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University of Miami Holds Its Inaugural VONA/Voices Workshops for Writers of Color


CORAL GABLES, Fla. (June 8, 2015) – For the first time, leading authors and aspiring writers from the U.S. and marginalized writers from across the world are gathered at the University of Miami campus this month to participate in the renowned Voices of Our Nations Arts Foundation (VONA)/Voices Workshops for Writers of Color, the only multi-genre workshop for writers of color in the United States.

Previously held at the University of California, Berkeley, VONA/Voices has partnered with UM’s College of Arts and Sciences Creative Writing Program to hold its first two weeklong sessions in Miami.

For each weeklong workshop, established, nationally known writers of poetry, memoirs, fiction, political pieces, and plays are facilitating sessions during which participants exchange their works, share strategies, and talk about their craft, practices, and lives as writers of color.

The residency program allows writers an opportunity to work one-on-one with selected faculty members. The Thursday evenings of each workshop week bring free, open community events, where VONA/Voices faculty will read their works.

Coral Gables bookstore Books & Books, 265 Aragon Avenue, Coral Gables, will host this week’s readings on Thursday, July 2, and is slated to feature:

Faith Adiele, Travel Writing: Faith Adiele is the author of The Nigerian-Nordic Girl’s Guide to Lady Problems, a travel memoir about becoming Thailand’s first black Buddhist nun, which received the PEN Beyond Margins Award for Best Memoir of 2004. She is co-editor of Coming of Age Around the World: A Multicultural Anthology, and the writer, narrator, and subject of the PBS documentary “My Journey Home.”

Chitra Divakaruni, Residency: Divarkaruni writes often about her life in Northern California, where she lived for many years after moving from India to the U.S. Her books include The Mistress of Spices and Sister of My Heart, which have been made into movies.

Tanarive Due, Speculative Fiction: Due is an American Book Award-winning, Essence bestselling author of Blood ColonyThe Living BloodThe Good House, and Joplin’s Ghost. She lives in Atlanta, Georgia.

M. Evelina Galang, Fiction: Director of the Creative Writing Program at the University of Miami College of Arts and Sciences, Galang was named one of the 100 Most Influential Filipinas in the World by Filipina Women’s Network. She is the winner of the Gustavus Myers Outstanding Book Award in the Advancement of Human Rights and the 2004 Association of Writers and Writing Programs Prize in the Novel for One Tribe. Galang is also the author of the story collection Her Wild American Self and novel Angel de la Luna and the 5th Glorious Mystery.

Achy Obejas, LGBTQ Narrative: Author of the critically acclaimed novels Ruins and Days of Awe, Obejas edited and translated into English Havana Noir, a collection of crime stories by Cuban writers, and translated into Spanish Junot Díaz’s novel The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao.

Willie Perdomo, Poetry: Author of The Essential Hits of Shorty Bon Bon and a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award in Poetry, Perdomo is a two-time New York Foundation for the Arts Poetry Fellow. His collection Where a Nickel Costs a Dime was a finalist for the Poetry Society of America Norma Farber First Book Award.

Andrew X. Pham, Memoir: Pham tells the story of his life in Vietnam, Thailand, Laos, and Cambodia through works such as Catfish and Mandala and The Eaves of Heaven: A Life in Three Wars. He received undergraduate and graduate degrees in aerospace engineering and an MBA before deciding to become a writer.

The first week’s session took place on Thursday, June 25 at Coral Gables Congregational United Church of Christ in Coral Gables, and featured:

Elmaz Abinader, Political Content and VONA/Voices Co-Founder: Inspired by the dislocation of her parents from Lebanon to the United States, Abinader’s work addresses the Arab World and Diaspora. Her works include the memoir The Children of the Roojme: A Family’s Journey from Lebanon, poetry collections This House My Bones and In the Country of My Dreams, and the one-woman play Country of Origin.

Staceyann Chin, Memoir: Jamaican-born spoken-word performing artist and LGBT rights political activist, Chin has written about her struggles growing up in Jamaica. Her work includes Wildcat Woman and Stories Surrounding My Coming and the autobiographical novel The Other Side of Paradise. Her work has been published in The New York Times, The Washington Post and the Pittsburgh Daily, and has been featured on 60 Minutes.

Junot Díaz, Fiction and VONA/Voices Co-Founder: Pulitzer Prize winner Díaz has won numerous prizes for his books, The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao and This Is How You Lose Her. He is the recipient of a MacArthur “Genius” Fellowship, PEN/Malamud Award, Dayton Literary Peace Prize, Guggenheim Fellowship, and PEN/O. Henry Award.

Kim Euell, Playwriting: Passionately committed to promoting socially relevant new plays, Euell founded Voices!, a play development program at Hartford Stage to showcase new plays by underrepresented writers. Her own works have been performed from New York to Los Angeles, Chicago, San Francisco, Seattle, Portland, Detroit, Savannah, and Louisville.

Ruth Forman, Poetry: Forman has written three award-winning books: poetry collections: We are the Young Magicians and Renaissance, and children’s story Young Cornrows Callin’ Out the Moon.

Marjorie Liu, Popular Fiction: Marjorie M. Liu is a New York Times bestselling author of paranormal romance and urban fantasy novels, including the 2005 paranormal romance Tiger Eye, and comic books. Her comics work includes a number Marvel Comics series related to X-Men and Wolverine, including NYX, X-23, Dark Wolverine, and Astonishing X-Men.

David Mura, Residency: David Mura has written two memoirs: Turning Japanese: Memoirs of a Sansei, which won a 1991 Josephine Miles Book Award from the Oakland PEN and was listed in the New York Times Notable Books of Year, and Where the Body Meets Memory: An Odyssey of Race, Sexuality and Identity. His novel Famous Suicides of the Japanese Empire was a finalist for the Minnesota Book Award, John Gardner Fiction Prize, and Virginia Commonwealth University Cabell First Novelist Award.

VONA/Voices is committed to artistic excellence, social justice, and the empowerment of the community of writers of color. Since its founding in 1999 by Elmaz Abinader, Junot Díaz, Victor Díaz, and Diem Jones, VONA/Voices has inspired more than 2,000 writers of color. More information about VONA/Voices at UM is available at www.as.miami.edu/vona.

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Lester Goran, a Bright Light That Shone on Many Writers, Dies at Age 85


Lester Goran inspired scores of writers over his 50-plus years at UM.

Lester Goran inspired scores of writers over his 50-plus years at UM.

Melissa Peerless
Special to UM News

Coral Gables, Fla. (February 7, 2014) – Lester Goran, a talented writer, inspirational teacher, and founder of the Creative Writing Program in the College of Arts and Sciences at the University of Miami, passed away on February 6. He was 85.

During a career at the college that spanned more than a half century, Goran helped more than 20,000 students find their voices and tell their stories.

Former students recall his use of zany phrases (such as “Throw a cat out the window!”) to inspire them to look for surprises in their work. They remember a fantastic storyteller who was quick to both praise and criticize their work, as needed. Many say that, without his guidance, they would not be writers today.

Goran joined the Arts and Sciences faculty in 1960, and helped to establish the first creative writing curriculum at UM in 1965. He was also instrumental in establishing the Master of Fine Arts program in 1991.

“Lester Goran was a writer who practiced his craft to the end,” said M. Evelina Galang, director of the Creative Writing Program. “In doing so, he was a master who, by example, lecture, and encouragement, ushered several important writers into this world—among them Terrence Cheng, Chantel Acevedo, Michelle Richmond, Paul Perry, and Crissa-Jean Chappell. He was a bright light who made the University of Miami’s Creative Writing Program what it is today.”

Throughout his long and illustrious teaching career, Goran wrote prolifically, penning eight novels, a memoir, and three short story collections. Many of his works are set in Pittsburgh, where he grew up in a tough neighborhood before earning both B.A. and M.A. degrees from the University of Pittsburgh.

In a 2010 interview, Goran said he was drawn to writing to explain his life. “I couldn’t understand myself unless I partially fictionalized myself into a drama. Produced, directed, and written by myself,” he said, adding that he loved teaching and “dealing with many young people who are on the edge of self-discovery.”

“A great University is built on a strong faculty, and Lester Goran is a shining example of our excellent team in the College of Arts and Sciences,” Dean Leonidas G. Bachas said. “We are all very proud of the Creative Writing Program, which Lester started. He has enlightened our community for 50 years, and his legacy will continue to live on in our students and their writings.”

During the 2010-11 academic year, the Creative Writing Program organized the Goran Reading Series in honor of his 50 years of service. Four prominent writers who had studied with Goran offered public readings, master classes, and community workshops. The program also established the Lester Goran Endowed Creative Writing Fellowship to offer emerging writers the opportunity to create.

 

 

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Poetry with a Purpose: Readathon Aids Typhoon Relief Efforts in the Philippines

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Poetry with a Purpose: Readathon Aids Typhoon Relief Efforts in the Philippines


Rachel Berquist performs during the USpeak Readathon at the UC Rock.

Rachel Berquist performs during the USpeak Readathon at the UC Rock.

One by one, they stepped up to the microphone to read, sing or play a musical instrument. They weren’t seeking fame or fortune, but awareness—and more importantly, support—for an effort to aid the hundreds of thousands of victims of one of history’s deadliest natural disasters.

Nearly a month after Super Typhoon Haiyan battered Tacloban city in the central Philippines, UM’s Filipino Student Association (FSA) and Creative Writing Program staged a special USpeak readathon on Thursday for typhoon relief.  Read the full story

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Honoring a Creative Half Century of Teaching

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Honoring a Creative Half Century of Teaching


From left to right: Hayes Roth ’72; Crissa-Jean Chappell ’99; Leonidas Bachas, dean of the College of Arts and Sciences; Lester Goran; M. Evelina Galang; and Tom Cavanagh ’89.

The 50th teaching anniversary of an inspiring professor and beloved mentor was celebrated when the University of Miami Creative Writing Program honored Professor Lester Goran with “Tales from the Irish Club,” a reception held April 21 in the Newman Alumni Center.

“We honor Lester Goran and all he has done for the University of Miami, for the students who studied under him, and for the academy of letters where he has not only contributed his own books of literature, but the books of his students,” said M. Evelina Galang, director of creative writing and associate professor of English in the College of Arts and Sciences Department of English, where the Creative Writing Program is housed. “For every student who leaves our program, another book is in the world, another chance to explore this human condition and all its possibilities.” Read the full story

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Author! Author!


Writing faculty Walter Lew and Lester Goran, standing far left; Creative Writing Program director M. Evelina Galang, back row center; and UM alumnus Terence Cheng, far right, are surrounded by UM creative writing students.

Events honor writing professor’s 50-plus years of teaching, guidance, and friendship.

Five decades and more than 20,000 students since arriving at the University of Miami in 1960, Lester Goran, the English professor instrumental in launching the Creative Writing Program in the Department of English, has seen his impact travel far beyond the College of Arts and Sciences’ walls.

On Friday, March 25, as part of the Goran Reading Series, inaugurated last year to celebrate Goran’s continuing legacy, novelist Terrence Cheng, M.F.A. ’97, chair of the English department at Lehman College-CUNY, returned to the Coral Gables campus to lead a master class and give a reading attended by his mentor, as well as other Department of English faculty, students, and alumni.

Cheng, who studied with Goran from 1995 to 1997, is the author of the novel Sons of Heaven and other works of fiction, as well as the winner of a 2005 NEA literature fellowship. The Taiwan-born author immigrated to the U.S. with his family at age 1 and was among several of Goran’s former students to offer fond anecdotes about their mentor in honor of his 50th year of teaching in 2010.

Kicking off his reading “with a quick Lester story,” Cheng recounted how he’d just turned in his final thesis when his advisor came into class and announced: “I just read Cheng’s thesis.” He then told the audience in the CAS Gallery: “We hadn’t talked about it yet, and he starts talking about it [in front of the class], and I’m sort of going numb. He starts to read portions of it with this very dramatic voice, pointing out how melodramatically and poorly written certain portions of the book are—and then he stops and says, ‘But this is what Cheng did well.’ He was teaching me a lesson in terms of what I did right and what I did wrong—but he was also using the experience for the class. I think that’s the valuable aspect of an M.F.A. program, learning from each other.

“I kind of hated Lester for a day or so,” Cheng concluded, “but in hindsight I really appreciated it.”

Cheng, who’s working on a collection in which all of the stories revolve around Chinatown from the 1980s to present day, read from his iPad a new piece set in the wake of 9-11.

“In Chinatown that community was devastated by 9-11 in a way no other ethnic community was. The cops shut down downtown, then the tourist industry, which drives Chinatown, dropped off,” he explained.

Behind Cheng, submissions to the CAS Gallery’s juried art show—an outstretched, disembodied hand; a prone foot poised on the ball of its toes; a shadowy miniature horse made of sheer gunmetal gray stockings—provided the eerie backdrop to the writer’s post-9-11 world, which appears “as if spit from the core of a nightmare,” Cheng writes.

The story crystallizes this violent sense of vulnerability by referring to “the gathered buckshot of lives.” The surreal aspects of survival are captured by Cheng’s nameless protagonist, an older Chinese man, who reassures himself coldly: “The world is not going to blow up or it would not be on television.”

On the morning of September 11, Cheng was getting ready for his job at a Midtown publishing company when he saw on television one tower, then the other topple. “So what did I do? I got dressed and I went to work,” he said. “I was walking north and everyone was looking south and I didn’t want to look south. I got to the office and it was just chaos.” By the afternoon, his office had closed. “So I took a bunch of people back to my apartment.” He cooked a pot of spaghetti and served drinks. “There was that sense of complete and utter shock,” he continued. “My dad came over; he yelled at me for smoking and drinking in the afternoon. And I said, ‘Dad, I think we have some bigger problems to deal with right now.’”

A decade later, that sense of shock remains with Cheng. “It will never feel real. Even now, even reading this—this is the first time I’ve read this piece in public—it’s disturbing,” he told the audience. “I’m trying to answer questions for myself. I’m never trying to say anything. I feel like if you’re trying to say something in fiction, you shouldn’t be writing fiction. You should be writing an op/ed for the paper, you should be writing essays. Don’t try to say something with fiction. Try to show something and show something in a way that has resonance and sticks.”

From the audience, Goran recounted calling Cheng immediately after the attacks. “I couldn’t reach you for a couple of days,” he told Cheng. “I was glad to hear you weren’t under the rubble.”

Cheng and Goran

That kind of genuine connection to so many of his students, past and present, is part of what has kept Goran an icon at UM for half a century. In addition to Cheng, the inaugural Goran Reading Series has already welcomed back former students Michelle Richmond, M.F.A. ’98, Paul Perry, M.F.A. ’97, and Chantel Acevedo, M.F.A. ’99, with more scheduled.

Another new series, Write Now, presented a full weekend of workshops for writers that raised proceeds for the Goran Scholarship Fund, which was started last fall. Its goal is to raise $100,000 to create the Goran Endowed Scholarship in Creative Writing.

“Lester has really started this,” said M. Evelina Galang, director of the Creative Writing Program, during Cheng’s March 25 reading. “All of this began because Lester saw to it to bring creative writing to the University of Miami, and so for that we thank you, Lester.”

A winner of UM’s Excellence in Teaching Award, Goran, 82, continues to be a vital member of an M.F.A. program The Huffington Post recently praised as one of this nation’s 25 most underrated. In 1960, the year he arrived at UM to teach English, the first of his ten novels so far, The Paratrooper of Mechanic Avenue, was published. In 1965 he helped develop UM’s creative writing curriculum and then the department’s master’s-level Creative Writing Program in 1991.

He attracted luminaries such as James A. Michener, whose endowment helped create the M.F.A. program, and Nobel Laureate Isaac Bashevis Singer, with whom Goran taught and worked on translations for a decade.

Goran, who grew up in Pittsburgh’s rough Oakland housing projects, discovered a love of fiction and basketball early on. He went on to earn his B.A. and M.A. at the University of Pittsburgh, served with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the Military Police, and had three sons with wife Edythe McDowell. He is a grandfather of seven.

Goran’s published works also include a memoir about his friendship with Singer and three short story collections. Tales from the Irish Club, set in a working-class Pittsburgh neighborhood between World War II and the Vietnam War, was a 1996 New York Times Notable Book of the Year.

For him, the past 50 years have resulted in plenty of pleasant surprises. “It’s one of the perks of the job you don’t know when you start,” he said of keeping in touch with students like Cheng and following their lives and careers.

And, like a proud grandfather, Goran is quick to point out that this reading series created in his name has brought only a fraction of his thousands of talented former students back to visit. Many have gone on to become professors around the U.S. and in Europe, literary-journal editors, and New York Times bestselling authors. “There are many more,” he said. “And they are all unique.”

The Creative Writing Program will host a USpeak event on Friday, April 15 at the Oasis and an end-of-the-semester reception for Goran, with some of his published undergraduate students reading from their work, starting at 3 p.m. on Thursday, April 21 at the CAS Gallery, Coral Gables campus.

To read more testimonies from Goran’s former students, or for more information about upcoming events or the Goran Scholarship Fund, visit www.as.miami.edu/english/creativewriting/lestergoran.

 

 

 

 

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