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English department hires two new creative writing professors

By Marina Romanchuk-Kapralau

April 22, 2015 12:00 a.m.

Writers Justin Torres and Fred D’Aguiar read excerpts from their novels at UCLA in February, part of the hiring process searching for a new creative writing professor in the English department.

Rather than one, both D’Aguiar and Torres will join the English department in fall 2015 and winter 2016, respectively, adding more potential courses to the creative writing program for the next academic year.

This year, two advanced prose workshops and one poetry workshop were offered fall, winter and spring with typically 10-15 students per workshop selected from at least twice as many applicants, fluctuating each quarter.

Students apply directly to the professors through email with examples of their creative work. To declare the creative writing concentration, students must complete three poetry or three prose workshops.

Markie Betor, a second-year English student, said she applied to creative writing workshops this spring and was wait-listed.

“I am excited, I feel it will be easier to get in (with additional professors),” Betor said. “This will give more students the opportunity to take creative writing courses.”

Torres said he seeks an originality and energy to the student writer’s voice.

“As William Butler Yeats said, ‘Education is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire,'” Torres said. “This is what I hope for, that I can fire, that I can inspire students and that I, in return, will be inspired by them.”

Hired at the end of March, D’Aguiar and Torres are the first creative writing professors hired since professor Mona Simpson joined the program in 2001, said English professor and director of creative writing Stephen Yenser.

Professor and vice chancellor of graduate studies Helen Deutsch said the hiring committee received 182 applications. Twelve applicants were interviewed via Skype and four finalists were invited to campus for readings.

“We were lucky to be able to hire two superb candidates,” Deutsch said.

D’Aguiar, involved in the master of fine arts programs at the University of Miami and Virginia Tech, will begin in the fall as a full-time professor, and Torres, who has taught at University of California, Berkeley and Columbia University, will begin in winter as an assistant professor.

Torres has had his short pieces published in The New Yorker and debuted his first novel, “We the Animals,” in 2011. D’Aguiar has won many literary awards for a number of novels, poem collections and plays. His most recent novel, called “Children of Paradise,” was published in 2014.

D’Aguiar and Torres said the faculty and educational programs offered at UCLA played a major role in their choice.

“I think UCLA is an iconic university with the great faculty,” Torres said. “Mona Simpson, Michelle Huneven (are) fiction writers whose work I admire.”

Raised in England and the Caribbean, D’Aguiar said he wants to share this international input while meeting students from diverse backgrounds. D’Aguiar said his instruction will also stress the development of voice through reading other authors.

“The first thing about creative writing is that it is also about reading,” D’Aguiar said.

D’Aguiar said he also encourages his students to create a portfolio, which will be revisited and revised often throughout the course.

As a third-year English student with a creative writing concentration, JoAnna Schindler said she admires the work of the female prose professors – Simpson and Huneven – but nevertheless noted her excitement for the new hires.

“The benefit of having new professors is that there are new perspectives, new styles,” Schindler said. “I am curious to see if they will welcome new kinds of writing.”

Workshops currently offered at UCLA which count toward the creative writing concentration are restricted both in class size and genre – short stories and poetry only – so some students said they hope that with new professors additional course genres will be added.

“It would be great to have courses such as novel, or novella,” Schindler said. “Later, who knows, we might even have a creative writing major and master of fine arts program at UCLA.”

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Marina Romanchuk-Kapralau
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