Ten of the twenty exceptional students currently in the William G. Cooper, Jr., Honors Program in English at UALR are focusing on creative writing. According to UALR Professor David Jauss, one of their mentors and teachers, they are an amazingly talented bunch. In fact, he says, “In the last couple of years, I have been fortunate enough to have at one time the finest five fiction writers I have taught during my thirty years at UALR.” Profs. Ralph Burns and Dennis Vannatta, who also mentor creative writing projects, agree this group is exceptional.
The Cooper Honors Program provided funds for six of these promising writers to attend the foremost national conference in creative writing, which offered the students an invaluable opportunity to see and hear authors of national and international stature: the 2010 AWP (Association of Writers and Writing Programs) Conference which was held in Denver 8-10 April. The students are Alisha Karabinus, Justin Carroll, Phillip Garcia, Sarita Perez, Suzi Garcia, and Robert Bruno.
Alisha Karabinus has already published over a dozen short stories in such journals as Pindeldyboz, Staccato Fiction, and Flashquake. Here’s what she says about attending the AWP Conference: “I’ve been to a lot of music festivals and concerts in my life, and seen people get really excited over their favorite artists, but I never really felt that way myself until AWP. For me, it was like being near dozens of rock stars–literary rock stars!–and completely overwhelming. Of the panels, I particularly enjoyed a discussion featuring Pam Houston and Elizabeth Stuckey-French on writing unlikable female characters.”
Justin Carroll, who begins the Master of Fine Arts in Writing Program at the University of North Texas this fall and who has already been published in the literary journal Prairie Margins, was also star-struck, “At AWP, Michael Chabon gave the keynote address. He and other famous writers such as Dan Chaon and Eric Puchner shared stories of when they were young and inexperienced writers. Hearing these things made me realize that I have a long way to go, but at the same time it instilled the hope that if I continue writing every day I will get better and more experienced one story at a time.” According to Sarita Perez, hearing and learning from the writers she most admires was one of the conference’s major benefits, “I felt like I was gaining knowledge just by standing near so many brilliant writers. Besides all the fantastic panels and lectures, I was also able to hear readings by some of my most favorite authors, the hardest part of which was resisting the urge to leap onstage and hug them.”
For Phillip Garcia, who has been accepted into the MFA in Writing Program at Vermont College this fall, there was no substitute for actually “being there”: “A lot can be learned about the craft of writing in classrooms and in books,” he observes, “however, all too quickly, literature can begin to feel stagnant and stale. The real pleasure of the AWP Conference comes from being able to see writing as a living and breathing art form and to be able to submerge oneself into it, feeling with what vivacity it thrives.”
Suzi Garcia’s play The View was produced by UALR’s Theatre Department as part of the annual Fringe Festival. She says this about attending AWP, “Perhaps my favorite readings were those by Sherman Alexie and Yusef Komunyakaa. I also enjoyed many of the panels I attended, including Hot/Not on sentiment and sentimentality in poetry. I learned the most, perhaps, from Michael Chabon who inspired all when he said ‘I want to forcibly insert myself into the whole of literature.’ Without the Cooper Program, this experience would not have been possible.”
Finally, Robert Bruno managed to attend fourteen events at the conference and he says, “I learned a great deal about the art of writing. During my stay, I was able to network with students in numerous MFA programs and even some celebrities.” Like Suzi Garcia, Robert also named Hot/Not as his favorite panel because it “was the most instructive.” Robert recently received an honorable mention in the UALR Fringe Festival for his short play Blame.