Reflection: Mario Alberto Zambrano

I was a dancer before I became a writer. At 30 years old, after a 13-year career, I had developed a penchant for literature and wanted to go back to school. From across the world—I was living in Japan at the time—I searched the Internet for undergraduate programs that could offer something like what I’d heard an MFA program in creative writing was meant to provide. I found the Riggio Program at The New School—it had just started that same year—and it was one of those moments when I felt as though everything had fallen into place.

I had never written a short story in my life and to apply to the program you had to submit a story. To help me with the stories I had begun writing, I hired a mentor from the Gotham Writers’ Workshop. After I left Japan in March of 2008, I arrived in New York City, walked to The New School on 12th St., went to the admissions office, and handed in my application. Two months later, I was accepted.

The first workshop I ever took was with Zia Jaffrey. We spent an hour discussing the question “What does democracy mean in a piece of writing?” There was no clear answer that we came up with, but the outcome I clung to after that discussion was that writing anything at all—expressing a point of view—was in itself an act of democracy.  The Riggio Program provided a platform to express those things we felt were vital, essential, and necessary to share about the human experience.

After my first year, I became the Fiction Editor for 12th Street, the literary journal published by the program; the following season, I became Editor-in-Chief. In the span of three years, I took three workshops, three literature courses, and worked with Renè Steinke on my thesis manuscript, which then won me an Arts Fellowship at the Iowa Writers’ Workshop where I’m completing my MFA. Five years ago I never would have imagined how far I’d come—my first book, a small novel called Lotería, is coming out this summer with HarperCollins. I believe it’s due to my experience in the Riggio Program that gave me that very platform I needed to try out my voice, and to practice the art of writing.


Mario Alberto Zambrano was a contemporary ballet dancer before dedicating his time to writing fiction. He has lived in Israel, The Netherlands, Germany, Spain, and Japan, and has danced for Hubbard Street Dance Chicago, Nederlands Dans Theater, Ballett Frankfurt, and Batsheva Dance Company. He graduated from The New School as a Riggio Honors Fellow and the Iowa Writers’ Workshop as an Iowa Arts Fellow, where he also received a John C. Schupes Fellowship for Excellence in Fiction. Lotería is his first novel.

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