UC Santa Barbara Writing Program awarded three undergraduate students the M. Garren Tinney Fellowship to allow them to pursue their writing projects. Now, in their final year, the three have either published or are in progress with their works. 

M. Garren Tinney fellows Sophia Campion, left, Maya Salem and Elaina Smolin. Photo Courtesy NoozHawk

The fellowship — established in June 2023 — supports the completion of projects after one school year by pairing fellows with a faculty mentor.

Created by Donna “Dee Dee” Tinney, mother of the late Michael “Garren” Tinney, the fellowship memorializes Garren Tinney’s advocacy for free speech and his life’s work of short stories and novels. Tinney graduated from UCSB in 2001 with a bachelor’s in English and later went on to complete a post-graduate degree in journalism at Columbia University.

The memorial fund will also be allocated toward multiple new writing awards, according to the College of Creative Studies.

Three undergraduate students were awarded the fellowship: Elaina Smolin, Maya Salem and Sophia Campion.

Elaina Smolin

Fourth-year writing and literature major Elaina Smolin’s creative nonfiction essay collection, tentatively titled “The Madness of Doubt,” takes a humorous approach to her personal relationship with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD).

“Growing up, I feel like in culture, it’s very misrepresented, especially with women. I’m just trying to write about it in a way that’s accessible and funny,” Smolin said.

The essays are closely connected to Smolin’s late grandmother, who Smolin was named after and expressed having a close bond to.

“I’ve just written about her ever since [her passing],” Smolin said. “While she was never formally diagnosed with OCD, I think she did have it and they [doctors] think that’s also how I have it. I feel like it’s a way to connect to her. And also make her and her struggles validated.”

Of the eight essays spanning around 100 pages, Smolin said the second one, about an OCD subtype called “Pure O,” sticks out as her favorite.

“I basically just write about some of my intrusive thoughts throughout my life,” Smolin said. “And why I think they’re funny. I listed from least absurd to most absurd. … Some of it is about printers. I was really obsessed with printers breaking for a while.”

Smolin said the fellowship has given her the opportunity to be personally mentored by College of Creative Studies (CCS) Writing & Literature Program Coordinator Kara Mae Brown.

“I’ve loved her since my first day in college, so it’s so cool to work with her,” Smolin said. “We’re just editing it as we go. So each week is a different essay, we’re editing and revising.”

Smolin hopes to publish some of her essays next quarter, and eventually the whole publication. The essays will also be made available online on the CCS website once completed.

“I want people when reading about them to enjoy while they’re reading because they [my loved ones] deserve that. Also, I want people to be interested in OCD and not think it’s just like this horrible thing,” Smolin said.

“I always honestly just do it to make myself laugh,” she continued. “And then it’s nice that my professors are like, ‘Oh, this made me laugh too.’”

Maya Salem

Fourth-year writing and literature major Maya Salem interviewed her father for  her project, a collection of essays about his immigration from Lebanon to the United States. She wanted to highlight his life and humanity from the time he first immigrated to the States at 17.

“He was sponsored to come to college here and since then, he’s worked his way out of poverty,” Salem said. “I’m really interested in the person that he was, before the person that I see him as today.” 

“We see a lot of immigrant stories and children of immigrant stories, but I think that learning about my dad as his own person is important,” Salem said.

Salem’s father grew up during the Lebanese Civil War before he left Lebanon in 1985, she said. 

“He was the first person in his small village to even graduate from high school,” Salem said. “Now he has a PhD. I’m biased, but I think his story is very inspiring. Very much the American dream, or at least pursuing it.”

Salem recorded nearly 25 hours of interview footage with her father over the month of August 2022. The interviews were her basis for writing.

 “Every time that I sit down to write now, I’m always texting him about specifics, or I’m doing my own research, because I obviously can’t assume his voice when I’m writing about his part of his story,” Salem said.

The project is 25,000 words so far, and Salem plans to write between 10,000 and 15,000 more. As for publishing, she said she is still weighing her options.

“There’s this romantic idea being that it’d [be] really cool to have a book published,” Salem said. “But right now, it’s hard to look at it in a book form because it is just a bunch of essays in my Google Drive … But the more that I talk about it, people seem really interested in it, which is really heartwarming to hear. And so I think that people would like to read it. I just don’t know what form that would be in.”

Salem’s mentorship under the fellowship is a continuation of her learning within the college: working with CCS lecturer Ellen O’Connell Whittet. 

“In a professional aspect, I often say that storytelling is what’s important to me,” Salem said. “That is true. I do stick by that. But not all writing is storytelling, I’m starting to realize. … I feel like I’m at a big turning point.”

Salem is generally applying for MFA programs in creative nonfiction and screenwriting, but isn’t set on her specific aspirations in the future.

Sophia Campion

Fifth-year writing and literature major Sophia Campion, who is double majoring in psychology and brain sciences, has been working on her magical realist short novel for four years. 

“It’s about intergenerational trauma, mental health issues and the stigmatization of that and how that can be rooted in family dynamic[s],” Campion said. “It’s kind of based on my idea of family systems.”

The novel follows a 14-year-old female protagonist and her family members, whose pasts are explored in brief vignettes, Campion said. 

“She ends up going on her own little journey back into her family’s past to explore why it’s so broken,” Campion said. “Another major thing is that schizophrenia is a condition that is really prevalent in her family, and so a lot of the time you’re not really sure if what she’s seeing is real.”

Campion, whose faculty mentor is CCS assistant teaching professor Michelle Grue, said she is currently two-thirds finished with the novel. Campion said she intends to publish her work, though she is still feeling out the possibilities.

“I do want to, but it’s a difficult thing to wrap your head around,” Campion said. “But also I don’t want this work to be floundering around in the abyss, not really settling anywhere. I want it to be read, and that would make me really happy.”

Campion’s work is what she calls exploration of her life in certain ways. The characters are loosely based on family members, and the protagonist’s perspective reflects Campion’s experience, at 14, with mental health issues. A character with schizophrenia was based on a real-life next-door neighbor who was mistreated by others. 

“It’s all about ways of perceiving and letting people know, ‘Hey, there’s more than one way of perceiving things,’” Campion said. “You might not be able to understand something but that doesn’t mean that it’s not there.”

Campion said the most recent excerpts are her favorite of her book.

“I just wrote this super, super heavy magical realism one where the main character is falling into a clock, and her body is literally and figuratively separating and she needs to catch it on the other side,” Campion said. “It’s full of odd descriptions and very surreal and uncomfortable. At one point, she’s shoving her body through this tiny hole … It was super fun to write and it’s one of the more difficult ones I had to write.”

Campion credited the flexibility of CCS as a tool for her writing growth. The college has an intimate size of approximately 400 students, according to its website, which allows for closer collaboration, mentorship and support for individual projects.

“The faculty members at CCS are really encouraging and there’s a lot of opportunities that you can take advantage of in CCS,” Campion said. “All of that is super supportive of personal projects, and I think that’s really what CCS has going for it … the ability to explore things that you want to do and put it into action.”