What Makes the UA a Writer's Haven? We're Glad You Asked

UA-affiliated writers across disciplines discuss what makes the University such a special place for them to pursue their creative endeavors.
March 8, 2017
Extra Info: 

Marginalia — the act of producing comments, notes, scribbles, doodles and the like in the margins of books — is a centuries-old, common practice. At the UA, Special Collections maintains a number of historic and rare books and manuscripts with such scribbles in the margins. For a photo gallery, click here.

For the past nine years, literature lovers from around the world have descended on the University of Arizona to take part in the annual Tucson Festival of Books.

More than 130,000 bookworms are expected to attend this weekend's festivities, making this one of the largest literary gatherings in the United States. Attendance has nearly tripled from the inaugural event, held March 14 and 15, 2009, thanks in large part to the energy and enthusiasm of festival organizers and volunteers.

The Tucson area's appreciation for the written word extends well beyond this weekend, however. On the other 363 days of the year, the UA community prides itself on its reputation as a "writer's haven" — a place that supports and inspires writers of all genres and interests.

From professionals to hobbyists, novelists to screenwriters, poets to graphic novelists, and everything in between, writers flock to southern Arizona to find a place that allows them to do their best work.

The UA Department of English is home to one the nation's most respected and well-rounded writing programs, with a strong focus on interdisciplinary collaboration. It is home to the Sonora Review, the oldest student-run literary journal in America.

Founded in 1994, the UA Poetry Center's Summer Residency Program offers poets from around the world the opportunity to focus on their writing during a two-week stay in Tucson. Residents are housed in the Poetry Center's studio apartment, located steps away from the center's renowned library of contemporary poetry.

Ander Monson, director of the MFA in Creative Writing program at the UA, published an in-depth piece for Poets & Writers in June 2016 that detailed his initial skepticism regarding Tucson's potential appeal as a writers' community — and how it was quickly erased by the city's character and charm.

We asked a selection of writers across disciplines about what makes the UA such a special place for them to pursue their creative endeavors.

Peter Likins, UA president emeritus: "After 40 years in California, 20 years on the East Coast and now 20 years in Tucson, my wife Pat and I claim Tucson as our favorite place to live. For us, it's not just the fabulous weather or the desert mountains and beautiful sunsets. We love Tucson because of the people who live here and the very appealing complexity of the Tucson culture. Living here stimulates the imagination, sparking creativity in both artistic expression and scientific research. My novel, 'Coyote Speaks: Cross Country Run,' derives its inspiration from the intersection of the Native American culture in the Southwest and the athletic traditions of the University. I could not have written it anywhere else."

Scott Selisker, assistant professor with the UA Department of English and author of Human Programming: Brainwashing, Automatons, and American Unfreedom: "As a scholar of science and technology in U.S. culture, I've been blown away by how many science-fiction fans and writers there are around Tucson. Maybe I shouldn't have been surprised, since we have the Biosphere, amazing astronomy and planetary science departments, high-tech industry in the area, and Jetsons-esque midcentury modern architecture dotting the landscape. Encountering science-fiction fans and writers in and around Tucson had a big effect on my writing as I thought about who I wanted my audience to be. Tucson itself and the Festival of Books both put me in touch with a reading public who'd be excited to grapple with big ideas in the history of science, technology and culture. I meet so many extraordinarily interesting people in Tucson that by this point I'm seldom surprised to find that some aspect of their unique interests or experiences — whether it's a mysterious illness, expertise in cheese or space rocks, a rocky childhood or a snakebite — has made its way into a book. I'm grateful for a book culture in Tucson that has attracted and nurtured so many brilliant and talented people, as well as the many authors who have shared some aspect of the richness of their lives with us."

Wendy Burk, librarian with the UA Poetry Center: "My workplace is a serene, welcoming environment filled with nearly 50,000 books of contemporary poetry. What I like best about my job is the sense that important acts of creativity are taking place in the library, all around me, each and every day. Whether it is writers working on their craft, visiting authors dropping in to sign copies of their books, or readers looking for a quiet space to settle in with poetry, the energy of these creative moments inspires me to keep up with my own writing."

Eric Magrane, poet and Ph.D. candidate with the UA School of Geography and Development: "A couple of us have this weird little joke: In Tucson, you can't throw a poet without hitting another poet. Seriously, though, the community here is very supportive and collaborative, and why would you want to throw a poet anyway? Really, I think the Tucson poetry community could hold its own against any in the country, even those in the largest cities. Part of this is because of the great literary hubs in town, from the UA Poetry Center to the POG Poetry Collective, to Casa Libre, to UA Press, to multiple literary journals that live in Tucson. Tucson and the Sonoran Desert have had an immense influence on my work. For a number of years, my day job was as a hiking guide in the mountains surrounding Tucson, and getting to know this landscape up close has influenced many of the projects that I've done. For example, in 2016 I coedited, with Christopher Cokinos, The Sonoran Desert: A Literary Field Guide (University of Arizona Press), which combines the genres of literary anthology and field guide. We invited over 60 writers to contribute pieces addressed to species who live in the Sonoran Desert. The book is really, at its roots, about community — both the non-human and human community."

Alaina G. Levine, freelance science writer, professional speaker and author of "Networking for Nerds," which beat out "Einstein" (really!) to be named one of the Top 5 Books of 2015 by Physics Today magazine: "Tucson provides excellent inspiration and endless ideas for writers who specialize in both fiction and nonfiction. The city and the UA also have terrific resources — I wrote parts of my book in the UA library. And then you just can't beat the fact that, especially in the winter, you can write an article in the morning and then go for a hike in the afternoon. I also find that sources, including professors and other researchers at the UA in particular, are very open and supportive of writers working with them on stories. This makes my job very pleasurable, as I am able to create long-term collaborations with talented professionals over the long term that lead to exciting articles and other outputs."

John Melillo, assistant professor with the UA Department of English: "The University itself — including and especially the UA Poetry Center and the Department of English — are tremendous resources for the Tucson writing community. I would emphasize, though, that Tucson also has an amazing community of literary organizations and organizers who are outside of the UA: Tucson Poetry Festival, Words on the Avenue, POG: Poetry in Action, Kore Press, the Jewish History Museum, and many more all do a lot of work to invite well-known and soon-to-be-well-known writers to Tucson to enrich and expand our literary scene. We are lucky to live in a small(ish) city that has a very dense population of writers. Writers gets the best of both worlds: solitary work time and a community of thinkers and makers who help support the work you're doing."