Elise Blackwell and David Bajo met more than 20 years ago as students in UC Irvine’s M.F.A. writing program. Next month, the now-married couple will return to campus as celebrated fiction authors.
Blackwell and Bajo will head a panel discussion on publishing a first novel during Literary Orange, a daylong celebration of reading and writing Saturday, April 4, at the UCI Student Center.
Co-sponsored by UCI Libraries and Orange County Public Libraries, the third annual event brings community members and writers together through lectures, discussions and book signings.
“Literary Orange celebrates the connection between writers and readers, which we cannot lose sight of in today’s technologically driven world,” says Gerry Munoff, university librarian. “The event will provide a forum for a dialogue about the creative process of writing.”
Keynote speakers are Ron Carlson, director of the master’s program in fiction writing at UCI; NPR commentator and writer Sandra Tsing Loh; and television producer and author Stephen J. Cannell.
Literary Orange will be a homecoming for Blackwell and Bajo, who teach writing at the University of South Carolina. Blackwell credits UCI with helping her develop the motivation and discipline the craft demands.
“I felt a real loss when Donald Heiney and Oakley Hall died,” she says of her UCI writing professors. “It would be hard to explain in a few sentences how much they helped me and continue to nourish my work.”
Blackwell’s debut novel, Hunger, was praised by the Los Angeles Times as an “exquisite little book . . . craftily weaving history and botany.” It tells the story of a Russian botanist who struggles to save rare plants and seeds during World War II’s tumultuous siege of Leningrad.
Bajo wrote The 351 Books of Irma Arcuri, which follows a love-struck bookbinder through Philadelphia and the Spanish cities of Seville and Barcelona. The Minneapolis Star Tribune called it “a sexy book that’s about everything, yet above all about the act (Act? Art!) of reading itself.”
Blackwell and Bajo view writing as a calling, not a choice.
“The compulsion to write is probably an evolutionary trait genetically spread throughout the human species as a survival mechanism,” says Bajo. “All human cultures have storytellers.”
Literary Orange registration forms are available at Orange County Public Library branches and UCI Libraries or online at www.literaryorange.org. General admission is $75; students with ID are $35.