Chris Muniz says that DJing and writing an essay have more in common than one might think. (Photo: Courtesy of Chris Muniz.)

When he’s not helping students spin tales, he’s spinning records

By day, Christopher Muniz teaches students the craft of writing at USC Dornsife. By night, he’s dropping beats at sold-out music festivals.
ByMargaret Crable

During the day, you’ll find Christopher Muniz training students in the art of essay writing. On nights and weekends, however, things take a less studious turn. You’ll find the writing professor performing as a DJ at festivals like EDC Mexico or Nocturnal Wonderland, where his bass-heavy sets keep the crowds moving late into the night.

Muniz has been with USC Dornsife since 2017. (Photo: Mike Glier.)

It’s a little bit of a double existence. “Some people don’t know I’m a professor, and then some people know I’m a professor but don’t know I’m a DJ,” he says.

For Muniz though, the craft of writing — he teaches the subject at the USC Dornsife College of Letters Arts and Sciences — and a DJ skillset have a lot in common.

“Preparing for a set is almost the same as preparing for writing an essay. You’re auditioning ideas, you’re figuring out what goes in what order, you’re thinking about your audience or your reader,” he says. “There’s a lot of overlap that appeals to me. I think it helps make me a better writer, a better teacher and, of course, a better DJ, as well.”

Book worm; music lover

Muniz grew up in Colorado with an early love of music. He and his father used to lie on the floor together and listen to records like Pink Floyd’s “The Dark Side of the Moon” all the way through. Starting in kindergarten, allowances or money earned from getting good grades would go towards Muniz’s growing collection of tapes and records.

The only thing that could compete was his love of books. Muniz was a voracious reader, making his way through Stephen King novels, nonfiction books on World War II, how-to manuals on woodworking and anything else that piqued his interest.

Muniz credits his mother with inspiring him to pursue a college degree. His maternal grandfather dropped out of school in the 6th grade to become a coal miner to support his family. Muniz’s mother was the only one of eight children to pursue higher education, eventually earning her master’s degree in education and working as an elementary school teacher for 30 years.

There’s just something magical about the written word.

“The concept of me continuing all the way on to a PhD would have probably been inconceivable without my mom striking out on her own and leaving the small town she grew up in to go to college,” says Muniz. He toured a number of college campuses, but USC’s sunny location in the energetic heart of Los Angeles won him over.

He enrolled thinking he’d want to attend film school but, although he minored in the subject, he ultimately retained his focus on literature.

“There’s just something magical about the written word. I feel like there’s a kind of alchemical process that occurs between the writer and the reader, and that feels part of this ancient tradition, which appeals to me,” he says.

Growing up in Colorado he’d gone to many concerts and dance nights, an activity he continued after moving to California. He started spinning records at small clubs, landing his first gig at a run-down bar in Culver City. This eventually grew into his second career, one that’s taken him all over Southern California as well as to festivals in Hawaii, Las Vegas and Mexico.

He’s not just balancing late-nights with work as a professor — Muniz is also a husband and father.

“I’ll show up in class and students will ask, ‘How was your weekend?’ I’m like, ‘What did I do this weekend?’ It’s all a blur,” he laughs.

Getting personal

After graduation, he continued his studies with an MFA from the California Institute of the Arts before completing his PhD in literature and creative writing at USC Dornsife in 2018. He joined the faculty in 2017.

Muniz works with a broad range of students, from those passionate about writing to those whose interests lie elsewhere and enrolled in his classes only because of general education requirements. No matter to Muniz; he’s intent on helping all of his students uncover the value of writing well.

“I try to let them discover it on their own. I want them to write about things they’re interested in, no matter what their field is and no matter what the theme of the class is,” he says. “Usually if it somehow becomes much more personal to unpack, then before they know it, they’re like, ‘Oh, wait, you know, I am writing.’”

Outside his classwork and DJ gigs, Muniz is currently at work on a dystopian novel set in New Mexico. He says he doesn’t usually listen to music while he’s writing on his own, but in his classes, he’ll put on the YouTube channel Lo-Fi Girl to set the mood for his students during writing exercises.

“It’s like low-slung hip-hop music, no lyrics, what might be considered ‘chill’ music that appeals to everyone on some level because it has just enough texture and flavor to put you into a nice creative space,” he says.

Muniz teaches “Identity and Diversity in American Contexts” (WRIT 150) this fall.

Featured USC Dornsife faculty:

Christopher Muniz, Assistant Professor (Teaching) of Writing