HomeCollege of Arts and Sciences“I Came This Far with Just a Dream”

“I Came This Far with Just a Dream”

Things are happening for Jonah Craggett, MFA ’24. A creative writer and public speaker from New Haven, Craggett is graduating from Southern this month with his MFA in creative writing, and his thesis — an audio fantasy/drama entitled “The Haus of Black” — has been getting a lot of attention.

“The Haus of Black” follows the conflict between two magical groups in the fictional Rainwood, Connecticut, after the police shooting of a 15-year-old Black boy. Craggett explains, “An audio fantasy/drama sounds complicated but it’s really just a story presented in its simplest form: as something to be heard. In the spirit of old radio, ‘The Haus of Black’ is an audio experience, with a narrator, voice actors, and sound effects. It differs from an audio book because of how immersive it is.”

Earlier this year, Craggett was chosen to receive a New Haven Artist Corps Grant from the New Haven Arts Council for his work on “The Haus of Black.” He is one of 12 Artist Corps awardees who will use their $20,000 grants to create projects about New Haven, for New Haven.

And recently, Craggett learned that “The Haus of Black” has been selected for a Feature Spot in the 2024 Yale Innovation Summit Virtual Showcase. The Yale Innovation Summit is one of the region’s biggest and most impactful innovation events, drawing investors, founders, and industry partners to Yale’s campus from around the world to create new connections and opportunities. 

Craggett’s road to success hasn’t been without its bumps. He grew up thinking he might become a writer or journalist, but a first experience with depression in 2013 and his 2014 loss of his little brother, Jacob, to a driveby shooting caused him to “retreat into poetry.” His first published work was a poem about his mother’s grief, followed by a poem about Jacob, and, he says, with the satisfaction of being published, “I had been called!”

But after completing a bachelor’s degree in English and teaching for five years, Craggett says, “I’d done what so many creatives do, settled for the ‘real job’ and daydreamed about making art on the side.” He still felt called to pursue writing, and he knew he wanted a master’s degree, so he applied to the MFA program at Southern.

As a writer, Craggett says he “writes with the intent to give agency to Black perspectives by acknowledging forgotten histories and decentralizing the white gaze.” He explains, “Whenever I see an old black and white picture of Black folks, I wonder about their stories. Who were they? What did they become? Who will sweeten their names? . . . They’re all important to me. Just by being Black their life could never be boring. My stories ask who they were.”

English Professor Tim Parrish, Craggett’s thesis advisor, says, “Jonah is an ideal MFA student. He’s a great community member in that he takes his classmates’ and his own work seriously, is generous with his feedback to fellow MFAs, and he’s a talented, probing writer.”

In his own words, Craggett talked with us about his experience in the MFA program and his work on “The Haus of Black.”

What has your experience with the MFA program been like? How has it helped you to develop as a writer? 

The year before I applied to the MFA program, I read, The Color Purple by Alice Walker and it changed the trajectory of my life. That book liberated me to live, and Celie’s words became my anthem: “Im pore, I’m Black, I may be ugly… But I’m Here.” I didn’t know how to begin. What was I even beginning? I didn’t know. But the small voice inside of me knew I had to do it, had to “enter into creation” like Celie. I joined the MFA program in 2020 (right before the pandemic) with that resolve.  It was the bravest thing I’ve ever done.  

I was thrust into an environment of artists who seemed to have everything figured out. I wanted to retreat, to go back to what I knew. What a mistake I had made! But life had thrown me a safety net. A brash, loud-laughing Cajun professor who wouldn’t let me quit became my first advocate. And he put me to task! He told me my stories had to be more than just history, more than just a picture. They had to be mirrors. They had to speak and say something new. This was my first anointing.  

My second anointing came the semester before I was forced to take a year-long break from the program due to lack of funds. By then, the pandemic was in full swing, virtual classes were an adjustment for everyone, and nobody was happy about it. I was depressed again, and my writing was suffering. Why don’t these white people get my work? Why do I have to over-explain these histories? Then a hand. My first and only Black professor during the MFA was a beautiful brown-skinned woman whose voice made you want to bring your best self before her — and she invited you to do so. Ha!  “Are you being kind to yourself?” “Hold yourself gently.” “I noticed your haircut.”  My Shug! Reminding me to walk by the color purple in a field and to notice it! I swore to finish, to write, to tell my stories. To listen and to shut out. For better or for worse, my time in the program gave me the courage to tell this radically Black story without permission, with all the love and tenderness, and magic that I have. I’m grateful that because of the program I know Tim Parrish and Brandon Hutchinson.  I couldn’t have started “The Haus of Black” without them.  Amen, Amen.  

Can you tell us a bit about “The Haus of Black”? What kinds of recognition have you been receiving for it? What are your plans for this work beyond Southern? 

Things have been moving so quickly! (Ahh!) I’ve gathered an amazing team of talented Connecticut writers to help me bring this story to life: New Haven comedian and social critic, Shawn Murray, Actress and Podcaster, Jess McDonald, and Director and Playwright, Brittany Palmer. They’re elevating the project in ways I could never have imagined and I’m so thankful for them. (We’re currently on the hunt for a sound engineer so we can move into the recording phase of the show.)  

It’s almost ominous how much praise the project has received so far. Every time I tell someone about it, they get just as excited as I am. We’ve even gotten encouragement online from some celebrities who’ve caught wind of it and just today we received news that the project has been selected to appear in the Virtual Showcase of the 2024 Yale Innovation Summit; so I guess I’m doing something right.  

Beyond Southern, my plan for “The Haus of Black” is to just finish creating the thing! Between writing, outlining, workshops, and recording, I think being single-minded is the best approach. I’m already such an anxious person and I overthink everything so I’m constantly reminding myself to just keep going and worry about if it’s good later. It’s worked out so far, haha! Right now, we’re building a social media presence, posting about the team and being really transparent about the process so fans can feel like they’re watching the birth of the show up to the premiere. If anyone wants to follow along the journey, our Instagram is @Haus.ofBlack. We’ll have our Facebook and TikTok page up by the end of the month. 

What’s next for you, after the MFA? 

REST! God willing. But seriously, I want to take “The Haus of Black” to heights beyond just the Audio show. I’m imagining an entire brand — complementary audio shows, spin offs and (fingers crossed) a television series. I’d say the show has at least a good 5 seasons in it before I wrap it up. But who knows what could happen to throw all my plans out the window? Maybe some cush Hollywood-producer type will read this article and hand me a million dollars to make it all happen. Or maybe not. But even if things stay exactly as they are, I’d be happy because I came this far with just a dream. Amen. 


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