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In Memory of Les Plesko

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In Memoriam

Les Plesko

(1954-2013)

On September 16, 2013, UCLA Extension Writers’ Program fiction writing instructor Les Plesko died in Venice, California.  On September 26th, over 100 people gathered at Beyond Baroque to pay tribute to the man that many present said would take one look at the gathering, say “Oh brother,” and walk out.  Les despised, as Janet Fitch wrote, “…the sentimental, the cornball, the witchy-poo.”   But we did it for ourselves, for our need to remember and grieve and laugh and most of all, to celebrate the exquisite gifts as a writer and teacher he so generously shared.  The following is the transcript of my remarks as one of the memorial’s speakers.  To quote Jamie Schaffner, one of his wonderful former students, “Les, Rest. Rest. Rest.”

I am honored and humbled to be here today, and I think Joshua Miller and Michael Deyermond for organizing this beautiful tribute.

On February 21, 1995, Les sent me a letter introducing himself, and proposed a course for the UCLA Extension Writers’ Program that he called “Life into Fiction.”  Les wrote, “I believe most writers or would-be writers have, in the story of their lives, one or a handful of core events which are already shaped into a personal literature, awaiting the courage and craft to make it to the pages as realized works of art.   I would like nothing better than the opportunity to impart what I’ve learned about crafting life into fiction to others who want to take the same journey.”

We had a great interview and I hired him on the spot.  What I didn’t realize at the time, however, is that I had just met with one of the rarest and most gifted teachers of fiction writing the Writers’ Program would ever see.  Over 18 years and 131 courses, Les was the consummate artist and mentor, leading nearly 1,000 students on their fiction writing journeys.  While he worked primarily with advanced writers, Les conveyed the wonder and process of fiction writing to all levels, and with everyone, as one of his students put it, “Les always knew how to be kind in his critiques and [park] in the exact right place where encouragement intersects with reality.”

In 2002, Les won the UCLA Extension Outstanding Instructor in Creative Writing Award, and this is what he said I when asked what the award meant to him:

“Fourteen years ago, I took a Writers’ Program course and walked into my fate—I discovered myself as a writer.  It started with a few good lines, a caring instructor who recognized them, the beginnings of a voice.  My most thrilling moments teaching here are when a student breaks through to that voice, and everyone in the workshop knows it and feels it.  It’s also swell to have confirmed, in writing, as it were, that I haven’t been spouting nonsense for 10 years.”

Les, I wish I could give you this award all over again, and thank you, from the bottom of my heart, for inspiring and guiding our students with such devotion and warmth.  We miss you so much.

Linda Venis
Director, UCLA Extension Writers’ Program

6 Responses to In Memory of Les Plesko

  1. Janet Clare September 30, 2013 at 7:08 am #

    Linda,
    This is lovely. And the picture is just wonderful. Thank you.
    Janet Clare

    • Linda Venis September 30, 2013 at 1:01 pm #

      Thank you, Janet–your remarks at Les’s memorial service were so moving. Please click on the arrow to see ALL the pictures of Les–our Program Assistant Sarah Lim put together such a wonderful collection of Les Images.”

  2. Denise Emanuel Clemen September 30, 2013 at 11:04 am #

    I am both sadder and happier with each shared memory. The memorial was wonderful.

  3. Jamie Schaffner September 30, 2013 at 5:27 pm #

    I love this so much. Thank you.

  4. Cheryl Manning September 30, 2013 at 7:07 pm #

    Such a lovely tribute.

    Les impressed me with his wit, passion, and larger-than-life personality during the Writers Faire last month. I’m so sorry to hear about his passing.

  5. Mary Rakow October 3, 2013 at 12:25 am #

    Dear Linda,
    I loved your remarks at the memorial. I didn’t realize Les had worked with so many students. And it was heartwarming to meet some of them. So many now published because of Les1
    His letter to you is beautiful. And in the second quote, a reminder that he really used the word “swell” . Thank you. You set the Memorial off on the highest possible level. Fondly, Mary

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