Wayetu Moore was four when her family escaped Liberia amid the country's economic collapse and civil war.
The Moores left via Sierra Leone for Houston around the First Liberian Civil War. Her family's survival has inspired the young writer to focus on human rights issues in her narratives.
"I want to shed light on the oppression of people of color around the world," said Moore, a 24-year-old student in USC College's Master of Professional Writing (MPW).
Moore majored in journalism at Howard University, but has branched out to fiction writing. "I'm exploring social justice through my imagination," she said.
This summer, Moore will have a rare opportunity to devote a month to her craft under the guidance of celebrated authors and poets during the New York State Summer Writers Institute's 23rd annual program.
Moore and three other MPW students — Sue Kim, Danielle Lenglet and Sarah Fieber — won scholarships to attend the program at Skidmore College in Saratoga Springs, New York.
MPW has the largest number of students at the conference this year.
"We're so proud of our showing," said Brighde Mullins, director of MPW. "These four writers — Wayetu, Sue, Danielle and Sarah — are all representative of the strength of MPW, the kind of breadth that the program holds, in terms of their varied backgrounds and common commitment to writing."
That all were granted scholarships is extraordinary, she said.
"It's a vote of confidence in their work," Mullins said. "It's important for young writers to have these confirmations and opportunities."
Kim looks forward to writing fiction this summer. Born in South Korea, she grew up in South Carolina and Arizona, returning to Seoul at age 10.
Attending Ewha Womans University in Seoul, Kim thought she would pursue law school. But at Ewha, after befriending and traveling with students from throughout the world who spoke several languages, she became more open-minded.
"I began to realize that I didn't want to live my life sitting in an office," Kim, 27, said. "I wanted to do something more creative. By my senior year in college, I found the courage to follow my dream."
A world traveler, she's comfortable developing characters with diverse points of view.
"Because I've lived in so many places," she said, "I'm not intimidated to write from many different perspectives."
Lenglet grew up in Redondo Beach, Calif., and earned her bachelor's at nearby Loyola Marymount University. Although her New York experience this summer will mark her first extended venture from Los Angeles, she has other life experiences that give her depth as a young writer.
At age 17, Lenglet's father died of heart disease. With an emphasis in nonfiction, she is focusing her thesis on myriad experiences of grief — chronicling teenage angst to bereavement.
"I'm writing about grief from every aspect," said Lenglet, 23. "When I was 14, what caused my grief was so different than now. Life for me is more interesting than fiction. There's something about putting your experiences on a page."
Fieber earned her bachelor's in English and art from Yale University. A Connecticut native, Fieber writes fiction and is an abstract artist.
"I've been involved in art since I could hold a paintbrush," Fieber said. "I started thinking visually from a very early age."
Both creative outlets complement each other, she said: "I'm passionate about both."
She has loved to read and write since childhood, too, and remembers staying up past bedtime under the covers holding a flashlight, reading Roald Dahl's Matilda, James and the Giant Peach, and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, over and over.
At 22, she hopes to make writing her career.
"That's one good thing about being young," she said. "You can follow your dream. Hopefully it doesn't fade as you get older."
Master of Professional Writing (MPW) program: college.usc.edu/mpw