Feature Megan Neeley

Shonda Buchanan visits Alma College




Professors have expressed students’ hunger for Shonda Buchanan’s literary works. Buchanan, an award-winning poet and educator, is now working for the Master Fine Arts program in Creative Writing here at Alma College.

Among her most accomplished works is her memoir, Black Indian, an intergenerational telling of Buchanan’s “large extended family of many diversities, loaded with the slippery complexities of a myriad ethnic experiences,” according to her website.

“My family was loud and volatile and there was addiction and abuses. As a kid… maybe I focused so much on nature and my environment… because my family was so loud and volatile so… I internalized things,” said Buchanan when describing her biggest inspiration for her many writings. 

Her memoir, having topics of difficult and painful family dynamics shows cycles of abuse that can be related to her own experiences. “I think it was beautiful, but also in terms of my childhood, I think there were moments of despair,” said Buchanan. 

“Writing was my salvation… I think a lot of young people who experience those kinds of traumas… don’t understand because they’re a kid… for me… I would write it… this is what happened, this is how I feel about it. I was expressing myself but also giving myself space to process it,” said Buchanan when describing how writing was woven into her life. “I guess that’s therapy.”

Inspiration also came from books for Buchanan, specifically I am the Darker Brother by Charlemae Rollins and others. “I think I got this book at maybe nine or ten… I think if I had not found that book and taken it from my cousin and read that book maybe 20 times and saw how black poets… defined self-hood as black people in America, as mixed raced people… if I didn’t see how they were using language to define themselves, I think it would have been harder for me to be a poet,” said Buchanan. 

It is also interesting to note Buchanan’s Kalamazoo roots. Students at Alma will be able to relate to her Michigan background. “The landscape permeated my writing… I think growing up in Kalamazoo and also having my grandfather’s farm to go to in Matawan… always gave me a sense of wealth, like richness, in terms of my physical environment,” said Buchanan.

“I love to have local professors that can be a little more understanding of things even as small as the weather on campus. It’s just cool to be able to relate to someone else from Michigan that is teaching me new stuff,” said Eli Mull (’26).

As previously mentioned, Buchanan is now a faculty member working with MFA students in Creative Writing. The atmosphere glows when she speaks about teaching. 

“Every time I’ve gone into a classroom, I’m like ‘Oh, I can teach,’ you know? I’m thinking about what I can teach here, like, I can bring in the Harlem Renaissance, you know? So, I’m inspired… There’s so many things that students at Alma College might not be getting and my whole scholarship is African American, American Indian, Black Indian… I’m so happy to be here,” said Buchanan. 

Buchanan also visited many classrooms to read to and discuss numerous things with students, from which she has received admiring responses.

“She had so much to say about her background and the ideas that inspired her poetry… I learned a lot from the short time I spent in her presence,” said Marissa Luzac (‘24).

Students interested in joining the MFA program to work with Professor Buchanan, can reach out to any MFA faculty member.

The program is looking forward to holding two residencies in Michigan and Venice, Italy in 2023-2024.

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