After 20 years of teaching novel writing for the UCLA Extension Writers’ Program, instructor Maureen Connell is retiring. Maureen, a short fiction writer and author of the novel Mary Lacey, has helped literally hundreds of students get their novels started through her beginning-level novel writing workshops.
One former student sums up her experience in Maureen’s class this way:
“Maureen’s workshop was really a joy and an immense help. She has a halo around her head, as far as I’m concerned. She knows her stuff and how to edit, evaluate, and advance our writing, not only for individuals but for the group as a whole. She does not mince words while critiquing work… every word is important.”
After reading 20 years worth of evaluations, we here at the Writers’ Program know that countless other students feel the same way. But while her departure is sad news for all of us, we’re also genuinely happy for Maureen, who will now have time to focus on travelling, her family, and her own writing.
Before that happens though, we asked her to share a few parting thoughts with us:
Wp’: What first brought you to teaching?
MC: My own seduction with teaching happened when I was a small girl in Nairobi and my Kikuyu ayah chatted about when she was small and lived with her grandmother in Nyeri near Mount Kenya, and how she helped her grandmother by running and shouting and throwing stones at the snapping, snarling baboons as they sloped down from the clouds of Kerenyaga to steal the maize in her grandmother’s shamba. The first time my ayah told me that story, she lifted her arm, pointed at a deep scar, and nodded her head as if to say don’t mess with baboons. And I haven’t. Instead, I became a writer. And on to be an instructor with the Writers’ Program.
Wp’: What did you enjoy most about your experience with the Writers’ Program?
MC: What could be more of a joy than spending time with aspiring writers who love reading and writing and talking about it as much as I did?! Or the pleasure of witnessing how, with consistent attendance, positive encouragement, the use of suggested well-tried tools, and following the advice to NEVER apologize for what is being written about, an aspiring writer’s work would suddenly take off? It was a gift to experience fascinating worlds slowly coming into focus from the novels worked on in my class.
Wp’: Did you have a favorite writing exercise you liked to assign?
MC: A simple one, but one that always had a pay off by connecting writers more deeply with their experiences, was to have students write about when they first fell in love with stories and whether they thought it was this that seduced them into being a writer!
Wp’: Any parting thoughts?
MC: I want to thank the superbly efficient staff in the main office who ran everything effortlessly, never failing to help me graciously when I needed anything—even at the very last minute. Most important of all, I want to thank Linda Venis, head of the Writers’ Program, for her guidance, incredible support and cheerful friendliness given me from our very first meeting in her office 20 years ago.
I often think of all those aspiring writers who filled my classes with laughter and groans and energy as they generously shared their ups-and-downs-and-all-over-the-place creativity. If any of you read this I thank you for taking my class and I wish you the very best of luck with your grand work. And NEVER stop writing! I shall miss you all very much as I meld words on my laptop and travel back to Africa and other places where I have lived but I will never forget the camaraderie of the UCLA Extension Writers’ Program.
Thank you for everything, Maureen, and we wish you all the best on your new adventures!
Mae Respicio is the Program Representative in Creative Writing (Onsite).