Misha Ponnuraju is a Fulbright Alternate. Misha is a 2020 graduate in English with an Emphasis in Creative Writing and Minor in Art History, a Phi Beta Kappa member, and Humanities Honors Program participant. She also served as a tutor for the Center for Excellence in Writing & Communication and led the literary journal New Forum and the comedy sketch group Soulstice League. Currently, Misha is a Programs Intern for Kundiman, an Asian American literary non-profit organization. She also is a Marketing and Publishing Intern for the James Patterson team at Little, Brown, and Company. As a poet, educator, and social media strategist, she hopes to continue her cultivation of supportive, creative communities and continue writing memoir, poetry, and screenplays.

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1)  If we ask one of your friends to describe you, what would they say?

My friends would likely describe me as "very busy," which I would agree with. In a recent letter-exchange, my friend told me, "You're just a chick taking steps on a journey"— which is absolutely true. I have wonderful people in my life who have witnessed me evolve tremendously. They've watched me grow from being a student leader to a post-graduate, navigating the literary industry as a professional and a writer. It is joyful and humbling to share my growth (and growing pains) with them. I have been fortunate enough to share stories and laughter with my friends, so if I am lucky, they would likely describe me as creative and funny. They are a big part of my heart, so I hope they would call me loving too.

2)  What life events or personal mentorships, if any, directed you to the field of study you have chosen for your future endeavors?

My time in various writing workshops at UC Irvine have undoubtedly changed me, shaped my ambition, and guided my own creative practices.These spaces allowed me to not only trust my own voice and impulse for storytelling, but understand that true creativity is fostered within a community. My mentorship with Professor Jayne Lewis in particular helped me expand as a writer and reader. Witnessing her lead our Humanities Honors cohort helped me understand that, through a loving environment with insightful and imaginative conversations, emerging writers and thinkers have the chance to be their best selves. Sometimes encouraging and understanding someone's vision can change the trajectory of their story, of their coming-of-age as a writer or artist. I want to be able to support others in this way. It is a way of loving others that feels true to me. Additionally, working with Professor Lewis and Professor Susan Davis on my creative writing thesis gave me the courage to indulge in my own curiosities and trust my artistic instincts. I have definitely carried this energy, intentionality, and passion into the workshop spaces I have created — specifically the Dirty Cowboys Café. Now, I have the pleasure of participating in Roots Wounds Words' creative nonfiction workshop, Penning My Pieces. I find myself in the precarious position of writing in a new genre and pushing myself as a storyteller. It's been difficult but the encouragement and support I received as an undergrad embolden me to continue.

3)  How and why did you choose the Fulbright Scholarship opportunity and what was your experience like working under the tutelage of your SOP advisor?

I chose the Fulbright Scholarship opportunity because I have a lot of unanswered questions about my family's history and our place within a larger historical and global context. Creative writing—namely poetry and creative nonfiction—are the most natural ways for me to attempt answering these questions. The Fulbright Scholarship had a great capacity to support this level of inquiry. It also is a fantastic opportunity to enter conversations that transcend borders, languages, and generations—an expansiveness that would allow my project to come to fruition.

Working under the tutelage of my SOP advisor, Courtney Santos, made Fulbright possible for me. When I began the Fulbright process, the world was in the early stage of the pandemic. It was difficult to plan for a future project in a time of such uncertainty. Additionally, no one in my family or immediate community has pursued something as intimidating as Fulbright, and I did not initially believe that I would be capable of pursuing something this intense. However, Courtney really made me believe in my vision and helped me develop a project that matched my artistic and intellectual questions. She supported me with such generosity and kindness. Her validation of my writing and art is still something that carries me forward today.

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