March 27, 2013

STUDENTS’ STORIES | Andrew Boryga ’13 Wins Award for His Writing; Says His Work Is Inspired by His Upbringing

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Andrew Boryga ’13, an English major whose works have been inspired by his childhood in the Bronx, will be presented the 2012-13 Undergraduate Artist  of the Year Award in April for his fiction writing.

The $1,000 award is granted to “a single distinguished undergraduate student in the arts,” according to the Cornell Council for the Arts website. Boryga said he was honored to have been chosen for the award.

“Cornell has so many amazing artists,” Boryga said. “There’s architects, painters, musicians, dancers … for my work to be chosen above all that, I was very proud.”

Boryga said he has been heavily involved in the English department since his first year at Cornell, winning his first award for writing as a sophomore. Over the last four years, he has also had numerous fiction and nonfiction works published in publications such as The New York Times, the Susquehanna Review and website Lit Drift.

One particular short story, “The Numbers” — which centers around a family whose mother plays the lottery constantly in the hope of escaping poverty — won Boryga the George Harmon Coxe Award from Cornell’s Creative Writing Program in 2011 as well as the Gary Fincke Cre­ative Writing Prize in Prose in 2012 from the Susque­hanna Review. Boryga will perform a reading of the story as part of his Undergraduate Artist Award presentation on April 5.

Boryga said the main inspiration for writing, as evidenced by many of his creative works, is his childhood in the Bronx, NY. Boryga said he was born and raised in a way that “forced [him] to mature very fast.”

“As a kid, I had to take care of my sisters. I’ve been working every summer, every break since I was like 15, 16. The good thing about that is that you realize what you want, how to use your time wisely,” Boryga said. “I got [to Cornell] and I knew what I wanted to do. I missed out on some things, but it made me very driven. It made me very focused on what I wanted to do, because there wasn’t really a backup plan.”

Boryga said Cornell gave him an outside perspective on the Bronx to complement his inside perspective from growing up there and gave him the distance to break down some of the idiosyncrasies of the borrough in his writing. For example, in “The Numbers,” a central point involves a mother’s constant playing of the lottery.

“Everyone plays the lottery in my family,” Boryga said. “It wasn’t until I got here that I really realized the significance behind that, and that no one looks to education or jobs to move up. You know, ‘It’s the lottery, because that’s the only way we can get out.’”

In that way, one of Boryga’s main purposes in writing, he said, is being in the position “to tell stories for people who don’t really get their stories told.”

The presentation of Boryga’s award will also include a question and answer session with Boryga and a conversation with Prof. Helena Viramontes, creative writing, who nominated Boryga for the Undergraduate Artist Award.

Viramontes, who worked with Boryga in the fall as part of an independent study — which included a rehash of “The Numbers” — said she nominated Boryaga because he “represents the best in what the humanities have to offer, in terms of his intellectual vigor, his creativity, his commitment to fiction, and his ability to really capture his community.”

“I think he is going to be one hell of a voice in American literature,” Viramontes said. “I am truly, truly proud and honored to have been a part of [Boryga’s] education here at Cornell.”

Boryga said Viramontes has been very supportive of his work.

“I call her my aunt — I see her in the hallway, [and] I give her a hug,” Boryga said. “I really adore her. I came to her [last semester] because I wanted to do an independent study, and from the beginning, we clicked. She’s very straightforward, very honest, very blunt, which is what I like in a professor.”

Prof. Stephanie Vaughn, English, also nominated Boryga for the award.

“Those of us who have worked with Andrew Boryga think he has a career in fiction ahead of him,” Vaughn said. “He has a distinctive, highly energized voice,” she said. “He writes with wit. And his stories are always just a little unsettling. They never let you feel comfortable in them for more than a few sentences.”

Next year, Boryga said he most likely will attend the University of Miami’s two-year Creative Writing Program and study fiction, as well as attend an intensive Callaloo Creative Writing Workshop in June. Boryga said he would also like to finish his first novel, which he has worked on since the end of his freshman year, by the time he graduates with his MFA.

“The hope is that I graduate in two years with my title and a book that’s ready to publish,” Boryga said. “Maybe [I’d like to] get a teaching job or freelance some more; it’s kind of up in the air right now.”

Whatever happens in the long term, however, Boryga will still have his eyes on the Bronx.

“My biggest goal is to get kids from my neighborhood to read,” Boryga said. “I would love to inspire some kids to do something outside of trying to make the NBA or becoming a rapper out of high school. That’s the overall, big inspiration that I have.”

Original Author: Noah Rankin