Sarah Cedeno: I was born in Brockport, NY, a collge town in western NY. I completed my BA and MA in English at SUNY Brockport, where I teach now, with a focus on Creative Writing in fiction mostly. I graduated from Goddard in 2014. I’ve never left Brockport and live here with my husband, my two sons and my dog Maisy. When I was at Goddard, my thesis was a collection of short fiction. And then Goddard happened, and I started writing creative nonfiction.
While I was at Goddard that first summer, I sought out editing opportunities, and there, I found Lizz Schumer, Editor-in-Chief of The Pitkin Review (who now works at NYT). The whole enterprise was organized and meticulous, which needs to be standard in editing. And the submissions were a good introduction to the writers we had on campus, as our pool of submissions came from the MFA students. Initially, I was the nonfiction editor, and then fiction, before moving to Editor-in-Chief. With The Pitkin Review, I had gotten a sense of Goddard as a place and the people it draws in.
Brendon Alekseii: What was that experience like, if you don’t mind me asking?
Sarah Cedeno: I was very nervous. It was my first year at Goddard, but I was the nonfiction genre editor, which allowed me to focus on just a portion of the submissions. It was a fun experience to create a representation of the student body. It was very well-organized when I inherited it as Editor-in-Chief. It was fun selecting and culling pieces that are in conversation with each other, but are telling completely different stories. Ultimately, you have this ability to make composite of time and place. It’s exciting.
Brendon Alekseii: It is. But you mentioned your own writing work in your bio. And for those who might be seeing or reading this and don’t know, you have a collection of essays coming out soon, Not Something We Discuss Often. Can you tell me a little bit more about that?
Sarah Cedeno: It was kind of a whirlwind, how it all came together. These essays were all written probably over the course of the last seven, eight years or so. The whole time I was at Goddard writing short fiction for packets, I was also writing creative nonfiction as a way to process my immersion into motherhood, into a new writing space, and the changing state of my body through illness. I wasn’t thinking about building a collection of creative nonfiction, but when I was in my MFA program, because of how it ended up working in the course of a complex adult life, I was experiencing many MS relapses. I was only beginning to discover what that would eventually mean for my body. The nonfiction writing was an essential part of the fiction process for me. I was writing brief nonfiction and sending it out into the world, and that helped fuel my excitement for creating finished work in fiction, as well.
Brendon Alekseii: And the rest is history, I suppose.
Sarah Cedeno: You try to say, Well, my first book is gonna be this, but sometimes it just happens the way that it happens. You only can say you’ve failed if you’ve given up.
Brendon Alekseii: Okay, if you don’t mind me asking, how do you think your time at Goddard informed not just your writing in general, but this collection of essays in particular.
Sarah Cedeno: When I was writing my collection of short fiction at Goddard, they were based on local news stories that took place in the 20th century Brockport, most of them focused on women. I was reading a lot to deal with the female experience in the 20th century—for example, The Girls Who Went Away about homes for unwed mothers, to letters in the local museum where I worked as village historian. For fiction writers, a rule is to write about what scares you. For me, a lot of my fears have to do with being a woman. A “girl” who spent most her life with the charge of being “dainty” and “becoming.” Through discovering my own voice, I’ve discovered a feminist perspective. And now, how that becomes complicated by illness. Goddard gave me a lot of confidence in my writing as a tool, but also an impulse to share. A responsibility to speak. Which genre are you working in?
Brendon Alekseii: Well, I’m doing screenplay actually. Well, dramatic writing was as a whole what I’m focusing primarily on screenplay, because that’s the one thing I didn’t get an opportunity to explore in my writing life and career before my MFA. So …
Sarah Cedeno: Yeah, that’s awesome! Good for you.
Brendon Alekseii: Thank you.
Brendon Alekseii: Beyond this chapbook How about you tell? Are there any other interesting writing projects that you’re working on, or even just any forms of like, self discovery in your writing that you’re exploring that you feel comfortable talking about?
Sarah Cedeno: I have some essays that I’ve written since the chapbook that I feel need to be linked to the essays in the chapbook simply by content and era. The essays push boundaries further in both public and private ways. But they’re all part of the same composite. I grew up on Spring Street in Brockport, which is probably the least prestigious street in the village, or one of them. It’s low income and pretty much in the industrial section of Brockport. And so one of the things that I’m writing and researching for an essay has to do with environmental pollution and social class. There was a factory two streets down from us called Kleenbrite factory. I can just see it; blue writing, white background. My whole childhood, when I would open the window at the first sign of spring, I would smell laundry detergent. And when it would rain, bubbles would run down the sides of our street. There was soap scum on the cars. After the rain, our leaves were covered in opaque circles of soap scum. And I didn’t think anything of it then. I was 9, 10, not paying much attention to the air we were breathing. Environmental issues were popping up in the industrial section in Brockport at that time. We actually had Erin Brockovich come to Brockport and represent residents who were impacted by chemical dumping in the soil from the 70s. Ironically, the essay I’m writing is sort of a love letter to Spring Street that doesn’t ignore the harder side of an area.
Brendon Alekseii: With all of that, that you shared in mind, and thanks so much for sharing that. I am kinda inspired to ask, why do you think writing is important? Because you know, very often, like, I’m sure you might have experienced that when you were younger, much like I did with my parents, that you should find a real job instead of investing in your writing career. But especially in your life now, given the things that you’re talking about, why do you think that it’s important to share this work in this way?
Sarah Cedeno: Well, empathy, I think is the biggest thing. We can live in our shells, and not recognize other perspectives or the common spaces we do share. Hopefully, people continue to react to tragedy, trauma, and injustice with art.
Brendon Alekseii: One of the things that I find the most interesting and really inspiring about Goddard is beyond just feeling like you’re going to school again, which no one really likes, to be honest. There is a sense of community in seeing people from all different walks of life, different genres, and genre expectations. And especially for me, I’m not from the US, I am doing my residency remotely from Trinidad and Tobago. And one of the things that I’m already dreading because I’m halfway there now is where do I find that community when I’ve left Goddard. So I’d be curious to ask, Where and what is your writing community now? And how does that compare, even to your experience at Goddard?
Sarah Cedeno: I did my undergrad and grad work at Brockport, and now I live here. I’m neightbors and close friends with my creative writing instructor from undergrad and grad school. We share a driveway. It’s a total fluke that it happened the way it did. So that is lucky. I also have a good friend and larger writing community in Rochester, about 20 minutes away, and we all support and encourage each other.
Also, after graduation, alum go back to the Clockhouse Writers Conference in the summer. It was just like being at residency, but without all the pressure. It’s kind of like those reunion shows. You come back together after putting your work to practice in the world. When we came back for the writing conference one year, Julie Parent, Jennifer Yonkowski, Sarah Shellow and others shared teaching methods and writing prompts. We have shared readings based on a theme. We collaborate on creative projects, seek advice from peers. It’s invaluable. We keep in touch with everyone virtually as much as we can. I just participated in a reading last month. I think of Goddard still as a solid pillar of my writing community.
Brendon Alekseii: I think I have one last question. And it’s a kind of typical question, but I’m still gonna ask it. What, what advice or what might you share in general to writers contemplating an MFA at Goddard or anywhere else?
Sarah Cedeno: I matured a lot. I was an adult—I had kids when I started, but I went through a sort of growth in terms of the writing process. Some of it is patience. Understanding that some stories need time—no matter the genre. Also, an MFA program makes writing a sustained priority in a way that the world will not.
Brendon Alekseii: And lastly, tell us where you can find your book! When does it come out? How can we get our hands on it?
Sarah Cedeno: Not Something We Discuss Often comes out on November 4th (2022). I will have a link on my website, which is www.sarahmcedeno.com. And it’s not there yet, but I will put a link up. It’ll be available on Amazon and from Harbor Editions directly.