Professor Natalia Temesgen: From the Fountain City to Tinseltown

CSU’s Professor Temesgen continues her creative writing journey in Los Angeles

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Natalia Temesgen travelled from Columbus, GA to to Hollywood to write for Netflix’s “Dear White People.” Photo courtesy of Natalia Temesgen.

Professor Natalia Temesgen has achieved an accomplished status as a woman of color in the Columbus community. As a playwright, screenwriter, columnist, CSU creative writing professor, and family woman, Temesgen is tackling a full career. Temesgen is a graduate of Princeton University and received a Master of Fine Arts in Dramatic Writing from New York University. After she graduated, Temesgen developed a career as an active playwright. Some of her plays were produced in New York City, Philadelphia, Boston, Atlanta, and in Columbus, Georgia. Also having achieved a minor in African American history, Temesgen takes pride in her heritage and uses her knowledge to bring the African American experience to the stage and the screen.
Temesgen’s achievements have most recently brought her across the country to Los Angeles where she has joined the staff writing team of Netflix’s popular series, “Dear White People.” Temesgen has taken a leave of absence from CSU in order to be based in Los Angeles during this time. Temesgen expects to return to her home base this coming May and plans to be back to work at CSU for either Summer 2020 or Fall 2020 semester.
“I was very nervous when I first came out here… The Hollywood of it, the celebrity of it, makes it feel like this big thing, but if you have a level of discipline and craftsmanship behind the scenes when it doesn’t matter, you will be able to step into those moments and feel confident,” said Temesgen. She remains grateful for the opportunistic timing of her career, stating that her maturity and confidence level where she is now, help her to sort through the intimidation of the Hollywood writer’s table.
The show first aired in April 2017 and has since gained a fan base. With three seasons under their belt, and a fourth one on the way, the show now has the advantage of Temesgen’s personal talents for its coming season four. Temesgen is taking part in a 20 week room — daily sessions of brainstorming and writing — among a handful of diverse writers, some seasoned and some new.
Temesgen claims, “being in a room that’s majority non-white, majority black specifically, being in a room that’s just about 40/60 women to men — so, a sizable amount of women in the room — and having so many queer people in the room,” has made for a pleasantly surprising “unicorn situation” in an industry that can sometimes be lacking. “There’s representation in the space and that makes me feel really excited…I’m inspired and hopeful about what it means for the industry right now,” stated Temesgen.
“The work is great, but being on the other side of the country from my kids and my husband and even my students and my colleagues is really tough,” stated Temesgen. Travelling back and forth amid a three hour time change has created challenges for her. “It’s definitely unprecedented for our family that we remain separated for this long,” Temesgen said; however, she remains grateful that, “we live in the FaceTime era,” as she keeps in touch daily with her husband and children and is able to touch base back at CSU.
Temesgen began her career at CSU in 2013 where, in her first year she worked with Theatre Department Chair, Dr. Larry Dooley, to win an Interdisciplinary Initiative Grant that would help support the development of plays for English majors and Theatre majors alike. Now she hopes to bring home experience to share with her creative writing students and others interested at CSU as she loosely plays with the Idea of a Q&A upon her arrival in May. Temesgen says she may have, “some real insights into how decisions get made and different ways you can get your foot in the door and just what happens when you do get your foot in the door.”
Temesgen recalls finding herself in a place where she thought she’d reached her maximum success amid life and family; “I thought, well, this might be it.” She’d seen a few plays into production and had settled into family life in small-town Columbus while seeing colleagues spread their wings in the open air of single life. “It took awhile for me to decide, well what does success look like to you?”
“It just so happened that it worked out at the time it worked out, but it’s not because I didn’t deserve it before; it’s not because I’m better than somebody,” said Temesgen, recognizing that opportunity was the key to her own success. Although, what was more important, was having the work ready for when opportunities arose. “When nobody was asking for this, I was still investing in my craft.”
Temesgen hopes to serve as an example to students looking ahead to their future and goals, that doing the work does pay off. Further she suggests, “define success for yourself before you spend too much time and energy because ,otherwise, I think it’s very easy for it to become a comparison.”
In the meantime Temesgen, is taking her free time after work to compile adaptations of her previous works. “I’m working on adapting one, maybe two of my stage plays into a pilot,” said Temesgen, grateful to be reusing stories in different ways, but also just to continue creating when no one is yet asking. The work will be there for her when they do.
Temesgen wants her students to know that in her leave of absence, “if students are curious or want to reach out or talk, they can still email me. Part of me is holding onto it for when it’s the right time, but there is a giddiness that I feel about being able to mentor more effectively.” Students can keep their eyes peeled for the release of “Dear White People,” season four later this year on Netflix, as well as some local work to come for the Springer’s summer 2020 lineup.