UCSC’s Living Writers Series a place to shelter in the storm 

ucsc living writers series poster
Florida book cover by Lauren Groff
Rift book cover by Tess Taylor

“Shelter and Place” is the theme of the 2021 winter installment of the Living Writers Series at UC Santa Cruz. 

Curated by Micah Perks, professor of literature and director of the Creative Writing Program, the now virtual series will run from January 14 through March 4, on Thursday nights throughout the winter quarter.

Perks noted that this winter’s theme refers to building a world when the world seems to be falling apart, writing about place, seeking and finding (and not finding) shelter in stormy times, and what it means to be a person writing while sheltering in place.

“I've been thinking about the idea of shelter, of safe places, of hunkering down, of what home means as a shelter and also as a stuck place, as captivity, claustrophobia, prison,” Perks explained. “And what role does place have in our imagination when we are spending so much time on the internet? Where is Zoom? What place is that?”

The series kicks off on January 14 with Sofia Samatar, author of the novels A Stranger in Olondria and The Winged Histories, the short story collection, Tender, and Monster Portraits, a collaboration with her brother, the artist Del Samatar. Her work has received numerous honors, including the World Fantasy Award. She teaches Arabic literature, African literature, and speculative fiction at James Madison University in Virginia.

It also features a reading by Lauren Groff, the author of five books, most recently Fates and Furies, a noveland Florida, a short story collection. She has twice been shortlisted for the National Book Award, has won the Story Prize and France's Grand Prix de L'héroïne, and was named one of Granta's Best of Young American Novelists. 

“I'm thrilled to be bringing these particular authors as I'm a huge fan of all of their work,” said Perks. “In Lauren Groff's latest book of short stories, Florida, the state is a presence, a character, a thick and twisty place with heavy air. I think of her story, “Dog Go Wolf,” about two little girls abandoned on an island that is both haven and danger. Or, Sofia Samatar's Monster Portraits, a speculative memoir which is illustrated by her brother, a journey of imagination and memory towards a ‘zone of incandescence.’ Or MacArthur winner Valeria Luiselli, whose two most recent books, one a novel and one nonfiction, center around the immigration crisis in the United States, around the crisis of the unsheltered looking for a place.”

“One thing I love about both our visiting poets, Danusha Lemeris and Tess Taylor is that though they are nationally famous, they come from our place,” Perks added. “Danusha is Santa Cruz’s Poet Laureate. Her newest book, Bonfire Opera, lives up to its name--it's unabashedly passionate and unafraid. Tess Taylor lives in the Bay Area and her latest books, Last West and Rift Zone, are about California present, past and future.

As for those people who are looking for new things to read about these days while at home--whether for distraction, comfort, and/or to better learn how to cope with our current pandemic and understand how it's affecting them—the Living Writers Series may be just the ticket. Admission is free and open to the public with registration. 

“Something remarkable has happened with our Living Writers Series in Zoom Time,” Perks noted. “We've come together, and our Zoom Living Writers is a very intimate place. While our writers read, our community fills the chat with exhortations, questions, and quotes. It has been, for many of us, a momentary place to shelter this storm.”


The Living Writers Series is co-sponsored by The Porter Hitchcock Poetry Fund, The Humanities Institute, The Laurie Sain Endowment, Siegfried B. and Elizabeth Mignon Puknat Literary Studies Endowment, Bookshop Santa Cruz, and The Literature Department. For the full winter lineup, visit the UCSC Creative Writing web site. Admission is free and open to the public with registration.