Taking a Poetic Path
Three creative writing alumni share tales about how they carved their niche in the written word.
The question is often asked, What does one do with a bachelor's degree in creative writing? In USC College, the answer is plenty. Many go on to publish books of poetry or fiction. Some go on to teach writing, become editors or enter the publishing field. Others receive prestigious fellowships and grants.
Carol Muske-Dukes, professor of English, and California’s poet laureate, said she founded the Ph.D. Creative Writing and Literature program in 1999 in large part as an acknowledgement of the profound abilities of the creative writing graduates.
We have profiled three former undergraduates who represent an abundance of outstanding alumni writers who have gone on to do great things.
“What these three have in common is not only creative talent and imaginative brilliance,” Muske-Dukes said. “They all know what it is to work really hard at what you love.”
They make their success in writing look easy. But remember what Walter Wellesley “Red” Smith said: “There’s nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and open a vein.”
A creative writing alumna, Becca Klaver is anticipating her first full-length collection of poetry to be published.
Klaver, who earned her bachelor’s in USC College in 2003, knows the difficulties in getting that first book onto store shelves.
This is why she helped to found Switchback Books, a feminist poetry press that promotes women writers and helps them get published. Klaver found time to establish Switchback while earning her MFA in poetry at Columbia College in Chicago.
Currently, she is pursuing her Ph.D. in literatures in English at Rutgers University and hopes to begin teaching by 2013. In addition, her poems are published in online literary magazines, including No Tell Motel, MiPOesias, Avatar Review, Somnambulist Quarterly and Coconut. A forthcoming issue of The Literary Review in spring 2010 will feature one of her short stories. She has also written poetry reviews for H_NGM_N, GutCult and Tarpaulin Sky.
Her upcoming book, LA Liminal to be published in spring 2010 by Kore Press, is the Milwaukee native’s ode to Los Angeles. The poems describe her struggles and joys adapting in the nation’s second largest city.
Her first book of poetry, a chapbook, was titled, Inside a Red Corvette: A 90s Mix Tape (Greying Ghost Press, 2009). Her idea for the chapbook began as an exercise. She was listening to a mix tape and began writing poems inspired by the songs. She wrote quickly, changing subjects when the next song came on. When the tape was over, she had written 20 poems. She hopes the poems give readers that exhilarating, whimsical feeling of riding in a red corvette, top down, hair flowing in the wind.
Originally, Klaver came to USC to learn screenwriting, but once she took a Thematic Option course, “Love in Literature,” with Joseph Boone, professor of English, gender studies and comparative literature, she changed her major to creative writing.
“I give credit to Joseph Boone for advising me to switch,” she said. “I kept taking creative writing classes and just wanted more and more.”
When Paul Legault applied to the USC School of Cinematic Arts, he fell back on the kind of writing he did best: poetry.
He had never written a screenplay, so when it came down to submitting samples of his work, he hoped his poetry would be enough. At the computer in this Tennessee home, he sent some of his finest poems and clicked “submit.”
His poetry hit the jackpot in the form of an acceptance letter. In August 2003, the Canadian-born Legault packed his bags and purchased a plane ticket to Los Angeles.
“It’s the great escape,” he said. “When you’re getting out of high school, anyone who makes it past the Mississippi and out of Tennessee is applauded.”
In 2007, Legault graduated with his bachelor’s in screenwriting. But he kept his poetic home fires burning by taking several poetry classes at USC College.
Those poetry classes kindled an inferno. After graduation, Legault decided to pursue his MFA in creative writing at the University of Virginia, where he taught poetry to undergraduates.
Legault has published several of his poems in journals such as the Denver Quarterly, Drunken Boat, and FIELD: Contemporary Poetry and Poetics.
Currently, he’s working on publishing his collection of poetry titled, The Madeleine Poems. He’s dedicating the book to his grandmother, Madeleine, who was diagnosed with cancer. It is set to debut in September 2010 through Omnidawn.
Legault is also involved with The Academy of American Poets in New York City. He works as a program associate developing innovative content — such as how to dress as a poet for Halloween — for the academy’s Web site, Poets.org.
He also interviews poets, writes essays and develops video for the site.
“It’s been exciting to see how film has been incorporated in this job as well,” he said. “That’s something I didn’t expect.”
A poet, screenwriter, teacher and Web developer, Legault has achieved success by following his many passions.
Juliana “Xuan” Wang
Born in Harbin, China, Juliana Wang moved to Los Angeles at age 7. After earning her bachelor’s degree in creative writing from USC College in 2007, she returned to her homeland, where her accomplishments have been many.
She studied modern Chinese literature at Peking University in Beijing, and worked as a translator for the Chicago Tribune and The New Yorker. She produced commercials and taught English at the Fermat Academy and the New Channel Academy. To top it off, she was commissioned by Discovery Channel Asia to direct a documentary.
Although her career had taken off, she dearly missed one thing: writing. Wang has returned to her first love at Columbia University, where she is earning her MFA in fiction writing.
A week after wrapping up her documentary following graduate students training to be village chief assistants in China, she began graduate school at Columbia.
“I knew that I was serious about creative writing,” Wang said. “And that I wanted to devote a period of my life to just write.”
In the College, she had learned from some of the best: Muske-Dukes, T.C. Boyle, Percival Everett, Aimee Bender and David Roman.
Wang is using her life experiences to fuel the lifeline behind her first book, a compilation of short stories based on modern Chinese life.
“It’s really incredible all the things you can do with a creative writing degree.”
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