Written by Dennis Sweeney - MFA, Oregon State University (2015)
I got the email that said I’d been selected for a Fulbright fellowship the morning of my MFA thesis defense. I ran out of my office in the basement of Moreland and found my roommate, who was headed up the stairs to teach his Fiction Writing class, and wrapped him in a hug as I told him the news. My world had exploded. After Eric went off to class I frantically wandered the office hallways, then burst out the fire door to the sidewalk outside of Moreland and called my mom. When we got off the phone, I kept pacing around like I was on fire. I didn’t know what to do with my body. I still don’t.
In mid-September, I’ll get off a plane in Malta, a 122 square mile island fifty miles south of Sicily and 207 miles north of Libya. A representative from the U.S. Embassy will meet me there and take me to an Airbnb that I’ll stay at for two weeks. During those two weeks, I’ll meet the administrators and teachers at the school where I’ll be helping with English instruction—the National Sports School, or L-Iskola Nazzjonali tal-Isport. I’ll also attend a new student orientation at the University of Malta, where I’ll be teaching a class and maybe enrolling in others. I’ll make contact with one of the many organizations that recruit volunteers to work with the refugees on the island. I’ll find a place to live for the year. I’ll join a soccer team. I’ll go for runs, always keeping an eye out for cars on Malta’s narrow, crowded streets. I’ll also write, as I’ve done since I first moved away from the U.S. five years ago, whether it’s in buses, bus stations, during breaks between classes, or on the floor of whatever apartment I manage to find. Some of that writing will appear in the online magazine Entropy, here.
An hour after I got the news, I walked across campus to teach my own Fiction Writing class. I didn’t tell them what I’d learned. There’s a certain vulnerability that you keep for yourself as a teacher, and I was so fresh with the news that I would only have been able to shout in exultation. So I bit my tongue for fifty minutes, then came back to Moreland, where I assembled a series of fruit baskets in preparation for my thesis defense.
Happily, I passed. I quoted David Foster Wallace for the thousandth time in my life, read a little from The Rolodex Happenings, and encouraged all attendees to take some fruit. I forgot entirely to tell people that I’d gotten the Fulbright. I left the room, empty by the time I’d gathered the leftovers, and recalled only once I was on my bike to go home that I hadn’t said a word about it.
The last few months have been a slow process of making this thing known. I run into acquaintances in my hometown, Cincinnati, and they do a double take when I tell them where I’ll be going. I’m hesitant to post too widely about it on Facebook, lest something go wrong. I can hardly believe my good fortune, but soon enough I’ll have to.
Like my time at Oregon State, my nine months in Malta will pass in an instant. But I’ll be there the entire time.