By Jefferson Beavers, communication specialist, Department of English
Three students from the College of Arts Humanities—Nohemi Samudio Gamis, Will Freeney, and Paul Sanchez—were awarded fellowships as part of Yonsei Memory Project’s “Storytelling for Change” program. The program trains new and experienced writers, artists, activists, organizers, students, and local community members in the power of crafting detailed, heart-moving, and inspiring personal stories that touch upon themes of civil injustice and civil liberties. Founded by poet and English assistant professor, Brynn Saito and artist and farmer Nikiko Masumoto, Yonsei Memory Project (YMP) utilizes arts and storytelling to generate dialogue connecting the WWII incarceration of the Japanese American community with current struggles for justice.
Two of the Fellows, Paul Sanchez and Will Freeney, are graduate students in the Master of Fine Arts Program in Creative Writing, and one, Nohemi Samudio Gamis, is an undergraduate in the Department of English. All fourteen Fellows—a diverse, intergenerational cohort from many parts of the Central Valley—will perform at the Fresno Soap Co Theater in the Tower District on the weekends of October 27-28 and November 3-4. Tickets and information are available at Brown Paper Tickets.
“The Yonsei Memory Project Storytelling Fellowship has been an honor, a privilege, and a joy to participate in. We, the Fellows/participants, have been encouraged to each find and use our unique voices. The workshop with visiting instructor, Brian Komei Dempster, helped focus our writing toward a compelling live performance piece. I am looking forward to honing that piece and presenting it in just two weeks.”
First-year Master of Fine Arts graduate student Will Freeney says his work has been steadily moving toward social justice issues. He studies creative nonfiction, and he writes for the local Fresno Flyer magazine, where he has contributed interviews, stories, and op-ed pieces. Freeney has written about ballot measures, statewide political candidates, and issues affecting the local homeless population as part of their “Another Face of Homelessness” profile series. He previously wrote human interest stories for the weekly magazine of the Eureka Times-Standard.
A native of Turlock, Freeney went to Leigh High School in San Jose. He earned his BA in English from Northwest Nazarene University and an MA in English from Sacramento State, where he served as co-editor of the Calaveras Station journal. He is currently an editorial assistant for The Normal School magazine. Freeney hopes the Yonsei Memory Project fellowship helps him hone his writing skills on a piece that’s intended specifically for performance — “to literally have a voice for justice,” he says.
Nohemi Samudio Gamis
“To me, the YMP Fellowship has been a place of unconditional support and encouragement. Getting the opportunity to work alongside talented individuals and instructors who understand the power of words has been both refreshing and a reaffirmation that when people get together to help one another, great things happen. This is the kind of program I’ve been waiting for and I’m beyond grateful that I get to be a part of it all.”
Undergraduate English major Nohemi Samudio Gamis says that identity and the dynamics of relationships define her writing work. Also minoring in creative writing, she finds herself drawn to writing as an avenue to explore the struggles, insecurities, and confusion that can come with a person’s identity — national, cultural, or otherwise. “How people interact, bond, grow, or exist alongside one other is one of the most interesting things to me,” Samudio Gamis says. “I try to write fiction and nonfiction that explores different types of relationships between different types of people.”
A native of Tecate, Baja California, Samudio Gamis moved to the Central Valley at age 3 and went to Central West High School in Fresno. In spring 2018, she won both the Fresno Fiction Prize and the Fresno Creative Nonfiction Prize for an undergraduate student in the Creative Writing Program’s annual writing awards competition. Samudio Gamis hopes the Yonsei Memory Project fellowship helps her learn the craft of storytelling for performance, learn to be both a better speaker and listener, and learn “more about myself and my capabilities, to have the courage to put myself and my work out there,” she says.
“The YMP Fellowship is reviving the lost practice of community storytelling.”
When asked what themes his creative writing explores, third-year Master of Fine Arts graduate student Paul Sanchez had a short answer: “Personal resilience.” His poetry has been published in Undercurrent, Flies, Cockroaches & Poets, the San Joaquin Review, and the PACIFIC Review. He hopes the Yonsei Memory Project fellowship helps him “write and tell some stories within a different genre and form than I am used to writing.”
Born in Germany on an American Army base, Sanchez’s roots are in Southern California. He earned his BA in English from Fresno State, and he enrolled here specifically because he wanted to read and write poetry here — the university associated with two national poet laureates and countless published writers. In his time as a grad student, he has served as president of the Chicanx Writers and Artists Association and as the senior associate poetry editor for The Normal School magazine. Sanchez has two daughters who “are the reason my sun shines,” he says.
Brynn Saito, Assistant Professor, Department of English contributed to this story.