Tag Archive | "creative writing program"

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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


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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USpeak series gets under way

University of Miami alumnus and Jamaican-born poet Geoffrey Philp kicked off USpeak’s second season with the debut of his poetry collection Dub Wise on Friday, September 24 at the Oasis Deli in the Whitten University Center. More than 115 young writers and poets welcomed Philp home 28 years to the day from his last reading at UM, some stepping up to the mic and reading their own poetry. The next USpeak will feature an all-star alumni reading and open mic on Friday, October 8 at the Oasis Deli. An initiative of the Creative Writing Program, USpeak is a series of literary events featuring a local writer from the University of Miami or greater Miami literary community. Audience members are also invited to step up and share their poems, stories, and music.

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