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UC Riverside Faculty and Students Write Their Way to Success

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A Home-Grown Production, “Orange Grove,” Will Debut Jan. 27


The strength of UC Riverside’s undergraduate creative writing program has created a fruitful beginning for a new master’s program in Creative Writing and Writing for the Performing Arts.

Founded in 2002 by professor and novelist Susan Straight and professor and screenwriter Eric Barr, the Master of Fine Arts (MFA) program produced its first class of six graduates in June 2004. UC Riverside faculty members, who are themselves professional screenwriters and playwrights, selected MFA program graduate Kate Anger of Riverside to produce her thesis play, “Orange Grove,” through the UCR theatre department.

The show, which follows changes in two families in a community that was once dominated by citrus, will play at 8 p.m. Jan. 27, 28, and 29 in University Theatre.

“Everyone was interested in helping me tell my story with my voice,” said Anger (pronounced Ahn-jay). “I really felt pushed to do the best that I could possibly do.” A lifelong Riversider, she said she is looking forward to seeing her words come to life on stage.

The MFA program, a joint project between the Departments of Creative Writing and the Department of Theatre, sets itself apart from other MFA programs by encouraging students to concentrate on excellence in two different genres of writing, not just one, said Straight.

Assistant Professor Rickerby Hinds, who was Kate’s faculty advisor, said she is an excellent symbol of the great beginning for the MFA program at UCR.

“Her dedication and ability as a writer became even more evident during the final phases of the writing of "Orange Grove" when she completely re-visualized her original plans for the play,” Hinds said. “She completed what I believe is not only a good play, but an important play for UCR as well as this region. I believe that the themes in "Orange Grove" will resonate with anyone experiencing ‘progress’ at the expense of tradition.”

Faculty members are themselves well-respected and award-winning writers in a variety of different forms. For instance:

Theatre Department Chair Eric Barr and his co-writer Barry Kenyon won the 2004 Telluride Indiefest screenplay competition with their script "Cirque Berserk," and Prof. Barr was invited to attend as an honoree. There were over a thousand entries in the competition.

Creative Writing co-chair Susan Straight served as a fiction judge for the 2004 National Book Awards, presented in November.

Assistant Professor of Screenwriting Robin Russin's screenplay, "Colter's Hell," was a finalist in this year's ScriptPimp screenwriting competition, in which there were more than 1,400 entries. His one-act plays "Angel of Meredith" and "Carpe Diem" were performed this year by the Ruskin Group Theatre in Santa Monica. In addition, Prof. Russin's second book, "Naked Playwriting" (co-authored with William M. Downs and published by Silman-James Press), is now in bookstores.

Assistant Professor of Playwriting Rickerby Hinds conducted the U.S. Performing Arts Hip Hop Theatre Camp at UCLA in July for the second consecutive year. He also had a reading of his play "One Size Fits All" at the Manhattan Ensemble Theatre in New York by the Imua! Theatre Company. His play "Blackballin'" is under consideration for the upcoming season at Northern Virginia Community College, the City Theatre Company in Pittsburgh, the Theatre of the First Amendment in Washington D.C., and the Arena Stage in Washington D.C. Prof. Hinds also conducted a playwriting workshop at Howard University in April.

Lecturer Weiko Lin is a finalist for next year's Sundance feature film laboratory with his screenplays "Breathe" and "Parachute Kid." He also had a workshop of his new play "Mommy's Special" at East West Players in the David Henry Hwang Theater in Los Angeles. "Mommy's Special" is also under consideration for production at the Mark Taper Forum.

And the future looks promising as well. Nils Lyew, who just graduated as a senior from the undergraduate Creative Writing program, won second place in the prestigious UC-wide Samuel Goldwyn Writing Awards, with his screenplay "Black Box Arithmetic." Lyew wrote the script in class at UCR, and is the first UCR student to be a winner in this competition. He was competing against undergraduate and graduate students from throughout the UC system.

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