The Engagement of a Writer

David Ulin, book editor of the LA Times, came to SMC on Thursday, April 30 to give a lecture on "The engagement of a writer" as part of the college's ongoing free literary lecture series.

The sparsely filled, modern auditorium in the Humanities and Social Sciences building served as the stage for the lecture.

Ulin, whose most recent novel, The Myth of Solid Ground: Earthquakes, Prediction, and the Fault Line Between Reason, is an award-winning author and essayist in addition to serving as the Times' book editor.

"He is one of the great minds of Los Angeles," said Christopher Meeks, an SMC English professor and fellow novelist in attendance.

Ulin approached the podium to address the audience, dressed in a black button down dress shirt and a neatly pressed pair of khaki pants. His windswept white hair and earring seemed to contradict each other as he opened up a notebook containing his speech.

Within the first two sentences of his address, it was clear that Ulin was not what many would expect when they think of someone who is one of the most powerful literary figures on the west coast, and perhaps the nation.

His easy going demeanor and receptive persona shine through with each word he speaks. This is someone that could find a common ground with common people while still wowing even the most formidable of scholarly opponents.

With so many aspiring writers in attendance searching for an answer to whether there will be a future in writing, Ulin acted quickly to calm the room.

"We are at an epicenter of writing," Ulin said. "I am optimistic about the future of writing and reading. Narrative is a biological imperative. The creation of the universe is based on stories."

A collective sigh of relief filled the air after the validation of their efforts was amplified by someone with such stature in the literary community.

Ulin broke his lecture into three acts, the first of which he titled, "Writers Engage with the Issues."

"The audience is much smarter than they get credit for," he said, in reference to the books that are being published today. "There is a responsibility to the public to shake things up, and that is the responsibility of the writer."

Ulin continued by addressing the state of the reader in our technologically driven and shrinking world. "We live in a culture that is consumed with crap, things that don't matter. It is nearly impossible to find an ounce of quiet against the constant background noise that permeates through all of us. We talk too much and don't take the time to listen."

Ulin believes that writers must do what they can to stay in touch with the issues that affect both themselves and the reader to be successful.

Act two deals with the writer's need to engage with their material. Ulin recommends that writers use their personal experiences to help their writing.

"We must impose meaning on things that have no meaning. Stories are simply a culmination of accounts using the last person's rendition. Immerse yourself into what you are writing," he said.

Ulin used a seemingly seamless transition to push into act three titled, "Writer's Engagement to Self."

He explained that as a writer, one must take the meaning one has imposed on the meaningless and give it a sense of self. "Deeper, more engaged writing is what will remain against the test of time," he said. "Writers must be pitiless and write as much as they can."

Ulin was met with a thunderous applause considering there were only two dozen or so people fortunate enough to attend. "The lecture was beautifully done. It was as if it was an essay with the wonderful transitions and the supporting stories he used," said Professor Meeks.

Meeks' excitement for the lecture echoed that of others exiting. Conversations could be heard between almost all the attendees full of new found inspiration and a rejuvenation of their pens. Ulin came to do more than just discuss the "Engagement of the Writer," he came to help the writers feel good about themselves and their work, and that is exactly what he did.

The SMC associates will be sponsoring a table read of a new play by Brigdhe Mullins, Director of the Master of Professional Writing Program at USC, on Tuesday, May 5 at 11:15 a.m. at the HSS building, room 165. Everyone is invited to attend, free of charge.