Each year, the Writers’ Program gives scholarships of two courses each to six students from the PEN Center USA Emerging Voices program, an eight-month writing fellowship for promising new writers who lack access to educational resources. Through Writers’ Program classes, master classes, a professional mentorship, and more, PEN—a longtime Writers’ Program partner–provides its EV Fellows with the tools they need for professional success.

This year, the Emerging Voices fellows include “Wake Up & Write!” host Elle Brooks, UCLA alum Krisserin Canary, former actor and social worker Terrance Flynn, poet and Lambda Literary Fellow Kima Jones, UC Santa Cruz alum and short fiction writer Tommy Moore, and fashion writer and editor turned YA novelist Lilliam Rivera.

I sat down (virtually of course!), with several of the 2013 Fellows to discuss their writing goals and their thoughts on the EV program. Here are some of their thoughtful, intriguing, and inspiring responses:

Writers’ Program: What are your short- and long-term writing goals?

Elle Brooks: My goal is to be an authentic, truthful writer of memoirs, essays, and thought-provoking commentaries that blast stereotypes, shed new light on old subjects, and get people talking beyond the headlines of sexual abuse, the commercial sex industry, and women’s issues.

Krisserin Canary: My short term goal is finishing the second draft of my novel-in-progress. When I started the Fellowship I had a small portion of the novel written, and during Novel Writing III with Mark Sarvas I was able to finish the first draft. I look forward to beginning the revision process in Novel IV.

Writers Program: How is the EV program helping you get there?

Elle Brooks: I’m only half way through the Fellowship and my life is changed forever, not only as a writer but also as a reader. The Fellowship has exposed me to an immense and varied reading list and I have the privilege of discussing the work with the author in the intimate setting created solely for the EV Fellows. My writing, my voice, my commitment has been validated and I am forever grateful.

Lilliam Rivera: The EV program has teamed me up with young adult and graphic novel writer Cecil Castellucci. As my mentor, she’s been invaluable in helping me look at my manuscript with new eyes. The program also creates a creative environment that’s safe. It’s intense—what with the public readings, the weekly author and/or agent meetings, volunteer work—my life for these past eight months have been completely dedicated to working on my craft.

Writers Program: What is the most valuable thing you learned during your Writers’ Program experience?

Krisserin Canary: I am a huge believer in the Writers’ Program and am currently enrolled in my eighth (!) writing course. I’ve studied with Adam Cushman, Les Plesko, Leon Martell, Judith Prager and Harry Youtt, Leslie Schwartz, and Mark Sarvas. There is not one class that hasn’t improved my craft or taught me something valuable about the writer’s life. The Writers’ Program and its devoted instructors are truly the heart of the Los Angeles Writing community–it is the best way, short of getting an MFA, to meet other writers that become friends, writers that inspire and encourage, writers that become readers and resources in the future.

Lilliam Rivera: The Writers’ Program experience is the best way for me to keep to deadlines. In Linda Palmer’s Novel Writing II class, she was willing to give notes on ten pages a week. I took advantage of that which enabled me to complete a solid draft of my novel within the timeframe of the course. Deadlines help keep me focused. Also, Linda created a space where I wasn’t afraid to share my work with strangers. I learned practical things about the publishing industry that will only help me in the long run.

Writers Program: Is there anything else you’d like to share, any wisdom that might help aspiring writers?

Elle Brooks: If you’re sitting on the fence, trying to decide whether to take that class, workshop, or apply for that fellowship, I say go for it! You’ll never know if you squash the desire to dream big!

Krisserin Canary: You can’t be afraid of rejection because it is an inevitability of the writer’s life. A wiser person than me said it only takes one yes. I encourage everyone to apply for the EV Fellowship. It is rigorous, it will consume your life for six months, but you will walk away stronger and better for the experience. If you don’t get in the first time, apply again. I also encourage people to take as many Writers’ Program classes as they can. Being in workshop and reading other individuals work teaches you more about your own writing than you would ever expect.

Lilliam Rivera: When you start to take more and more classes in the Writers’ Program, you share information, find out which instructors work for you, what course to take, and so on. You make friends and build literary communities. Writing is such a solitary act that attending these classes helps you connect with others.

The Writers’ Program is proud to be associated with the Emerging Voices Program, and we look forward to hearing what these talented Fellows do next!

Applications for the 2014 Emerging Voices Fellowship will be available in spring 2013 and can be found at www.penusa.org. For more information on the Emerging Voices Fellowship, please contact Program Manager Libby Flores at PEN Center USA: ev@penusa.org.

Katy Flaherty is the Program Representative for Creative Writing (Onsite). Write to her at kflaherty@uclaextension.edu.

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