New chapter: Alumna returns to Binghamton to teach and finish a novel
Jane Alberdeston Coralin first arrived at Binghamton University on a Greyhound bus, a long, cold way from her native Puerto Rico.
It was 2002. She had lived in other places, too: Mexico City for five years, and then seven years in Washington, D.C, where she was employed by a Department of Justice program for asylum-seekers. But at the age of 35, she took an unexpected leap and leaned into another necessary component of her identity: poet, storyteller and weaver of literary community.
“I had a direction and I knew why I was here. I knew what I wanted,” said Alberdeston Coralin, who earned her master’s in creative writing from Binghamton in 2004 and her doctorate in 2007.
Now, she’s come full circle, returning this academic year as a visiting lecturer in English, general literature and rhetoric, while finishing a work of speculative fiction. It’s an opportunity to give back to an institution that fostered her own development as a writer; in fact, she co-authored a young adult novel, Sister Chicas, during her graduate school years, while studying under the tutelage of Professor Emeritus Maria Mazziotti Gillan and Distinguished Professor Jaimee Wriston Colbert.
Since then, her writing has been published in a variety of anthologies and journals, and she has performed her work both in the mainland United States and Puerto Rico. Alberdeston Coralin returned to Puerto Rico in 2008, where she is an assistant professor teaching creative writing and literature at the University of Puerto Rico — Arecibo.
This year at Binghamton, she is teaching fiction writing and a seminar course called Writing Imagined Spaces. In the latter, inspired by the pandemic, she invites students to do just that: imagine a place in their minds, and write from that setting.
“It’s thinking about who we are and who we were during the lockdown, and what we became and where we haven’t gotten yet,” she said. “It’s also thinking about exile, imprisonment, solitude — all those themes that have come up in the past couple of years.”
While creative writing relies on internal vision and self-expression, it may also spring from a yearning for community. That was the case for Alberdeston Coralin, once a painfully shy child who struggled to make friends or even look people in the eye; writing proved a way to nurture human connection.
“One day, I woke up and said, ‘This isn’t going to work for you.’ So I started writing and then I met another girl in the library in eighth grade who was also a writer, and we wrote about horses,” she said. “Had I ever ridden a horse? No, but I developed this friendship and a love for writing.”
Her writing built connections again in her 20s, when she moved to Washington, D.C., a city of complete strangers. She began going to a dive bar that offered poetry readings to share her creative work.
“For me, communities are inspirational. I have this hunger to tell different stories, whether through poetry or fiction, as a way to connect with people. I’m still a little shy,” she admitted.
During her time in D.C., she received an unexpected letter from Gillan, then director of Binghamton’s creative writing program. Gillan was also director of a poetry center in Passaic, N.J., and offered Alberdeston Coralin the chance to become part of its Poet in the Schools program. She accepted.
She came to know Gillan through the program, which ultimately led her to Binghamton. During her time in the graduate program, she received needed financial support from the Clifford D. Clark Diversity Fellowship.
Gillan’s mentorship proved both inspirational and generous, qualities she found in other instructors as well.
“Whatever you didn’t see in yourself, they saw it in you, and they made it known that you always had this scope of possibility,” Alberdeston Coralin remembered. “Now that I’m teaching, I always tell my students: ‘Yes, there is anxiety and stress, but there are so many things out there waiting for you. Don’t settle.’”
She understands the temptation to settle, and even did it herself for a while. Starting in her 40s, she began to see her life resolve into a particular track, an inevitable course that she would follow until retirement.
After her mother died, she realized that it was once again time to shake things up. She began to seek out new experiences and embrace all the opportunities that came across her path — including the one that would send her back north for a time, to Upstate winters and her alma mater, three chilly chihuahuas in tow.
Alberdeston Coralin’s journey has taken unexpected turns, but that wealth of experience benefits her as a writer and teacher.
“I’m 53; I have no qualms about saying it,” she said with a smile. “If there was a badge that I could wear that said ’53,’ I would wear it.”