Friday, March 22

Playboy features collegiate feats

UCLA professor and student are recognized in the magazine's annual College Issue

Former UCLA Extension creative writing student Timothy Tau took second place in Playboy's annual College Fiction Contest. His story "Land of Origin" received a $500 prize and is featured in the October issue.

Former UCLA Extension creative writing student Timothy Tau took second place in Playboy's annual College Fiction Contest. His story "Land of Origin" received a $500 prize and is featured in the October issue.

Alexa Smahl

Playboy readers who don’t get stuck on adult film actress Sasha Grey’s feature, “The Notorious Star Bares More Than Her Soul,” can see that October was a good month in Playboy for Bruins.

In this October’s issue of Playboy, the College Issue, the magazine paid tribute to 20 of the country’s most innovative professors in its Honor Roll, as well as released the results of its annual College Fiction Contest.

Eugene Volokh, a UCLA law professor, was named the “Free-Speech Pitbull” by Playboy. While he said Playboy is not his kind of publication, he’s happy for the attention he might bring to UCLA.

“(I am glad for the recognition) because some people reading this might say “˜Wow, UCLA is the kind of place that I might want to go to law school,’” Volokh said.

Playboy may also draw attention to the UCLA Extension Writers’ Program. More importantly, the magazine’s contest draws attention to promising young talent.

“(Hugh) Hefner was a creative writing (student) in college and he’s been really supportive of the arts and literature,” said Timothy Tau, a former UCLA Extension creative writing student. “(Playboy) is not just some smut magazine.”

Tau’s story, “Land of Origin,” won second place in Playboy’s College Fiction Contest.

The piece follows a Taiwanese American lawyer who falls in love with a betel nut street vendor and becomes heavily involved with the gang she is associated with.

Though Tau is also a Taiwanese American lawyer, the story is not based on his life. He said he relates to the character more through the complicated way in which he connects to his Taiwanese heritage.

“Taiwanese heritage is a very complicated issue,” Tau said. “It just becomes this very thorny, political issue about the future of Taiwan. It’s not a clear cut identity.”

College Fiction Contest director Alice K. Turner said in a statement that winning stories are more well-rounded than most writing, avoid stories of college drunkenness and partying, and have a good sense of pacing.

According to Tau, his success in the competition shows that achieving writing goals through drive and passion can take the place of a master of fine arts program .

He said that the fiction classes he took at UCLA, however, were of value to him.

What a creative writing teacher does, Tau said, is provide feedback about what works and what doesn’t work and to help the students tap into the drive within themselves. The teacher doesn’t teach great writing but inspires it in others.

“Great writing can’t be taught,” Tau said. “But you can inspire a student to teach himself or herself a lot more.”

Adam Cushman, the UCLA writing instructor who helped Tau edit “Land of Origin,” agreed.

“I don’t think that a teacher of creative writing can really teach anyone how to write,” Cushman said.

According to Cushman, a published writer and graduate of the MFA program at Columbia University, a creative writing instructor mainly helps students by showing them their strengths and weaknesses and by teaching them the tools of the craft.

“(Tau) was unique in that both of his stories had a lot of commercial appeal as well as literary appeal,” Cushman said.

This appeal has led to the possibility of a movie contract for Tau’s story. He has been approached by people in the movie industry and has reworked parts of the story he submitted to Playboy to make it more marketable.

The protagonist is now from Los Angeles instead of Orange County.

He’s more noticeably disillusioned with his life in the United States. He is also a criminal defense attorney who is constantly in touch with criminals, making his fall into the Taiwanese underground crime world that much more plausible.

For Tau, this might be a chance to start writing full time.

“I can almost see myself as, first and foremost, a writer and using film as another way to express my writing. … Filmmaking is just another way to write,” Tau said.

“I think getting this Playboy award really gave me the affirmation that I can do this, and that is my eventual goal, to do this full time.”

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