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TURNING PAGES: Creative writers bring words to life for a day

By Clifton B. Parker on October 19, 2007 in University

Counting sharks off California coast

Literature thrives on a good story, and the campus landscape was alive with adventurous narratives Oct. 10 as two major reading events took place. One spotlighted faculty from the UC Davis creative writing program and the other introduced one of that program's alumna authors, Shawna Yang Ryan, who published her first novel earlier this year.

At Wyatt Pavilion, words leaped off the pages as the Creative Writing Program Reading Series kicked off the new academic year with faculty readings. Lucy Corin and Joshua Clover delivered selections of their own work, and Pam Houston, Sandra McPherson, Lynn Freed and Joe Wenderoth, chimed in with colorful tales of their own.

'Celebratory reading'

In Corin's opening remarks, she expressed hope that the "celebratory reading" would become an annual event. And that may become a reality, judging by the turnout of dozens of students and community members.

The faculty members were introduced by one of their students before reading either a series of poems or a short story. Their students gave brief tributes to their favored instructors, serving as poignant breaks between the 15 minutes of silence when the audience took in the readings.

The faculty delivered a variety of published pieces, from Corin's short story Mice, about a man faced with disposing of the vermin in his home, to Wenderoth's The Barricade, an autobiographical exploration of the presence of death in our lives.

The arboretum sponsored the Wyatt Pavilion reading.

On the same day, Shawna Yang Ryan, author of the recently published Locke 1928, gave a reading at the UC Davis Bookstore. Ryan, who received her master's in creative writing from UC Davis in 2001, discussed the inspirations and goals behind her book, a tale of the Chinese-American experience in California.

Set in a Sacramento Delta Chinese farming community, Locke 1928 is a story about relationships, separation, betrayal, laws and immigration, and what happens when a Chinese ghost myth becomes real. In the narrative, a husband and wife reunite after 10 years, a young prostitute falls in love with the preacher's daughter, and a gruesome discovery challenges an entire town.

In writing her first novel, Ryan said she took inspiration from the words of the writer Toni Morrison:

Tell us what it is to be a woman so that we may know what is it like to be a man. What moves at the margin. What it is like to have no home in this place. To be set adrift from the one you knew. What it is to live at the edge of towns that cannot bear your company.

In 2006, Ryan received the Maurice Prize for Fiction from UC Davis, a $5,000 award set up by the best-selling novelist John Lescroart.

Born in 1976 in Sacramento, child of parents who met during the Vietnam War when her father was stationed in Taiwan, Ryan earned her undergraduate degree in English from UC Berkeley and was later a Fulbright Scholar in Taiwan. She now lives in Berkeley.

For more information on the English department and its creative writing progrtam, visit

Haley Davis is a student writing intern for Dateline.

Media contact(s)

Clifton B. Parker, Dateline, (530) 752-1932,