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It was Bailey who first introduced Burke to the possibility of the prestigious Iowa Writers' Workshop. Following his graduation, Burke moved into one of Iowa's highly coveted spots. After completing the program in 2012, he chose to remain in Iowa City and recently moved his mother and sisters there as well.

Burke says having a strong mother has been his greatest blessing. His father, a musician and addict, was in and out of the family's life while Burke was growing up, so he learned not to count on him. "People who grew up with two parents understand the loss when one is gone. But if you've never had that, you don't miss it," he says. Despite the challenges she's faced, Burke's mother, who grew up in a well-to-do Costa Rican-Jamaican family but had a hard time supporting her family in the United States, is a hopeful person. And the importance of hope is something he learned from her. "If hope dies, you die," he says.

Burke also credits his mother with instilling in him the importance of having faith in God, and for giving him the freedom to pursue writing. "I became the man of the house when I was young. My mother treated us like adults. She said, ‘If you want to write, write,' so it wasn't as if my writing was causing an intense rift at home."

He began his journey in the same place as the 20 friends he grew up with in Boston, but only two of his friends graduated from college and a couple are no longer alive, Burke says. But with tremendous raw talent as an athlete and a writer, a supportive mother and others who have provided guidance, he's followed a different path. Along the way, he's honed his considerable talents and made some courageous decisions, and the education he's gained has been a gift to himself.

"Life is crazy," he says.

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