Letter From the Editor

The Power of Language

For more than half a century, UCI’s storied M.F.A. program in creative writing has been graduating some of the top authors and poets in the nation, from best-sellers Michael Chabon and Alice Sebold to New York laureate Yusef Komunyakaa.

While there are creative writing programs that are older, they were often added years – if not decades – after the universities were established. UCI, however, began its program with the very creation of the university’s English department – a much rarer start that can be directly attributed to founding English department chair Hazard Adams’ vision that the study of literature should provide an “understanding of the writer’s point of view.” But it’s not so unusual a development when you consider UCI’s pioneering spirit and its inherent principle of encouraging faculty and students to think differently.

In this special literary issue of UCI Magazine, our cover story, “Chapter and Verse”, provides a glimpse into the history, mechanics and culture of the Programs in Writing. Alumni share how faculty members over the decades have mentored them to find their own voices and writing styles.

Perhaps channeling the campfire storytellers that once dotted the ranchland on which UCI stands, M.F.A. students, faculty and alumni are a free-spirited bunch. Says author and 1998 alumna Aimee Bender: “There was real appreciation and support for my weirder writing, the writing I thought would be dismissed.”

We are pleased to share, starting on page 27, six excerpts from new works of fiction by veteran and debut authors along with five poems from the class of 2016 and a much-lauded one from Komunyakaa.

In addition to highlighting the works of M.F.A. alumni, we are delighted to include the first U.S. printing of Kenyan author Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o’s “The Upright Revolution: Or Why Humans Walk Upright”. A UCI Distinguished Professor of English and comparative literature and a repeat contender for the Nobel Prize in literature, Ngũgĩ shows the power of writing in the fable – from its peaceful message of working together while recognizing the beauty of individuality to its translation into more than 60 languages. That makes it “the single most translated short story in the history of African writing,” according to publisher Jalada.

In an era in which writing has often been reduced to quickly cobbled statements of 140 or fewer characters, it feels more important than ever that UCI’s English department faculty – particularly those in creative writing – continue to foster the artistry and craft of genuine storytelling.

Says M.F.A. fiction co-director Michelle Latiolais: “What we do daily in the Programs in Writing is try to remain fully conscious every minute of the ability of language to render the world’s atrocities, its staggering idiocies and its beauties.”

Marina Dundjerski
Managing editor, UCI Magazine