Tryphena Yeboah, a writer and book reviewer pursuing a Master’s of Fine Arts (MFA) in Creative Writing at Chapman University, was recently awarded the James L. Doti Outstanding Graduate Student Award, which is the highest honour for graduate students at the University.
The award is conferred annually to one master’s student and one doctoral student with distinguished records of academic accomplishment and service. The recipients of the Doti Award receive a desk-size copy of the trophy and a cash prize of $1,000.
Tryphena now joins the ranks of fewer than two dozen exemplar graduate students that have been nominated by the Wilkinson College since the award’s inception just over a decade ago.
Tryphena’s mentor, Lisa Cupolo, who is a professor at Chapman and winner of the 2021 W.S. Porter Fiction Prize, told Kuulpeeps how happy and proud she is of her.
“I’m simply ecstatic for Tryphena winning the prestigious Doti Outstanding Graduate Student Award. You have to understand Chapman University is an outstanding school with so many outstanding graduate students in every category and to be honoured with this award means Tryphena is at the top of the outstanding pile. It doesn’t get better than that. The award is well deserved. Not only is Tryphena being rewarded for her true talent as a poet and writer, but it’s her motivation and intense work ethic that set her apart from others. She studies morning, noon, and night. Luck is part of everyone’s story who has good fortune but Tryphena makes things happen,” Lisa said.
According to Tryphena, creative writing has always been a big part of her life. She started sharing poetry on Instagram, and that made it easy for her to connect with other writers.
“Social media continues to be a platform for wonderful engagement with fellow writers and a chance to share my work with an audience. Some collaborations I’ve had over the years began there and I’m just delighted to have a space on the internet to practice my craft and discover the work of other creatives,” she said.
Before traveling to the US to pursue her master’s degree, Tryphena worked as a writer for Independent Ghana, after graduating from the Ghana Institute of Journalism (GIJ). At Independent Ghana, she wrote news stories and created short documentaries including one about a 33-year-old Master’s degree holder who hawks for a living, humanitarian features, and reports on domestic violence.
Two years into her MFA studies at Chapman, Tryphena has made a name for herself with her amazing writing skills. She writes short stories, creative nonfiction, poems, and has recently taken to reviewing books she enjoys reading.
“I find that reading is just as important to me as the process of writing itself and I’m glad I don’t have to choose between the two,” she said.
Tryphena has had three short stories and a creative nonfiction story published in the popular Narrative Magazine and most recently had her poetry chapbook A Mouthful of Home, published in the New-Generation African Poets series, an annual African Book Fund Project which features African writers who do not have a full-length collection.
Speaking on the publication of her literary pieces, she said: “It’s been a tremendous honour to have four of my pieces published in Narrative… These were all stories that were workshopped in my classes at Chapman and I am thankful that my colleagues and professors could engage with different drafts and share their thoughts on how to improve the pieces.”
She went on to gave more insight into her craft, how she is able to come up with captivating literary pieces, and her fears as a writer.
“I don’t think I’ve said enough about how so much of my craft is partly a strange compulsion
to write and partly from positive reinforcement. The former is the fun part because whether or not I
believe in myself enough to create anything, I have very little choice.”
“My instincts to write are sharp and persistent; there’s no escaping untold stories. But I must admit there are moments, lots of them when I have felt like a big fraud like I have no idea what I’m doing—not with the plot, not with the characters, not with my imagination. And very often, I am gripped by the fear that someone will find me out, strip me of everything I’ve written, and make my efforts seem meaningless.”
“Imposter syndrome is a real part of this experience and I owe so much to my kind and brilliant professors and friends who have paid attention to weak drafts, encouraged me, nurtured, and challenged me to develop my skill. I have borrowed their confidence in me and my work many times. It’s a big relief to know I don’t have to walk this path alone at all times.”
However, becoming one of Chapman’s best graduate students and creative writers did not come easy for Tryphena. After leaving Ghana to the US, it took her some time to get used to being away from her family and cope with a new and different academic environment from which she experienced in Ghana.
“Nothing prepared me for the cultural shock and the painful sense of isolation I felt being away from my family. The first few months were difficult, but after a while, I discovered campus resources that were very helpful… I joined a mentorship program where I was paired with a mentor who was so encouraging and led me to discover ways I could engage on campus.”
“My biggest challenge was speaking up in class in an academic environment where students are expected to participate in discussions and lead presentations. I understand how easily this can be brushed off as a minor concern, but it was a struggle that took such a toll on me. I still don’t think it was a matter of lacking confidence, I had episodes of panic and real fear and would lose my train of thought even when I mustered the courage to speak up in class.”
“I reached out to my professors and some suggested other ways I could engage in class to overcome the fear. I still experience nervousness when I speak up now, but the experience is not as horrible as the palpitations I used to have. It’s been a big challenge for me, and I have profound gratitude to have found myself in an environment that is supportive,” she said.
Tryphena is currently completing her thesis titled First Light under the direction of esteemed novelist and professor of creative writing Richard Bausch.
In August 2021, she will begin her doctorate studies at the University of Nebraska, and her mentor, Lisa Cupolo, believes Tryphena will succeed there too.
“Tryphena will do well wherever she goes and the University of Nebraska is in for a treat when she begins the Ph.D. Writing program this Fall. Ms. Yeboah will be missed at Chapman as a student who gives each class her full heart and shines with her excellent writing, and she’s such good company!” Lisa said.
One of Tryphena’s friends, Jason Thornberry, also indicated how great a personality and talented writer she is, and is certain that she will succeed.
“Tryphena is one of my favorite people at Chapman University. The traits that set her apart are her enthusiasm for literature, her generous spirit, and her facility for capturing emotions through language. Tryphena’s a voracious reader and an active member of the writing community at Chapman, and I’m honoured to call her my colleague and friend. I know she’ll be successful because, along with her talent, she’s kind-spirited, personable, and warm.”
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