Creative Writing Department to Hold Panel at Culver Center for the Arts

By Laila Rashid, CHASS Dean's Office Student Intern
October 15, 2013

On the first day of her creative writing class for the students of the CHASS Connect program in spring of 2012, distinguished professor Susan Straight told them there were two kinds of people: people who stay, and people who go. She was a person who had stayed, being a native of Riverside her entire life. Tonight at 7 p.m. at the Culver Center for the Arts in downtown Riverside, she will host a panel, California: Golden Exile and Homeland, with three writers about ideas of home, exile, and California’s reputation as “the golden state”.

Three vibrant young writers, Keenan Norris, Laleh Khadivi, and Alex Espinosa, will be in attendance to discuss their recent novels. Keenan Norris holds an M.F.A. from Mills College and a Ph.D. from UCR, and his interests include urban literature and the publishing industry. He teaches English, African-American literature, basic skills courses and promotes the AFFIRM program, a program designed to increase the retention, matriculation, and transfer of African-American students at Evergreen Valley College in San Jose, California. His newest book, “Brother and the Dancer,” follows two natives of California who love their inland homeland even facing violence and class divisions, and has won the James D. Houston Award from Heydey Press.

Laleh Khadivi, born in Esfahan, Iran on the eve of the Islamic Revolution, holds an M.F.A. from Mills College and has also worked extensively as director, producer and cinematographer of documentary films since 1999. Her latest book, “The Walking,” tells the story of a Kurdish refugee who flees Iran and falls in love with American movies and imagines himself eventually settling into Hollywood. She views it as a novel “about that distance between where you are and what you see,” among many things. Her debut novel, “The Age of Orphans,” is the first book in a trilogy that follows three generations of Kurdish and Kurdish American men and their experiences of home, exile and migration in the 20th and 21st centuries.  It has been awarded the Whiting Award for Fiction, the Barnes and Nobles Discover New Writers Award and an Emory Fiction Fellowship.

Born in Tijuana, Mexico and raised in Los Angeles, Alex Espinosa received his bachelor’s degree from UCR and M.F.A. from UC Irvine. His first novel, “Still Water Saints,” was named a Barnes and Noble Discover Great New Writers Selection and released simultaneously in Spanish. His new novel, “The Five Acts of Diego Leon,” tells the story of a young man who leaves rural Mexico during the Revolution and ends up landing in 1927 Hollywood where he succeeds in the film industry but remains haunted by home. Being a Puente student himself, Espinoza has been deeply involved with the Puente Project, a program designed to help first-generation community college students make a successful transition to a university.

“To me, this event is great for UCR, CHASS and for the Culver because we'd like to bring more literary events to the downtown area, but also because I'm a native of California, and of this area, and I'd like to explore through fiction and memoir how people come to California, why they come here, and why they stay,” says Professor Straight. “Since so many Americans now say that California is not the ‘golden land of opportunity’ that it was considered in the past, I thought these three writers would be perfect to discuss how people still arrive here daily from all over the world, considering this state still their dream, and how many natives still stay here, even though it may be difficult, because this landscape is their home.”

Leslie Gerretse, who has been managing functions for UCR for over 5 years and has called the ARTSblock home for a little over a year, is excited for this and future events at the Culver Center. She worked very closely with Professor Straight to organize and plan this panel.  

“Susan and I worked together on a couple of events last school year, and it really is a pleasure working with her,” says Gerretse. “Susan is so passionate about writing, exposure of local authors, UCR, and Riverside. It's refreshing! The Culver Center has been open for a few years now, and we've been working on increasing faculty presence and activity. This is an exciting year for us, as about 3/4 of our upcoming events are in collaboration with UCR faculty. I think it's important to involve all sorts of disciplines in the programming at the ARTSblock and am excited to see the varying collaborations we have lined up for the school year. I'm especially looking forward to the California: Golden Exile and Homeland event because I have called California home for my whole life, and still see much opportunity and adventure here. What a happy coincidence that Susan's idea for this event matches up so well with the CHASS theme of ‘at home in the world.’”

Professor Straight agreed, saying, “when I planned the event last spring, I didn't know about the CHASS theme, but it's actually perfect for that. People like the characters in these novels, as well as my own, make home where they are in many ways.”

Books will be sold and light refreshments will be provided.

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