Krystal Cantu, Student of Distinction

Krystal Cantu

In the Fall of 2018, a serious car accident fractured Krystal Cantu’s spine in three places — challenging her determination to continue her education. In her perseverance, she has continued to thrive in her education — earning further respect from the English department faculty and colleagues.

“She spent two weeks in the hospital rehabilitating and fighting because that’s who she is — a fighter — and she continues today to deal with the aftermath and the lingering pain,” said Steven Church, Associate Professor of English, Coordinator, MFA Program in Creative Writing. “When she could’ve easily given up and gone home to focus on healing, Krystal stayed and went to work getting better and finishing her school work for the semester. She’s still recovering, still fighting, and I’m humbled to see how much she gives to this University and to her classmates and to our writing community, as well as how she faces life’s challenges with determination, hard work, and a positive attitude.”

Born and raised on the South Side of Chicago, Krystal Cantu received her B.A. in English from Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts before coming to Fresno State to complete her Master of Fine Arts (MFA) in Creative Writing. Her fiction writing shines a light on her home neighborhood in Chicago, Little Village, offering a unique kind of grace and dignity to all the characters there.

In her brief time at Fresno State, Cantu has made a long-lasting impact on the writing community.

“Krystal is an innovative artist, writer and human being, most kind and willing to assist others. Always prepared to explore a new realm of art for a new community in the making. Krystal is her name – a crystal that distributes light,” said former U.S. Poet Laureate Juan Felipe Herrera.

“In her classes, Krystal is a leader and generous peer who works hard to approach her classmates’ writing with care and commitment. She brings energy, passion, and good humor to an environment—the graduate level creative writing workshop–that can often be stressful and challenging,” said Church.

Cantu has been awarded the Philip Levine Scholarship, the Whitney Alan Fisher Memorial Scholarship, the Edward and Alberta Brown Scholarship, two Graduate Nonresident Tuition Waivers, a Graduate Assistantship for The Normal School literary magazine, and a Graduate Artist Assistantship for the Laureate Lab Visual Words Studio in the Henry Madden Library.

When she leaves Fresno State, Cantu plans to work in publishing and start her own literary magazine dedicated to publishing women writers of color.

Personal Narrative

As I near the end of my graduate program, I realize just how far I’ve come since the beginning of my journey in Fresno. I was born and raised on the south side of Chicago and love my home dearly, which has made it all that much more difficult to be on my own and far from my family and my city. There have been countless times I’ve almost quit and bought a flight back to Chicago, but I stuck it out because I saw all the opportunities I would be missing out on if I left.

Since my first year here I’ve made sure to take advantage of every offer within the program that was given to me. I’ve worked with The Normal School as a Graduate Assistant, an Editorial Intern, an Online Managing Editor, a Senior Associate Genre Editor, and an Assistant Managing Editor, and everything that I’ve learned working with the magazine has been irrevocably beneficial. I’ve also been able to attend the AWP conference every year with The Normal School which has taught me so much about the world of writing and publishing.

In addition to my involvement with The Normal School, I’ve worked with and for the University in several capacities. I was the Graduate Artist in the Laureate Lab Visual Wordist Studio and was able to work closely with Juan Felipe Herrera, who showed me new ways to think about creativity, art and poetry. I have also worked for Fresno State’s Graduate Writing Studio and have learned about the writing process from working with graduate students from all disciplines. I have also participated in the Young Writers Conference and led workshops where I taught high school kids about writing, which was one of the highlights of the program.

The past three years in the MFA program will without a doubt help me realize my dreams of working in publishing and editing. After I graduate from Fresno State, I plan to move back to Chicago and work at a press or publishing house, or maybe even a magazine. While I’m working, I’d also like to start planning how and when to launch my own literary magazine that will be geared specifically towards women writers of color.

This goal of mine won’t be easy, and it’ll take a lot of perseverance and determination. But I’m no stranger to tough times, and I know I can make it through just about anything. Even after breaking my spine in a car accident a few months ago, I didn’t let myself give up. I’m excited to be finishing my first book and graduating with my Masters and I know I wouldn’t have made it this far without the support of the people in the program. I’m immensely proud of myself and couldn’t be more grateful to the Fresno writing community for teaching and supporting me in many different ways.


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The College of Arts and Humanities provides a diverse student population with the communication skills, humanistic values and cultural awareness that form the foundation of scholarship. The college offers intellectual and artistic programs that engage students and faculty and the community in collaboration, dialog and discovery. These programs help preserve, illuminate and nourish the arts and humanities for the campus and for the wider community.

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