Cleyvis Natera | Guest Writer for MFA Program

A photo of Cleyvis Natera

Hood's creative writing MFA program welcomes Cleyvis Natera as guest writer for June 2024 residency.



  • Creative Writing (MFA)


  • English & Communication Arts

Cleyvis Natera is an award-winning novelist, essayist and critic. Her debut novel, Neruda on the Park, was awarded a Silver Medal by the International Latino Book Awards for Best First Book of Fiction in 2023. Natera is the recipient of the 2024 Voices Rising Fellowship at the Vermont Studio Center. This prestigious award was established in honor of groundbreaking women writers of color such as Maya Angelou, Toni Morrison and Zora Neale Hurston. Her work has appeared in The New York Times Book Review, TIME, Gagosian Quarterly, The Kenyon Review, Aster(ix) and Kweli Journal. Natera has been supported through awards, fellowships and artist residencies by PEN America, Hermitage Artist Retreat, Virginia Center for the Creative Arts and Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference, among others. She teaches fiction at Barnard College of Columbia University and Antioch University’s Low-Residency MFA program. Natera’s second novel, The Grand Paloma Resort, is forthcoming in 2025.

In summer 2024, Natera will serve as a guest writer for the new low-residency MFA in creative writing at Hood College. In the conversation below, she discusses how she transitioned from the corporate world to a full-time writing career and offers advice for students.

When did you first become interested in writing and what sparked your passion?

My passion for writing emerged naturally from a deep love of reading. I became a voracious reader in middle school and spent most afternoons in my local library in Harlem, NYC, lost in stories. By the time I arrived in college, I was eager to start writing my own stories. I took my first creative writing class as a freshman at Skidmore College with Steven Millhauser, who happened to win the Pulitzer Prize that Spring during my first writing workshop. I’m not saying my being his student had anything to do with his winning. I’ll leave that connection to others. HA! But something magical happened to me during that first class. It was the first time in my life that the idea of making a life as a writer, that it could be a viable profession, became a possibility. For many reasons, I didn’t pursue writing full time as a career for many years. I was invited to the Saratoga Book Festival in October 2023 to speak about my debut, Neruda on the Park, and it was such a lovely homecoming. Being back in my college town, where I’d first dreamed of becoming a published author, was so wonderful. I met up with Millhauser at our favorite local diner (I see him almost every time I’m back in Saratoga Springs). He had just published his 14th book, and I was celebrating the sale of my second novel. It’s such a beautiful thing to have stayed in touch with my first creative writing teacher after all these years. For most of the time that had elapsed, I wasn’t confident it was in the cards for me to get published. Millhauser’s confidence I’d make it as a writer never wavered.

Your first novel, Neruda on the Park, deals with topical issues, such as immigration, gentrification, and generational tensions. What do you hope readers take away from the book?

The biggest concern my book explores is around the concept of home. What does it mean to make a home away from what is familiar? How do we protect the homes we make or are born into? How does sacrifice, love and revolt play into our concepts of safety? I hope the book serves as a way for my readers to consider what they owe the places and the people who have made them who and what they’ve become.

You recently won a Silver Medal from the International Latino Book Awards for Best First Book of Fiction in 2023—congratulations! How does it feel to have received this honor? Why do you believe it is important to celebrate diverse voices in the literary community?

I found out I won the award when I landed at home after serving as a judge for the 2024 International Neustadt Prize in Literature. It had been a truly wonderful experience, speaking about groundbreaking writers, carefully reading and analyzing entire bodies of work by those writers, and reaching consensus with the fellow jurors, who also happened to be writers I deeply admire. Learning I’d won the award as I emerged from this transcendent time was truly humbling for me. I had special insights into how deserving all nominated books are and how difficult it is to land on the most deserving title. Knowing the brilliant and urgent books published alongside my book has made me feel fortunate as a life-long reader to be writing during this time. Being acknowledged by my peers has acted as an accelerant—it has fueled the urgency I feel to continue to do my best work.

You teach at Antioch’s low-residency program. What do you see as the benefits of the low-residency model?

As someone who has an MFA from a traditional program (I am an alumna of NYU), I love working on a low-residency model and wish this had been an option I considered as a full-time employee pursuing my degree many years ago. I have seen, firsthand, how students thrive in this model. It provides a balanced approach to starting or completing a full-length book, be it poetry, fiction or nonfiction. It creates the opportunity for an instant community with likeminded and passionate people who will be at a similar stage in their professional goals and skills. It provides access to brilliant and talented teachers who will instruct and inspire.

We’re thrilled to be hosting you at Hood College next year! What are your plans and hopes for your time as a guest writer at the low-res MFA program at Hood?

My biggest hope is to connect to students who are on the journey to discovering their voices and their stories. It is my favorite stage at which to connect to students. I love sharing the ups and downs of a writing journey, and so I’m also excited to connect to my peers, the fellow faculty members, who will be part of this exciting new program.

Can you tease anything about your upcoming novel, The Grand Paloma Resort?

No! I’m not speaking about this book at all while I’m in the process of finishing it. But by the time I see everyone at Hood College in June, I will be bubbling with excitement to tell you all about it. Find me, ask me about it, let’s dish.

Learn more about Hood’s new low-residency MFA program here.