Are you a creative person who yearns to make a living doing what you love? Do you find it tough to keep your spirits up when faced with an ever more competitive publishing industry or the insular world of Hollywood? Then this article is for you. There’s nothing we love more than sharing student successes and inspiring you with the knowledge that it is possible to achieve your dreams. Below are some of our favorite (and seriously impressive) success stories from the past year; may they inspire you as much as they do us!

The Blacklist
Barbara Stepansky blew us away when, after winning 1st place in the 2013 UCLA Extension Feature Film Competition for “Sugar in My Veins,” beat out 7,200 other submissions and won a Nicholl Fellowship. Impressive, right? Barbara (and her script) then landed on the highly coveted industry Blacklist. To quote Blossom-era Joey Lawrence, “whoa!”

Spare Parts
We were pleased as punch when Elissa Matsueda, who won the 2010 UCLA Extension Screenplay Competition, let us know that her first feature was in production. Spare Parts (originally titled La Vida Robot), Elissa’s script about four undocumented Mexican-American high school students who take on the MIT team at the National Robotics Competition, stars Marisa Tomei, George Lopez, and Jamie Lee Curtis, and will be in theaters in January 2015.

Aaron Rollins won first place in the 2013 Television Writing Competition/TV Pilots category (are you sensing a theme?) for his one-hour drama Ordnung, then got signed by CAA and Echo Lake Management.

Leonora Epstein made us proud when she published X vs. Y: A Culture War, a Love Story (Harry N. Abrams, March 2014), which was then optioned by Warner Bros. for TV development!

Kitchens of the Great Midwest
J. Ryan Stradal, second place winner of the 2008 James Kirkwood Literary Prize, sold his novel, Kitchens of the Great Midwest, to Viking. Foreign rights for the novel have been sold to the UK, Germany, Italy, Spain, and Holland, and the novel will be released in the US in July 2015.

James A. Michener Fellowship
Darri Farr, second place winner of the 2013 James Kirkwood Prize, was awarded the James A. Michener Fellowship to pursue her MFA at the Michener Center for Writers at the University of Texas at Austin. The highly competitive fellowships are awarded to only twelve students out of the nearly 1000 applications they receive each year.

Sarah Lawrence College
John Mitchell Morris, who studied novel writing with Reyna Grande and Deborah Reed, will be heading to New York this fall to begin the MFA Program in Writing at Sarah Lawrence College. A former actor and currently a civil litigator in Los Angeles, John is at work on his first novel, Flight From Mount Holyoke Avenue.

Gatsby, Interrupted
Sam Polk’s writing career exploded in a matter of months when a piece he began at the Writers’ Program was published in the Huffington Post. Then, another essay he wrote in a WP class, “For the Love of Money”, was featured on the front page of The Sunday Review section of The New York Times and quickly went viral. As a result of Sam’s huge success in the NYT, Scribner purchased his memoir, Gatsby, Interrupted, due out in fall 2015.

Need a little more inspiration? Check out our Success Stories archives!

Katy Flaherty is the Program Representative for Creative Writing (Onsite). 

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