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April 11, 2005

Living Writers series brings guest authors/poets into UCSC classes

By Scott Rappaport

Each quarter, the Humanities Division’s Living Writers Series brings eight to 10 visiting authors and poets into UCSC classes to give students an in-depth look into the world of the working writer.

Photo: Micah Perks

Micah Perks
Photo: Scott Rappaport
Photo: Karen Yamashita

Karen Yamashita

Sponsored by the campus’s Institute for Humanities Research and the Porter College Hitchcock Poetry Fund, the series is coordinated by associate professors of literature Micah Perks and Karen Yamashita, codirectors of the UCSC Creative Writing Program.

“Our primary goal is to bring in people whose work we think will reach the students and broaden their horizons,” said Perks.

“We really try to bring a large variety of writers—people just starting out, those who have been around a long time, older people, younger people—to give students a sense of what’s possible in the writing life and how the choices they make will affect their lives and work.”

The spring 2005 schedule will include guests such as Vietnamese American writer Linh Dinh, novelist Stephen Elliott, and poet Elizabeth Willis. It will also feature visits by Patricia Wakida, an editor at Heyday Press in Berkeley, and Larry Siems, director of the “Freedom to Write” international program of the PEN American Center in New York City.

“I wanted to bring Larry in because I think he’s an ideal person to talk about censorship issues and how writing can be dangerous,” Yamashita noted. “I always want students to think about the integrity of their work and the consequences of their writing. And we’re bringing in Patricia especially for students in the Senior Fiction Project--to give them an idea of what it’s like to be an editor in the publishing industry and to point them in other directions related to writing.”

Yamashita added that one of the benefits of the Living Writers Series is to help create a network in the publishing industry and to facilitate contacts for internships.

“Another guest this quarter will be Susan McCloskey, one of our very talented former students who is now the buyer for fiction at Bookshop Santa Cruz,” Yamashita said. “She’ll talk about what it’s like to work in a bookshop—the process, the ins and outs of promotion, how she selects books. We’re trying to show students there’s a world out there that they might not be aware of; it’s a way of informing them about possibilities.”

Both Perks and Yamashita are themselves highly accomplished writers. Perks’s first published short story, in Epoch magazine, was nominated for the prestigious Pushcart Prize. She has written a memoir, Pagan Time: An American Childhood (2001); a novel of historic fiction, We Are Gathered Here (1996); as well as a variety of short stories that have appeared in numerous anthologies and literary magazines.

Yamashita is the author of Through the Arc of the Rain Forest (1990), which received the American Book Award, and Brazil-Maru, named by the Village Voice as one of the 25 best books of 1992. Her third novel, Tropic of Orange (1997), was a finalist for the Paterson Fiction Prize, and she followed that with Circle K Cycles (2001), a book based on her research on the Brazilian community in Japan.

Perks said that the Living Writers Series has particularly struck a chord with advanced students in the Creative Writing Program.

“The students benefit by learning how real working writers live, rather than the 10 percent who actually make a living from creative writing every year,” she observed.

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