Writing Professor Jon Davis right away. “He’s been one of the best professors and friends. He’s one of the most encouraging people I have ever known in my whole life. I think out of all the professors at IA, he’s influenced me the most”“just just because he made me feel like what I had to say was worthwhile. He was always very positive,” shared Gomez.
She makes it clear that he did not give her an easy time. In fact, he gave her a hard time a lot of the time but she also appreciates that. “He’d tell me when my stuff was bad ”“ flat out. But he’d do it in a really constructive way and in a positive manner,” she said.
A Full Experience
Currently, Gomez is working as a full-time substitute elementary school teacher for the Santa Fe Public Schools. She has also recently done a writing residency doing creative writing workshops with middle school students in Blanding,Utah, through the Nizhoni Bridges Program.
“Our kids have a lot to say. Writing and art is a good way for them to express themselves and be heard without getting into a lot of trouble. They have a lot to learn, but we can learn a lot from them, too,” shared Gomez.
Because she enjoys working with children, Gomez is considering becoming certified as a schoolteacher. She would be able to provide for her children and would still have time to do her writing and artwork. Thoughts of pursuing an MFA in dramatic writing are still on her mind, but she’ll probably put this on hold until her children are out of school.
Gomez had some last words to share with the IAIA students. “I would like to encourage all those who stay in there and get their four-year degree. I encourage them to get it if they can and to take every opportunity that comes their way. I feel like I’ve kind of zigzagged but I’ve had some interesting experiences.
“Being a writer and an artist is a hard life, but your life is worthwhile when you’re doing what you like to do. When you are happy, you can make your family happy. My kids see me doing what I want to do and that gives them hope for their lives. Have faith that something good is going to happen and believe in yourself. We have a lot to preserve, share, and teach other people. I think that’s why we’re all there. Being Indian is hard but nobody every told me it would be easy.”
Copyright © 2003 IAIA Chronicle