This spring, the Writers’ Program received an anonymous donation from a generous writer who wanted to support and encourage a fellow writing student. In order to find a worthy recipient, we solicited suggestions and recommendations from Writers’ Program instructors. The nomination put forward by fiction instructor Robert Eversz nabbed our votes.

Meet Elisa De Jesus, novelist, psychological trauma consultant, resident of Indonesia, online student and now winner of our writing scholarship. Elisa discusses with us her current projects, the ways her work feeds her fiction, and how she finds balance. Join us in welcoming her.

Writers’ Program: I understand that you do aid work for an organization in Indonesia. What do you do exactly? How did you get involved in it?

I’m the psychological trauma consultant for an Indonesian organization that provides mental health after disasters (bombings, tsunami, earthquakes, etc.), as well as working on child protection issues and the problem of pedophilia in Bali and Lombok, and the high suicide rate in Bali. We provide services, training and research. I happened to be in Bali on a two-week trip during the 2002 bombings and volunteered on the burn unit with Indonesian victims because I’m trained as a nurse and therapist, speak Indonesian, and had experience with PTSD (post traumatic stress disorder). I initially volunteered for two months. My life took a major detour when there turned out to be a need for my skills and I’ve been doing this work for eight years now. I have a lot of roles, including therapist, trainer, and researcher.

Writers’ Program: In what way does your work fuel your writing? How do you balance the two?

My work fuels my writing in a lot of ways. During the first few months after a crisis, the work is seven days a week and extremely intense. I’ve seen incredible things and been privileged to get close to people during terrible and painful times for them. I write in the evenings or late at night and find it is a way to distance myself from what I have been experiencing. I often write about things unrelated to my daily life. Balancing the two isn’t something I’ve yet accomplished very well.

Writers’ Program: What are you working on now? What are some of your challenges with it?

I’m currently working on a novel about the aftermath of a bombing that links back to World War II and the Japanese occupation of Indonesia. One of the many challenges I’m having is how to transition between the time periods and how all the pieces actually connect.

Writers’ Program: What brought you to the UCLA Extension Writers’ Program (or, how did you find us?)?

I found UCLA Extension last year when I was searching for an online writing course. I read MFA blogs but quickly determined I wasn’t interested in an MFA. Eventually I found references to the Writers’ Program and once I found it and participated in the Cyberhouse, I realized I had found just what I was looking for. Being able to take online courses has been a blessing for me, as it is the only way I am able to take structured writing courses. I find the format workable in a way I hadn’t imagine beforehand and I love being able to participate from anywhere in the world.

Writers’ Program: Online instructor Robert Eversz nominated you for this scholarship. Tell us a little about your experience in his workshop.

I feel fortunate to have found Robert Eversz. I started his workshop just as I was going off to an earthquake-zone. He helped me juggle my schedule so that I could participate as much as possible in the workshop. He was helpful both professionally and personally as I struggled with the challenges of his workshop and my work including unstable internet access. Robert is an amazing instructor – he is supportive yet always honest, has a great sense of humor, is dedicated to his students and puts a lot of time into critiquing each student’s work and posting on the discussions boards, and is encouraging without being misleading. Working with him has pushed me further and I believe is leading me closer to where I want to be in my writing.

Writers’ Program: What does winning this scholarship mean to you?

I am very grateful to have won this scholarship. Having a scholarship means that I will be able to continue with the Novel series without taking a semester off.

Congratulations, Elisa, and thank you to our anonymous donor!

Corey Campbell is Program Representative for Creative Writing (Online) and Events.

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