Transformation Through Prose

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Ariel Gore, author of  “Hip Mama,” reads an emotional chapter from her memoir. Photos by Tiffannie Nguyen.
Ariel Gore, author of “Hip Mama,” reads an emotional chapter from her memoir. Photos by Tiffannie Nguyen.

Transforming the traditional canon proves no easy feat, but the creative writing program’s Living Writers Series does not shy away from the task.

On Oct. 9, memoirist Ariel Gore kicked off the series. “Transformations” will serve as a cohesive theme among the authors speaking throughout the series, a fitting choice considering the series underwent transformations since its inception.

When UC Santa Cruz literature professors Micah Perks and Karen Yamashita first came to the creative writing program in 1997, only one or two writers would speak every quarter.

“The readings would be in Kresge [Seminar Room] 159 and about 20 people would show up,” Perks said. “We grew frustrated with the lack of attendance, so we attached the reading series to the intro class and then later to all creative writing classes.”

The mandatory attendance increased the number of students exposed to the series and subsequently to the featured writers’ works.

“We have a large audience,” Perks said. “Everyone reads the works of the writers. It’s a supportive, fun place to read.”

Having never read any of Gore’s work before entering the literature department at UCSC, third-year transfer Jacob Moniz is one of these students. As a proposed creative writing major, Moniz is required to read texts from the authors featured in the series, a stipulation which leads to the acquisition of not only new literature, but new perspectives on the craft of writing.

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Ariel Gore’s novel “The Traveling Death and Resurrection Show” features a Catholic-themed, wandering “freak show” that becomes the focus of a religious debate.

Introducing students to texts from voices and genres often absent from the university’s curriculum is one of Perks’ goals.

“I try to bring work by writers who are not usually taught in creative writing programs,” Perks said. “I had a sci-fi and fantasy series and a historical women’s fiction series. We just had a really successful alumni series.”

The eight-night series this quarter features six female writers. Of those female voices, three writers — Kelly Link, Kim Stanley Robinson and Karen Joy Fowler — will appear together Nov. 20 to discuss their works. All three write within the sci-fi genre. Link was a student of Robinson’s who was a student of Fowler’s, presenting the transformation of a genre through generations. American Sign Language performer Patrick Graybill will also take the stage with his translator to illustrate that not all voices need to be vocal.

Professor Ronaldo Wilson, along with professors Yamashita and Perks, alternate every quarter choosing the theme for each group of writers.

“We usually choose the writers six months to a year in advance,” Perks said. “It’s a combination of suggestions and inviting writers whose work we want to teach.”

The program does not receive money to spend and must write grants every year to keep the series afloat.

Memoirist Gore read selections from her latest work “The End of Eve: A Memoir,” a novel capturing the life and death of Gore’s mother after the discovery of her stage 4 lung cancer.

A question and answer session with the audience followed the reading and no one hesitated to pose queries. Gore fielded a number of questions ranging in topics from symbolism within her work, to how students should approach the construction of autobiographical events in their own memoirs.

“It’s not a real way to honor people, to remember them like they really weren’t,” Gore cautioned. “Honor them in their complexity.”

Gore described the transformations memoirists must make when translating memory to the page. Dialogue must be recreated while retaining the essence of the event and preserving authenticity of an individual’s character. The series provides students the opportunity to engage in a discourse about these choices with writers who are actively making them.

“It’s more about crafting,” Gore said, on presenting her work to a college audience. “[At bookstores] the questions are more about my life. Here, they understand it is a piece of writing and there are choices that you make.”

The Living Writers Series will continue for the duration of fall quarter on Thursdays at 4 p.m. in the Humanities Lecture Hall. The series is free and open to the public. After winter break, the series will start again with professor Karen Yamashita devoting the program to writer Gloria Anzaldúa.