“She Could Teach an Eggplant How to Write.”
–Laura L Mays Hoopes, Barbara Abercrombie student
At a ceremony last month at the UCLA Faculty Center hosted by Dean Cathy Sandeen, Writers’ Program instructor Barbara Abercrombie was among fifteen UCLA Extension instructors–selected from a pool of more than 2,500 from fields as diverse as the arts, engineering, education, business, and public policy—who were honored with the 2010 UCLA Extension Distinguished Instructor Award. Nominated by their academic departments, the winners were selected on the basis of demonstrated excellence in the classroom, special contributions to curriculum development, mentoring, collaborative services to other instructors, and outstanding service to the institution. In all of these ways and more, Barbara Abercrombie—novelist, essayist, and children’s book author–is a Writers’ Program Superstar–beloved by students and staff alike.
Over the last 17 years, Barbara has taught 97 creative writing courses to nearly 2,000 Writers’ Program students. Of special note are the 15 original courses she has created, including Courage and Craft: A Beginner’s Guide to Writing and Finding Your Niche as a Writer, both of which introduce aspiring writers to a range of genres, as well as Writing the Healing Story and Personal Pieces, which focus on the art of the personal essay. Other distinctive courses Barbara has designed and taught include The Illuminated Reader, which explores the power of reading for writers, how to write your family history, and the universal elements of storytelling. Regardless of the particular subject, Barbara’s mantra is the same: “Keep writing! Everyone wants to hear your story!”
Moreover, Barbara possesses the rare ability to train with equal effectiveness the tender novice as well as the on-the-verge-of-publication advanced writer. Sharing with her mentor the memory of her first-ever creative writing class in the early 1990’s, former Barbara Abercrombie student and author Marilyn Davis Kierscey says: “Before taking your classes, I never believed I could express my feelings and thoughts in words on a piece of paper or that I could shape those words into a story. ..You took away the fear of failure and gently encouraged us to persevere. You removed the negative editor in our heads. You helped us to discover writing as a way of life and feel the beauty in our words.”
In addition to Ms. Kierscey, many dozens of Barbara’s students have flourished and published under her guidance, including memoirist Monica Holloway (Driving with Dead People), novelist and memoirist Jennie Nash (The Last Beach Bungalow), and award-winning young adult novelist Linzi Glass (Ruby Red). As Ms. Holloway puts it in her letter congratulating Barbara on her award, “I would have never had the courage to send out my work to an agent, let alone a publisher, without your confidence and guiding hand. You are the only reason I am a published author today, and I will be forever grateful.”
Beyond the classroom, Barbara plays a dizzying number of “leadership roles” within the Writers’ Program. Our “go to” teacher for almost two decades, she was a member of the first Writers’ Program Guidance Committee in 1991; has chaired over a dozen Writers Faire panels, five ArtsDay LA panels, and numerous Instructor Retreat panels; and serves as mentor to all the new Writers Studio teachers. As full as her “Writers’ Program life” is, beyond it stretches a vast and rich personal and professional life rooted in the love of family and the written word. As student Laura L Mays Hoopes says: “Barbara flies around the world like a delocalized electron, flitting from Wyoming to Santa Monica to Hawaii to India without batting an eyelash. She connects with moving stories everywhere, writes about them without ever being tempted by adverbs even once (oops, scratch that ‘even’), swats clichés as they approach her pen…Look for the sliver bracelet reminding her of Native American appreciation of nature. Look for the eyes, laughing or sad.”
And look for and find compassionate, intelligent, and inspiring teaching in every one of Barbara Abercrombie’s classes. She is the Writers’ Program’s uber-teacher, a one of a kind teacher, and now the recipient of the 2010 UCLA Extension Distinguished Instructor Award.
We congratulate her with respect, enthusiasm, and love.
Linda Venis is the Director of the Department of the Arts and the Program Director of the Writers’ Program.