College of New Rochelle alumna Mercy Tullis-Bukhari CNR GS '18 describes herself as “…a poet, essayist, and fiction writer who is Bronx-bred, Afro-Latinx, Honduran and Garifuna, and of Jamaican descent.” She is also an educator, having taught English Language Arts for more than 20 years in the Bronx. “I felt it was important to be back home teaching kids who are just like me when I was their age,” she said. “That familiarity and commonality, through ethnic and racial identities, connects me to my students, and thus my reasoning for teaching them.”
As the youngest of seven children born to Honduran immigrant parents, and the only one born in the U.S., the demands and expectations were high for Tullis-Bukhai. Though drawn to books and writing as a young girl, she said, “My fear of not being able to provide for myself and family through the arts delayed me for a time.” She met and married her husband and they started a family, moving from the Bronx to Colorado with their two-year-old son and infant daughter. The isolation of the mountains and being so far removed from her family of origin sent her into a profound episode of postpartum depression. Her husband gifted her with an online writing course, which turned the tide of her depression. “It was a powerful experience that told me my work was actually pretty good and should be read by more than just my family and friends,” she said.
Returning to New York, and now armed with a Master’s in English Literature, Tullis-Bukhari was hired by Dr. Stephen Hobbs, a College of New Rochelle (CNR) professor, to teach in the adult evening program there. Hobbs and a fellow CNR faculty member, Dr. Nick Smart, were preparing to launch a new creative writing program. Tullis-Bukhari joined the inaugural cohort of CNR’s Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing with a focus on social justice, while continuing to teach. “That community at CNR, with its wonderful mix of gender, ethnicity and economic background, taught me that, regardless of everything else, we were there to support each other as writers. So much encouragement and inspiration came from that community of writers who were committed to making sure our voices would be heard by other voices.”
By the time she had earned her MFA in 2018, she had begun turning out poetry and short fiction, winning recognition, fellowships, and being twice nominated for the coveted Pushcart Prize. Currently she is completing her first novel while her third book of poetry is readied for publication. She lives in New Rochelle with her son and daughter, now 13 and 11.
In her writing, Tullis-Bukhari often explores her own multi-ethnic background life and how it affects her and her children. Her poem “La Vida of an African-Latina American” is a poetic recitation of insensitive remarks directed toward her and her children. “The poem represents a lifetime of comments being thrown at me. All those comments, even the ones that appear positive, are objectifying and dismissing of me as an individual,” she said. “I’m holding up a mirror so people can see how ugly and hurtful these comments are.”
A comprehensive interview with Tullis-Bukhari, along with several of her poems, can be accessed online at La Bloga.