The UCLA Extension Writers’ Program would be famous enough if it were just the largest and most comprehensive continuing education creative writing and screenwriting program in the world. But it’s also an incubator for talent, a creative community, a symbolic shoulder for shuddering writers to cry on — and a primary catalyst for Los Angeles’ thriving literary scene. Sam Dunn, Writers’ Program alumna, teacher and esteemed author, takes us inside this iconic program.
“There is somebody in this room who will become a writer. There’s someone here seduced enough by the vision you see, or think you see, that you’ll keep going. You are the person here who has wanted this all your life.”
This is how Les Plesko began a letter to the students in his fiction writing workshop at the UCLA Extension Writers’ Program one of the hundreds he taught there in the years before his suicide in 2013. Les — a onetime drifter, former drug addict, country and-western disc jockey and Hungarian immigrant — offered these words to would-be writers because he knew them to be true. Les himself had been that exact student, sitting in a class in the same writing program some two decades earlier.
By the time he jumped off a building at the age of 59, Les had mentored, cajoled, inspired and edited the work of more than 1,000 students and more published writers than I have room to list here, but among the novelists who started as his students are David Francis, Alice Greenway, Eduardo Santiago and Wendy Delsol, as well as nonfiction writer Donna Sozio. He was the author of three published novels, including the critically acclaimed The Last Bongo Sunset. But his magnum opus, No Stopping Train — the novel he’d worked on for years — sat in a drawer, passed up time and again by major publishers. -Continue-