Playwright and poet Brighde Mullins has been named director of USC College’s Master of Professional Writing (MPW) Program.
Mullins’ appointment, which begins July 1, concludes a yearlong national search. The advisory committee included faculty from the MPW program, the English department and the USC School of Cinematic Arts, as well as students and alumni of the MPW program.
The MPW is USC College’s advanced multidisciplinary degree in writing. The program offers emphases in fiction, nonfiction, poetry, playwriting, and screen and television writing.
Mullins is the outgoing director of CalArts’ Master of Fine Arts Writing Program. She previously directed the creative writing program at Harvard University, where she held a Briggs-Copeland Lectureship. She has also taught at Brown University and San Francisco State University.
An award-winning playwright, she received the Pinter Review Gold Medal for her play “Fire Eater.” Her plays have been produced in London, New York, San Francisco and Los Angeles. Her 2003 chapbook of poems, Water Stories, was nominated for a Pushcart Prize.
USC College Dean Howard Gillman said that the search committee was impressed by the quality of Mullins’ literary work, her collaborative style and the breadth of her artistic background.
“We’re particularly thrilled about her vision for the MPW program as a platform for USC’s larger contributions to L.A.’s creative community,” Gillman said. “USC College is in one of the world’s great cities and cultural centers, and our students will benefit enormously from closer ties to this vibrant community.”
Mullins brings with her connections to the Los Angeles literary scene.
In 2006 she started a reading series at the Roy and Edna Disney/CalArts Theater, housed in downtown’s Disney Concert Hall. The series has featured writers such as poet-essayist Anne Carson, poet Claudia Rankine and playwright-performance artist Holly Hughes. This month she curates a reading at the Los Angeles County Museum of Arts in association with its “Phantom Sightings: Art After the Chicano Movement” exhibition.
While in New York, Mullins established a reading series with the Dia Art Foundation that hosted major American poets like John Ashbery and James Schuyler. In San Francisco, she helped found PlayGround, a theater specializing in short plays by new playwrights.
Mullins touted the L.A. experimental poetry scene as well as the community of writers who have crossed over from theater to film and television. She said the diverse voices at L.A.’s cultural crossroads provide its literary scene with a unique energy.
“I did my MFAs at Iowa and at Yale, and I couldn’t see myself staying,” Mullins said. “L.A. is a place you come and you stay. It’s a place where you can write. There’s this amazing landscape and history that still feels new, like it hasn’t all been seen and said a million times before.”
Mullins said she looks forward to strengthening the MPW program’s collaboration with USC’s other writing programs.
“I’m very excited to be at a university that has such a range of wonderful writing programs — the MPW, the College’s English department, as well as in the cinema school and the theatre school,” she said. “I see a fantastic opportunity to work with those other programs.”
USC Distinguished Professor Bruce Smith, chair of English, welcomes the chance to work more closely with the MPW program.
“In her teaching of writing at Harvard, Brighde was very active in the life of the English department there, and she really liked the give-and-take with people who were teaching literature. We have a perfect situation to have that replicated here at USC.”
Mullins also seeks to solidify the MPW program’s identity.
“The MPW has its own unique place at USC, its own very particular philosophy,” she said. “Part of my role will be to help articulate that philosophy, because it has such a good track record with its students, and it has such an amazing faculty.”
The program’s faculty of lecturers includes screenwriting guru Syd Field, author Janet Fitch, novelist and memoirist John Rechy and film critic Kenneth Turan. Among its alumni are Oscar-nominated screenwriter Douglas Day Stewart and Pushcart Prize-nominated essayist Sandra Tsing Loh.
The MPW program focuses on sharpening students’ writing skills, as well as teaching the business of writing. Mullins said the program helps writers find their own unique voice, then shows them how to get published.
“It also addresses the writer’s capacity to make a living through writing after obtaining the degree,” she said. “The result is that many graduates are widely published, and many are active professional writers in the entertainment industry and in technical fields.”
She is equally enthusiastic about the multidisciplinary nature of the program, which requires students to take courses outside of their chosen genre. As a writer who has worked in multiple fields, she sees the value in students’ stretching across literary boundaries.
“All genres have something to learn from each other,” she said. “You can learn a lot by seeing how writers in other forms handle your subject. You just have to find the connections and resonances.”