Those who have taken UCLA Extension Writers’ Program courses know the joy that can come from a three-hour workshop—inspiration, camaraderie, and sometimes even a finished product that is far from what you came to class with. Most importantly, writing workshops can offer a glimpse of the potential within you. A stream of creativity may be running under the surface, but sometimes it just takes the right instructor, writing exercise, or group of classmates to open the floodgates.

Enter the Community Access Scholarship Program (CASP). Way back in that bygone era known as the Early 90s, the Writers’ Program established CASP as a way to provide aspiring writers from diverse backgrounds with the opportunity to experience a workshop setting. In cooperation with Los Angeles community arts groups, ranging from 826LA to the Organization of Black Screenwriters, the Writers’ Program offers scholarships which cover the cost of three courses in an academic year. Each organization uses their own criteria to nominate one student, which insures that we bring in a socially and culturally diverse selection of writers.

But can a program like CASP change the way a student writes? Do three classes really make a difference? After all, people take workshops for years to try to develop their craft. I decided to investigate and spoke with community arts directors and former students who answered with a resounding “YES!”

Kambon Obayani, Director of Build Crenshaw Arts, one of CASP’s participating organizations, explains that the program benefits the students “by providing them with the technical skills to develop their craft and become polished writers. The students from my program…have all become professional writers and have successful careers, which began with the scholarship.”

For many students, the CASP experience is a turning point. Joyce Lee Wong enjoyed “the remarkable opportunity to study with talented, dedicated instructors.” In her case, the inspiration to submit her work for publication was central to her journey. With encouragement from teachers Sonia Levitin and Susan Goldman Rubin, Joyce’s novel Seeing Emily was published in 2007.

Jawanza Dumisani, who participated in CASP in 2002, took poetry classes with Suzanne Lummis. Suzanne’s classes, along with her advice to “trust the language” were pivotal for him. “I began to write with a certain kind of clarity that up to that point was missing,” Jawanza explains. Since then he has published a chap book, participated in the ALOUD Series at the Los Angeles Public Library and the LA Poetry Festival, is working on a novel which will be published in spring 2010, and, as Director of Literary Programming for The World Stage, brings new students into the CASP program.

Much like Jawanza, instructor Rachel Kann says her CASP experience was “life-altering.” Having taught poetry herself for five years, participating in workshops as a student allowed her to tap into new sources of creativity that she didn’t know were there. Since then, she has won second place in our James Kirkwood Literary Prize competition, published a collection of short stories called 10 For Everything, is working on her MFA, and teaches poetry and fiction writing for the Writers’ Program.

“The UCLA Extension Writers’ Program is one of the largest blessings in my life,” Rachel explains. “Ever. CASP is what afforded me the opportunity. I am eternally grateful.”

For more information on the Community Access Scholarship Program, please visit our CASP webpage.

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Katy Flaherty is the Administrative Assistant for the Writers’ Program. Write to her at kflaherty@uclaextension.edu.

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