UCSB students have the chance to meet and interact with real-life filmmakers, journalists, creative writers and other professional writers and scholars through a new program called the Diana and Simon Raab Writer-in-Residence Series, hosted by the Interdisciplinary Humanities Center.

Named after award-winning author Diana Raab and her husband, well-known contemporary artist Simon Raab, the new program is being developed through a collaboration between the Writing Program and the IHC. The Writer-in-Residence Series offers students a unique experience to network with current writing professionals and explore different types of writing careers. The program will host one professional writer each academic year to engage in a conversation with students. This year’s inaugural visitor is award-winning author Gary Shteyngart, who will be in Campbell Hall at 8 p.m. on Thursday, April 10 for a free public lecture.

Shteyngart, is the author of the Bollinger Everyman Wodehouse Prize-winning novel Super Sad True Love Story, which received positive reviews in over 40 news journals and magazine worldwide. The author just released his latest memoir Little Failure, which is a humorous, yet critical, look at the American immigrant experience. His work has appeared in The New Yorker, Travel & Leisure, Esquire, GQ and New York Times Magazine, amongst other publications.

According to IHC Director Susan Derwin, Shteyngart will meet with Writing Program and Russian literature students to discuss the writing process and the types of practices and decisions he makes in his work.

“Listening to any writer who is able to speak pungently, eloquently and in a compelling manner is a wonderful opportunity for students,” Derwin said. “We all use language and we all aspire to know how to represent ourselves well to other people … [Shteyngart] brings a lot of energy to his understanding of himself and the culture we live in so he’s kind of inspiring.”

Linda Adler-Kassner, professor and director of the UCSB Writing Program, said Shteyngart was chosen to be the debut speaker because of his articulate humor and genre diversity.

“From all that we can tell, he’s going to be very funny, and his work is pretty popular, so we thought he’d be a great inaugural visitor,” Adler-Kassner said.

Derwin said she finds Shteyngart a very “modern” writer and believes that to listen to a successful figure in the field express his personal story is a “wonderfully exemplary thing.”

“Here’s a man who has come from another country and has not only become a part of this culture, but has become a real student of his culture,” Derwin asid. “[He] sees the world we live in through very focused, perceptive eyes.”

As for the new Writer-in-Residence Series, Adler-Kassner said she feels excited about the program because it gives students an opportunity to build a personal connection with professional writers.

“UCSB brings people in to speak a lot, but we’ve never had a program like this that brings in a really prominent writer for a public event — and then a smaller session with students — quite this way,” Adler-Kassner said.

Adler-Kassner said she believes that the opportunity for students to talk about writing and listen to a professional give his or her take on the field will be a “positive experience for lots of different reasons.”

“Anytime that we talk about the processes that we use for writing very consciously, it helps us sort of articulate to ourselves what it is that we do when we write,” Adler-Kassner said. “But anytime we can hear anybody else do that, we can … think, ‘Oh, look at these moves this person made in crafting.”

Future Writers-in-Residence will be professionals from an array of different writing genres, such as non-fiction, poetry and playwriting. The program committee, which was convened by Derwin and Adler-Kassner, will create lists of potential visitors and pass the list onto Diana Raab, who makes the final decision.

For more information on the series, visit IHC’s website at www.ihc.ucsb.edu.


A version of this article appeared in the Thursday, April 3, 2014 print edition of the Daily Nexus.