Where Are They Now? Alumni Spotlight: Freda Epum

Freda Epum

Freda Epum '19 | Photo credit: Heba Hayek

Miami Experience

Freda’s introduction to Miami was abrupt and difficult. She had planned on attending another school in New Mexico when their program imploded. Freda, who is Nigerian American and grew up in Tucson, Arizona, recommends that prospective students, especially students of color and those coming from more urban settings, visit Miami before making final decisions.

[The small college town of Oxford and predominately white student body at Miami] was a major culture shock. I would tell anyone to just visit. It’s hard to go into those types of really small spaces. If you don’t visit, you need to figure out how to get acclimated to the changes.

I wish the program would do more outreach stuff in Cincinnati. Especially for students of color who are in the program. Any way that could expand the small space that Oxford is and seeing it more as a regional community would be really cool.

But I would recommend [the MFA] to other people. I got a lot out of the program, especially going into my first year being out of the program. I would not have been able to get the kind of teaching experience that I did if it wasn’t for the creative writing program being connected to the rhetoric and composition program and having the pedagogy focus that it does.

Freda said she values the theory and African American literature classes she took at Miami too. Courses with professors Detloff and Dunning on subjects such as Afro Pessimism and Black feminist theory translate directly to the work she does now at Public Allies. Ultimately, though, she stayed at Miami because of the supportive nature of the program and community:

I think the mentorship that I received from Cathy Wagner, cris cheek, and Daisy Hernandez, and TaraShea Nesbit was really great. It gave me two years to be paid to write, even though it was a small stipend, that’s pretty much the reality anywhere. When I talked with some other people, they said they didn’t have the type of community that our program did. I think that’s something I really benefited from because I still talk to a bunch of people from the program and I think we’ll still be in each other’s writing lives for a while.

Braving the Job Market

At first, Freda applied to PhD programs in creative writing and teaching jobs. Then she realized her teaching and writing center skills from Miami, as well as her previous experiences with social justice and internships at art and developmental disability nonprofits, made her a good candidate for nonprofit work:

I had a lot of experience teaching diverse groups of people, and I think that helped me when I was applying for nonprofit jobs. But it was hard. A lot of times I would get to the very end, the second interview or something, and then not get chosen.

Her advice for those going from English degree programs to jobs in nonprofits:

Think about transferable skills that you get from the program [at Miami]. The fact that I studied about race and now my job has a lot of social justice stuff, that’s one transferable skill. Think about what you’re doing in the program that doesn’t directly relate to being a professional writer, that you could put on a resume that might impress other people.

Working at Public Allies, Cincinnati

Freda just celebrated her one year anniversary working at Public Allies, a national AmeriCorps program with 24 offices throughout the United States. The nonprofit apprenticeship program typically has 20-25 apprentices (allies) who are with the organization for 10 month stints, serving at nonprofits, doing special projects and training. This Public Allies outpost is run by only two staff members, so Freda stays busy.

I do a lot of thinking and I do a lot of writing. I’m the program manager of our training and learning series. [Allies] learn things about nonprofit management or volunteer management and we have a power and privilege series where we go over various isms, like heterosexism, racism, disability, justice, and stuff like that. The way we recruit for the program is that we try to be intentionally diverse. In my experience there have been people who have come from a homeless background. There have been people who are getting their PhDs. People who are older in age.

And the way we approach it is that we are trying to give power to people who are the most marginalized and underrepresented, especially the nonprofit field and other sectors. We are trying to create this model of change. If you give this opportunity to this one person in this local network of Cincinnati, then they’ll be able to grow their own networks in Cincinnati and those networks will have connections nationally, and then eventually through these interconnecting circles where you’re able to create change on a broader level just by being in this program. 

In addition to curriculum development, overseeing retreats, planning training logistics, and networking with community leaders in Cincinnati, Freda is working on a number of special, often collaborative projects, one of which is the Black American Tree Project, a participatory performance lesson.

It combines research and also nonfiction-inspired stories that I write dialogue for different family members and/or the Black American person we’re focusing on, and for whatever institutional force. So for example, I wrote a script based off of the Sarah Baartman story, and one based off of the guy who founded gynecology, Marion Sims.

She and her creative partner have presented the project at University of Cincinnati, Community Matters, Starfire, and Toronto Summer Institute.

The opportunities that I’ve had to work on projects that might be outside of the normal scope of what I’m supposed to do at my job has been really cool. I’ve gotten to network with a lot of different community leaders in Cincinnati. The growth that I’ve seen of the people in our program. The types of jobs that people get afterwards and how they’re making a difference. It’s been really fulfilling in that way. 

Now, with the unique challenges of a pandemic and BLM protesting, Freda has pivoted to virtual training and developing curriculum that is specific to the kairotic moment:

I developed some curriculum around xenophobia when COVID first hit and then police brutality and police abolition.”

Freda began her studies at Miami in poetry, drawn especially to the work of poet/performer cris cheek. Over the course of her time at Miami, she worked more in creative nonfiction and began to see herself as both a poet and an essayist. She just published her first chapbook this January 2020, Entryways into memories that might assemble me (Iron Horse Literary Review).

Currently, she’s preparing a manuscript to send out to agents, freelance writing for other publications, and hopes to have an article coming out soon about the protests.