The Mark Blog

Bookmark This: Johnny Alfi On Unearthing His Real Desire

Johnny Alfi, 2012 Emerging Voices Alum, writes about how his former lack of ambition (dead end jobs, 18 failed job interviews) obscured his real desire to be a writer. With the help of his friends, the Emerging Voices Fellowship became the push he needed to pursue his dream.  

“Today I stand on a mountain with the cosmos circling me. My life is totally in order and, this fall, I get to start an MFA in Fiction at Brooklyn College. Once upon a time, my life was not super-glamorous. I sold cell phone cases for near minimum wage, ate frozen pizza in excess, and botched, like, eighteen job interviews. I’d show up late because I didn’t actually care about Risk Management. I felt stuck and depressed and so did my then-girlfriend, and who could blame her? Every time her parents asked if I’d found a job yet, she was reminded that I was mentally challenged enough to have the asinine goal of writing professionally. 
During a workshop at UCLA with the late Les Plesko, a fellow writer I admired shared the news that she had been named a PEN Center USA Emerging Voices Fellow. It sounded fancy and I wanted it. I envied her. Come application season, I sent her my Q&A and writing sample. She told me I was a genius and I had no choice but to believe her. Les wrote me a letter of recommendation and, next thing I knew, I was on time for an interview at the PEN Center USA office.
Being named an Emerging Voices Fellow was a pivotal moment for me as a writer, obviously. But more than the Los Angeles Times shout outs, the Daily Bruin article, or the Final Reading at the Hammer Museum, the true gift from PEN Center USA is lasting friendship and community. Writing is hard, but it’s so much easier pursuing it alongside those as insane and romantic as you.
Community is important. I cherish the limitless support I received and continue to receive from PEN Center USA staff and my mentor, Ben Ehrenreich, who read every single page of my novel; the camaraderie between fellows past and present; the authors generous enough to meet with us on Mondays; the small quips of validation that go such a long way; and, mostly, being surrounded by those with an endless love for the craft of writing. 
I’m lucky to have spent a better year of my life alongside Rayne Gasper, Sacha Howell, Chelsea Hodson, Nathan Go, and Amanda Fletcher. I’m no longer the quiet dude stooped on a bar stool at readings. I'm a fellow writer because Les, my then-girlfriend, and 2011 EV Fellow Azarin Sadegh pushed me to apply. I hope this essay does the same for you.”
Johnny Alfi was born and raised in Los Angeles. In 2008, he earned a BA in Art History from UCLA. He was named a 2011 Kirkwood Literary Prize nominee and, in 2012, a PEN Center USA Emerging Voices Fellow. His work has appeared in The RumpusThe Coachella Review, and Writers Tribe Review. He is currently working on a debut novel, Saturday Morning Sadness, and will be attending the MFA program in Fiction at Brooklyn College this fall.
The deadline to apply for the 2015 Emerging Voices Fellowship is August 11. Don’t delay! Click here to apply.
And please support the Emerging Voices Fellowship by donating to our Kickstarter Campaign. Any amount counts!