Alumni Spotlight: Marina Leigh

TMCC alumni Marina Leigh
Rebecca A. Eckland

TMCC Alumna Marina Leigh, whose poetry chapbook Wild Daughter was awarded the inaugural Desert Pavilion Chapbook Award from Black Rock Press, has long been a lover of language. “I’ve been writing ever since I was little,” she said. “But it wasn’t until I got to college that I was introduced to contemporary poetry, and I was hearing and reading brown and black voices, queer voices, female voices and I started seeing myself in a genre of writing that I thought belonged to white, male voices. I saw the possibility for more stories than I could ever tell in a novel, as well as the ability to bring my own life and experiences into the poems.” 

This is what Leigh achieved in Wild Daughter, a work that explores identity, familial relationships, the desert, fruit of bird and blood. “The book speaks to experiences that parallel my own—moving through grief and the recent death of my father, understanding the complicated relationship with my mother, my own attempts at trying to define what love means in all senses of the word,” she said.

As a current candidate in the Master of Fine Arts program at the University of Mississippi, she’s traveled far from her academic journey that began in TMCC’s Summer Bridge Program. 

Starting Small

In 2016 following her high school graduation, Leigh joined the Summer Bridge Program. She had been living on her own and supporting herself, so the prospect of attending either a four-year university or an out-of-state institution was not possible for her at the time. “If I’m honest, I’m grateful for the way things turned out,” she said. “I met and worked with folks at TMCC that I continue to work with today, and those relationships would not have been built if I hadn’t obtained my associate degree from TMCC.” 

As a full-time college student the following year, she would take classes from TMCC English Professor Lindsay Wilson and former English faculty Arian Katsimbras. “The connections I made in those classes, with Lindsay and Arian, and with other students, are connections I have to this day,” she said. “These are the folks who consistently challenge me to be a better writer and reader, and push me to put my work in the world. The people I met at TMCC were the first to truly believe in me as a writer, and continue to support me and help me to navigate the writing world.” 

She also served on the editorial board of TMCC’s literary journal, The Meadow, even after she transferred to nearby UNR in 2018 to complete her four-year degree. “This opportunity opened me up to editorial work, and provided me with a realistic career path where I could still be involved in writing while utilizing a skill where I could help influence the next generation of writers entering the world,” she said. 

Although it’s not a career path she plans on pursuing after completing the MFA program, her time on the editorial board of The Meadow opened myriad opportunities for Leigh, including a copyediting position at UNR’s magazine Insight. She was also on the team to publish the single-issue Pressed Flower and currently serves as a reader on the University of Mississippi’s literary journal Yalobusha Review

“Being on an editorial board has definitely made me a better writer,” she said. “The experience can teach you what works, what publishers look for in submissions and in reading such a wide range of perspectives, I’ve found myself fascinated by new styles and forms. I’ve also looked into a little piece of so many writers’ lives, which is amazing to me,” she said. 

Deciding to Get an MFA

After completing her bachelor’s degree in 2020, Leigh set her sight on a Master of Fine Arts (MFA) degree in poetry because it was a degree that would enable her to live in a different part of the United States while giving her more time to develop herself as a writer. “I just needed more time,” she said. “Time to become a better writer, time to learn from other writers and professors and to figure out if the career path I was moving toward was what I really wanted, and time to access a new space to just write.” 

The MFA was not without its immediate challenges: Leigh began the program in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, which forced her to remain in Reno, beginning the program in a virtual learning environment. Yet, Leigh would move to Mississippi the day after the 2021 New Year, and take the first steps into her life as a professional writer. 

“It was the first time I had moved so far away from my family, friends, and my hometown. The emotional weight of such a big move to a strange place was heavy, but I’m finally beginning to find my footing,” she said. The move to another part of the country has also impacted Leigh’s work in interesting ways. Although she still writes about natural images in ways that explore identity and relationships, the way those explorations occur has shifted. 

“In recent poems, I’m writing into new conversations, emotions, personal experiences... [and] I’m opening doors that have stayed shut for a long time,” she said. “But in order to access these spaces honestly, I have to write a speaker that is interrogating their own role in these events, trauma and loss. The poems are becoming more urgent, I think, because these poems are no longer written toward grief of someone who has died, but grief of relationships with people who are still alive.”

Words of Wisdom to TMCC Students

Although Leigh has traveled far from TMCC, she credits the education and relationships she fostered here as long-lasting and meaningful. To students who are just starting their degree paths, she offers the advice to follow the direction of your heart and soul. 

“Don’t be scared to change your mind in your degree or your life,” she said. “Go where the fire is, where the passion is. I know sometimes dreams aren’t realistic at all points in our lives, but I think that if a dream is big enough, and the passion to achieve it is strong enough, then it’s worth going after. And sometimes, the dream changes. That’s OK, too.” 

TMCC 50th Anniversary Celebration 

As a part of TMCC’s 50th Anniversary Celebration for the 2021–2022 academic year, we will be highlighting the success stories of our amazing alumni. Check back with our anniversary website for more details of the ongoing celebration or send your alumni success stories to our Marketing and Communications team.