UCI Literary Journalism Department Holds Summit to Aid Wider Community in Their Writing Pursuits

by: Tatum Larsen

photo by Kate Rutz-Robbins

The UCI literary journalism department held a “Telling Stories That Matter” Summit to aid the wider community in their pursuit of becoming better storytellers in the Humanities Hallway on Oct. 26. 

The event, largely organized by Director Barry Siegel and Associate Director of the literary journalism department Patricia Pierson, was centered around equipping members of the community with writing, interviewing and researching skills that are typically exclusive to literary journalism majors. 

“We’d like to share with you some of the lessons we teach our students on a daily basis during the school year,” Siegel said. “We’d also like to share with you some of the obstacles we ourselves face as writers and how to overcome them.”

The summit’s theme was finding one’s voice while staying true to a story. The summit, which focused on demystifying the art of writing, also served as an introduction for the soon to be opened Center for Story Telling, which will provide a place for individuals to share their stories. 

The center will focus on helping  people get their stories off the ground by finding their narrative flow. 

“Our aim is to introduce you or deepen your introduction to our program and to the field of literary journalism. And above all, to introduce you to the art and craft of storytelling,” Siegel said.

Siegel said that UCI is known to employ the most talented and vetted nonfiction story telling professors in the country. 

The Center for Story Telling, which will provide hands-on assistance from UCI professors in an on-campus lab, will have the writing, researching and recording equipment needed for students and the wider community to tell the stories that matter to them. 

During the summit, attendees learned from literary journalism professors how to make their stories come to life on the page. 

“The great thing about being a writer is taking what makes you an ‘oddball’ and turning it into what makes you a writer,” Associate Professor and author Hector Tobar said. 

Attendees shared stories of  awkward adolescence, heartbreak, depression and finding long-lost family members. Through collective sharing, their stories found a way into a creative discussion and then further writing development.

This development continued during the second part of the seminar, in which the professors paired off for three focused writing workshops.

The first workshop was with professors Tobar and Miles Corwin. They claimed that the best way to fight writer’s block is to find a thesis but have the story lead itself. 

During the second workshop, professors Amy DePaul and Erika Hayasaki explained that honesty is the key to establishing trust with one’s audience.

“You owe it to your audience to tell them when you don’t know,” she said.

In the third workshop, professors Siegel and Amy Wilentz shared how to make personal narratives connect to an audience. They explained that using one’s own voice when presenting complex research or details makes a story more digestible for an audience. 

The summit concluded with all professors stressing how anyone can be a storyteller with the proper tools and backing.

“I wasn’t expecting much from the seminar,” student volunteer Chloe Mosier said. “But by the end, I learned that truly anyone can get their story out.”