The Elephant Speaks

The mouthpiece of The Literature Collaborative, a group of Literature students in the College of Creative Studies at UCSB.

Friday, January 24, 2014

Alumni describe the CCS Literature program

Here's a nice description of CCS Lit, written by a group of alumni in 2011. I'd just change a few parts of it; I'll put my notes afterward.
College of Creative Studies Literature Program (founded by literary critic Marvin Mudrick in 1968)

Students are admitted based on work in evidence of talent: poems, short stories, memoirs, and/or essays. Students’ applications are often highly original.

The curriculum concentrates on major literary figures in English and other literatures. There are no lecture, introductory or survey courses in writing or in literature. In English these major figures have always included Chaucer, Shakespeare, and Milton.

Depth rather than breadth distinguishes the seminars: Readings are close, intense, and ambitious, i.e., it is not unusual that many texts of a single author might be covered in a quarter.

Students approach literature as writers.

Through deep immersion in the works of a single author or a few authors, and instructor-guided close readings, the CCS Lit student refines his or her ability to respond to literature, builds the skills necessary for literary analysis, and gains the knowledge necessary to become an excellent writer.

The notion that the qualities that distinguish good writing are the same across genres—clarity, precision, suppleness of language, vitality of voice, freshness and passion—inform the curriculum and evaluation of student work. The flexible curriculum often includes contemporary or under-represented authors, and works in new genres.

CCS faculty include working poets or writers of fiction, able to serve as mentors to developing writers.

Creative writing courses—the writing of verse, the writing of narrative prose–build the skills of emerging writers in the program but also help students become better readers—more critical and more sensitive to language.

The CCS Literary Symposium offers students continued exposure to a wide range of working writers and is part of the curriculum: speakers have included U.S. Poet Laureate Kay Ryan, Pulitzer prize-winning food writer, Jonathan Gold, novelist Maxine Hong-Kingston, playwright Eve Ensler, writer of fiction and documentary film maker Lisa Teasley, and writer of fiction Reyna Grande.

The writerly focus of CCS Lit serves the University as a whole and the English department in particular by nourishing young writers, by serving their literary point of view, and publishing them in Spectrum and Into the Teeth of the Wind.

CCS Lit has served its students well for over 45 years: Graduates have become novelists, poets, lawyers, journalists, playwrights, film and television writers, and scholars, and have been accepted into distinguished and highly selective graduate schools.
In response to "Students’ applications are often highly original" - originality is great of course, but I believe the key is that the application shows a strong enthusiasm for writing instead of just fulfilling writing assignments.

Also, it's likely that "The curriculum concentrates on major literary figures in English and other literatures" was accurate when these alumni were students, but a lot of my Literature classes were on specific movements or themes instead of specific authors.

And there are an increasing number of recent graduates who are technical writers and editors (like me), which is great and worth mentioning too.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

More Facebook discussion groups

I haven't been an active CCS Literature alumna recently, but in case anyone is looking for news, rumors, rants, and discussion, here are a few Facebook groups that you might be interested in joining:
Update: This announcement is why the alumni groups have been active recently:
The Executive Vice Chancellor has requested that the Academic Senate consider a hold on admissions to the Literature major for Fall 2014 in order to provide the time and opportunity to strengthen a cherished and valued program. The recommendation stemmed from an established and carefully considered program review process for academic units of the University of California; the review for CCS was conducted last academic year. The Academic Senate will be reviewing the recommendation and will make a determination on the appropriate next steps. While the process continues, admissions to the program remains open; applications will be read and assessed as normal until the College is informed otherwise. We have been working earnestly to resolve this matter, and will continue to do so. Rest assured that this will not affect any student who is currently enrolled, nor will it affect current students’ ability to complete their degree. As pertinent information is made available, we will post it here.
Also covered in the Daily Nexus.

Monday, May 30, 2011

The new Lit Collab discussion group (and some comments for incoming students)

Current CCS Literature students have set up a new Literature Collaborative Facebook group for talking about the program and sharing links with each other. Yay! And for incoming Lit students, I've been writing a little bit of advice in the unofficial UCSB CCS class of 2015 Facebook group. I'll include those comments here, with some extra context, in case future incoming CCS Lit students are interested.

Clarifying the future of CCS Lit

Every year, Bruce (the dean of CCS) meets with students in each major to update them on the status of their program and ask for feedback on how well the program is working. This year, a lot of the Literature meeting was about the future of our program. Bruce is dedicated to making sure that CCS Lit is here to stay, and that it's here to grow stronger, but there are some interesting uncertainties about what the future will exactly look like. Here are my full notes from this meeting (also included at the end of this post).

All of this may sound worrying, but I've found that CCS Lit is an interesting and unique program, especially because many of the students are so passionate about it. We're very lucky as students that we get to participate in this improvement process — it's pretty rare that a dean of any department/college makes an effort to discuss internal department processes and politics with undergrad students.

CCS students get to participate in the construction of their educations on every level, from selecting much of your own course plan to freedom in choosing how to complete assignments — to learning about how the college works and being able to contribute real feedback to help direct the current and future state of the college. This is my favorite thing about CCS: it's an intellectual community influenced by all of its members, especially people who choose to actively put in effort to help organize and develop it, not just a standardized academic program that gives you a degree at the end.

Basically I love CCS to little pieces and I want all of you incoming freshmen to be really excited about it. And when you arrive here, I want to encourage you to make your education into the education you're looking forward to.

Comments about taking classes outside CCS Lit

I loved the English department! Taking classes there worked very well for me because my particular focus was in academic study of literature, media, and technology, not really in creative writing (CCS Lit is wonderfully flexible for people with unusual interests). So I took tons of upper-division seminar classes over in the College of Letters and Sciences. You do have to put some care and effort into picking your professors and classes, but I found a lot of smart professors and students in the English department.

I'd recommend that CCS Lit students check out the specializations available in English and see if any of them ring true for your interests, and if so, consider unofficially following their curriculum recommendations and the professors in that specialty. (I chose Literature & Culture of Information, unsurprisingly.)

Taking upper-division classes as a lower-division student is a privilege that's available if you want it. Some departments around campus are less willing to accept lower-division CCS students into their upper-division classes, even though you're technically allowed to take those classes, but it was easy in the English department. I also took a graduate-level class in the Comparative Literature program and it was great; I should have done more of those.

CCS Lit already includes a number of academic/theory classes — in my experience, they're often taught by people from other departments who want to have a chance to teach more specialized and experimental topics than they can in their "home" departments, since CCS allows for a lot of flexibility in class topics and usually has small class sizes. It sounds like CCS will be doing more of that in the future, and possibly in a more formal way, which sounds good to me. Generally it's good when CCS students spend time in outside departments and within CCS.

The Book Art classes within CCS are awesome, and everybody interested in art or books should take them. Sign up for them right away if you can — don't wait too many quarters to start!

My unsolicited advice

CCS Lit is not a program that works for everybody by default, but when you apply the effort to make it into something that does work for you (with a bit of luck along the way), you can't imagine having gone anywhere else. Bruce says that CCS is a place for "weirdly focused" students. I think it works especially when your interests and ambitions don't quite fit into a standard college structure — when you want more, when you want to determine your own intellectual path, when you want to work on what you're interested in, when you want to produce original work instead of filling out assignments for grades, when you are willing to find your own advisors from across campus and hang out with people in different majors to learn what you can learn. And maybe also for people who find interdepartmental politics fascinating. :)

Edit: My notes from the meeting

Since the CCS Literature Collaborative group is now a closed group, I'll repost my notes from that meeting below:
To ensure the survival of CCS, Bruce is working on integrating the college more effectively into the campus. External reviews over the past ten years criticized the inward-facing structure of the college because it was not terribly valuable to UCSB as a whole (although of course valuable to its students). Improving this will mean that we can keep our budget now and in the future.

The other majors have made a lot of progress, but CCS Literature is still inward-turned -- and there aren't enough qualified faculty in the program right now to lead the Lit major going forward, since Shirley is retiring next year. We need to add in more people from the rest of campus. But CCS Lit will continue to have creative writing as part of its unique value to UCSB and its students, especially since English and the Writing Program don't provide that kind of class. Bruce wants CCS Lit to stay here and stay strong, and it is obvious that it will be altered over the course of this growth process, but he does not yet know exactly how.

English is interested in increasing and developing its multimedia and multidisciplinary offerings. This will probably become a stronger part of CCS Lit -- but the idea is to open the additional doors of new media, not to close the existing doors of developing the craft of writing for readers.

Over the course of the transition period, current students will be able to continue with the program they signed up for (their intellectual contract with the college). New students will get the new program.

What can we do to help? Talk to our favorite professors about CCS and generally be good CCS citizens across campus. Get involved with campus jobs, especially as tour guides, and share information about jobs with each other. It'd be great if CCS could develop its alumni network more.

The current CCS Lit advising system is very weak. Bruce knows this and is working to get more faculty into the program to help with it.

Can't we make our current lecturers into stronger parts of CCS, as advisors and leaders? Not really, because of how the university is structured. There are three kinds of teachers here: "ladder faculty" who are long-term members of the staff hired for teaching, research, and service; "lecturers" hired for teaching and service (who can become longer-term members of staff after teaching for a while); and "unit 18s" who are hired to only teach (on a shorter-term basis). A lot of our teachers in CCS Lit are unit 18s, but the leader of CCS Lit is required to be a ladder faculty member.

How do we help the university and the broader community learn about CCS? Bruce knows that the CCS website is awful and is attempting to make progress on that front. Bruce is also working on getting CCS classes to not be "secret" on GOLD. Ellen also proposed the idea of a downtown reading series that would involve CCS students and alumni, to help promote the image of CCS and also benefit student and alumni writers.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Yet more advice for students

This Little Friends of Printmaking interview is about making a living as artists, but parts of it seem to apply to Literature students too:

for us, the main benefit of being at art school was the unfettered access to the facilities. We tried to make the most of that; I mean we really, really cranked out the work.

if you’re in art school, you’re essentially paying people to look at your work and take it somewhat seriously. I used to get something out of that; but then we started doing posters and design work that reached a wider audience, where the success or failure of something became definitively less subjective. Then I was like, “ya’ll have been replaced, bitches!” (I didn’t really say that, but you can imagine.) So my main advice to recent graduates is that the flow of good and bad advice that comes from critique will eventually get shut off, so maybe come up with your own way of getting your work in front of people and make things that interest people and are, somehow, a part of their lives. (And do so without spending a huge amount of money.)

In other words: write a lot, and work on finding an audience for it even before you graduate. Kind of obvious, and easier said than done, but I like the reminder.

Monday, January 11, 2010

14 suggestions for improvements to the Lit program

I completed my Literature degree with the end of Fall quarter in December, and I've moved away from Santa Barbara! Since I'm not at CCS anymore, Lit Collab no longer exists as a weekly club, but it may be picked up and led by another student if people feel a need for it again. We founded the group in Spring 2007 in response to perceived problems, so in one way, it's good when that interest fades. Somehow I made a bunch of good friends along the way. ♥

Over my years at CCS, I discussed the Literature program in depth with my advisors (Robyn Bell and James Donelan), Lit Collab members, and other friends, usually trying to come up with ways to improve the major. Here are some of these ideas in writing in the hope that they will continue being discussed.

Note that these are just recommendations, limited by my single viewpoint as a student. I've sometimes been frustrated by aspects of this college, but as a whole it's been even more than what I imagined as a bored high school student thinking about the perfect university. I love CCS, and I'm happy I got to contribute to it in a few ways.


  1. Advisors should regularly ask their advisees what they think of the Lit program and how it should be improved, starting during their freshman year. (Some advisors do this already, but not all of them.) Encouraging students to think critically about their educations and involving them in discussions of teaching styles, curriculum, etc. supports the mission of CCS: helping students think for themselves and produce their own educations instead of simply accepting knowledge.

  2. Advisors should encourage their advisees to take core classes from a broad range of instructors in both CCS and L&S (English, Comp Lit, etc). Every instructor has something different to teach.

  3. Advisors should follow up with all of their former advisees 1 year and 5 years after they graduate, probably through simple personal emails, and compile the results into a document discussed by the Lit program and used to help fine-tune future advising and program choices. Do they have jobs, and if so, where are they working? Are they in graduate school? Are their careers in progress? Are they satisfied with the preparation that CCS Lit gave them? Do they want to start donating money to CCS?

  4. Advisors should encourage all students to consider taking a CCS Book Art class in their freshman or sophomore years as a way to think more deeply about writing and reading. Setting a poem by hand with metal type makes a person consider every single comma; learning to sew and glue eight different ways to structure a book encourages a person to think about innovative ways to structure narratives.

  5. Advising is central to CCS, but I’ve heard many students complain about their advisors for all kinds of reasons. I’d like students to have to write an anonymous advisor evaluation at the end of every year, much like class evaluations: formally collected, typed up, compiled, and distributed back to those advisors (and the Lit program as a whole).


  1. The Lit program should produce and distribute a one-page document that explains to students why they have to take Chaucer, Milton, and Shakespeare. Students complain about the arbitrariness and old-white-men bias of this requirement, but there are reasons for it: they are a symbolic remnant of traditional liberal arts curriculums, they changed the English language, etc. I picture this document with one paragraph from each instructor explaining his/her thoughts about this requirement, putting it into a broader academic context.

  2. Lit Symposium should present Marvin Mudrick once a year (or couple of years), with a video or a reading of his writing and/or transcribed classes. A lot of students graduate from CCS Lit having barely heard of the interesting person who established much of what CCS is today, and I think they missed out. I’ve benefited from reading about his ideas and thinking critically about them both on their own and as embodied in the current Lit program. This remembering shouldn’t be worshipful or antagonistic, just educational.

  3. Lit Symposium should also have a student reading once a year or so, probably in Winter quarter. There are usually some student-organized readings in Spring quarter for Spectrum and Teeth, and sometimes people create other reading events in the evenings, but it’d be great for students have more chances to share their work with their peers in a large-ish and somewhat formal setting. It could work like this: the Lit Symp organizer would email a call for submissions to all Lit students a couple weeks before the reading, and then the organizer would review the submissions and approve 10-12 diverse short pieces or excerpts.

  4. The Senior Portfolio project is important and should be more rigorously defined. I imagine it like this: each student would produce at least two copies of a portfolio book of some kind, to be determined in conjunction with his or her advisor. This may be: a collection of poetry xeroxed and stapled; a set of academic essays and short stories, interspersed with drawings by a friend, bound by the Alternative Copy Shop; a themed gathering of photography and memoir writing hand-bound with a technique learned in a Book Arts class; or anything like that. They would usually include an introduction and a list of important classes the student has taken while at CCS. One copy stays at CCS in a small library of portfolio books created by graduates, available for all interested current Lit students to browse and take inspiration (maybe on a shelf in the CCS office or something like that).

  5. More small group projects outside of class might be able to help Literature students get to know each other better. A sense of community in the Literature program is very important. Each student’s Literature friends contribute to his or her individual success through informal discussions, writing exchanges, class recommendations, etc.

The program itself

  1. Literature is too large, diverse, and personal of a field to approach with a rigorously defined system. Throwing students into the deep end with serious classes starting as freshmen and teaching them via modeling by instructors and other students in discussion-based classes, with lots of reading and lots of writing, is the most effective way I’ve seen to teach literature. We should continue improving this system with good visiting instructors and enthusiastic new students.

  2. Some aspects of the CCS Lit program aren’t well explained, but that doesn’t mean they don’t work. I’m in favor of incremental changes, not drastic ones.

  3. CCS Lit should offer core classes that engage with a broad range of approaches, subjects, and time periods, so that each student can piece together a solid and specialized overview of the field by the time he or she graduates. This may include classes involving feminist theory, postcolonial scholarship, postmodernism, and psychoanalytic theory as well as the literatures of many nations and cultures and eras.

  4. What’s the difference between the L&S English program and the CCS Literature program? I’d really like to be able to provide a solid answer for this when people ask me, respectful of the perspectives and goals of both of these programs.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Some recommended classes

Now that it's time to pick Winter classes, here are recommendations from members of Lit Collab. See also our Fall 2008 Very Unofficial Collection of Helpful Hints for New Lit Students (PDF), which has more suggestions on page 5 from Jordan '09, Ellen '10, and me. Feel free to comment on this post with a list of your own favorites!

Danielle '10

Basic Narrative Technique or anything like it is crucial for jump-starting your creative writing skills. Even if you think you know all the basics, trust me, you don't. Take this class.

Sign up for every creative writing class, attend the first meeting, and decide which ones you want to keep, if any. If you don't have a writing class every quarter, you can always do independent study, and the great thing about independent study is that you can pick which teacher you get to work with and what you work on.

Torrie '10

Some of the best courses are the random ones taken outside of your major. I highly recommend looking into the Anthropology and Classics departments; Professor Erickson in Classics is wonderful.

The language departments offer cool courses on literature, film, culture, etc. which are taught in English, so there is no need to be afraid to take a course in the Italian department if you don't speak the language. Just look for courses that have weird letter combinations after them, like Ys and Zs, and they will often be the English-language offerings.

The English department has a lot of great classes. I loved Environment and Literature, Detective Fiction and Fairy Tales. For professors, I recommend Zinn, Hiltner and Shirley Lim (who is also very involved in CCS).

If you are interested in creative writing, take Barry Spacks.

As a Lit student it seems almost required — but very fun and rewarding — to take either or both John Wilson's Diaries course and Caroline Allen's Telling Life Stories.

Take Walking Biology before you graduate.

Britta '09

Try the Feminist Studies department. I signed up for Gender, Science, and New Technology, not expecting much, and I loved it. Experience with academic feminist study can add a lot of depth to your understanding of literature, and it's also just refreshing to be part of a room full of people who deeply agree about the equality of human beings.

Take at least one graduate-level class — even better if you buddy with a CCS Lit friend and take it together. Danielle and I picked one in the Comparative Literature program and learned a lot in a tiny class from a distinguished visiting professor. So good! If the class you choose turns out to be too hard, you can drop it halfway through and still have had a valuable experience. All you have to do is pick up a form in the CCS office and get a few signatures.

Advice about writing papers

The following quote is from an email that Professor Richard Corum (now retired) sent to his CCS Lit Shakespeare class in October 2007, when we had a paper due soon. I find this oddly helpful to re-read when I'm working on an essay, and I hope you will too.

You're being asked to do this task entirely on your own. The point of this is not to defeat you and lead to learned helplessness, but to empower you, to give you confidence that you can do this kind of work on your own — that, more generally, you can learn to do all kinds of difficult things. This is the most important part of the assignment because this is the only hope that your age group will be able to keep on creating new knowledge once all of your teachers are dead. What you are most up against in doing this are, most likely, your feelings of panic, incapacity, fear, of wanting to do the right thing, the best thing, of succeeding even if success is handed to you. To write this paper you need to be able to get these emotions under some control, and to keep them from destroying the possibility of stepping outside your comfort zone. If you are in your comfort zone on this paper you aren't doing the assignment (unless you've done a lot of things like this in the past).

Take risks, and make this, in whatever way possible, something pleasurable for yourself. And, remember, it's better to get nowhere (this time) than to cave in and do the same old, same old.