My name is Zachary Wolf and I am a graduating senior majoring in English with an emphasis on Creative Writing and minoring in the Music Industry. I am truly honored to be one of the five recipients for the first Jimmy Gauntt Memorial Award at USC.
My interest in the arts is neither a recent nor faint curiosity, but rather a deep, indelible necessity to pursue creative endeavors – to study them, to participate in them, but most importantly, I am constantly compelled to enjoy, as frequently as possible, the way the arts seem to invite explorations of our own vivacity. This is to say, I cannot imagine my life without engaging in some form of creative of expression. From a very early age, my parents have embedded in me an appreciation for music. They encouraged me to take piano and guitar lessons, to join a children’s choir, and to participate in community theatre. Indeed, my family was a musical one, but during my maturation I began to form my own set of interests. As a senior in high school, inspired by my then-mentor, Bill Waters, I developed an inexorable attraction to the art of story and written expression. I soon found that I had a talent for poetry, and I decided to capitalize on that talent for my major as an undergraduate. I have since been fascinated with all forms of narrative expression, from film, to stage, to novel, to poem. However, my passion for music never left me. With a desire to engage in significant discourse regarding contemporary popular and alternative music, I became a disc jockey as USC’s student-run radio station, KSCR. There, I soon became the Co-Director of Publication, which charged me with running the station’s music blog and releasing two annual music, arts and culture based magazines entitled Bandwidth. I have since spent my senior year as the General Manager of KSCR, a position that has given me the opportunity to, among many other things, interface directly with the artists whose music had inspired me to become a disc jockey in the first place.
However, my two years of research with Professor David Román stand as my most important academic encounter with the arts. During my sophomore year, Prof. Román and I received a grant from the Summer Undergraduate Research Fund in order to study the Cultural Politics of the 2008 Broadway Season. What began as a single trip to New York City soon blossomed into all-encompassing intellectual enterprise. I have since developed an expertise on Broadway plays and musicals, and garnered a wealth of research experience. My collaboration with Prof. Román has resulted in two additional grants under the USC Provost Fellowship during the fall of 2008 and summer of 2009, as well as a featured, co-authored review of South Pacific for the May 2009 edition ofTheatre Journal.
As I prepare to graduate, the only thing I actually know for certain is that I want the arts to play a major role in my yet-undecided career. My experience at USC, and the work I have done both inside and outside the classroom have certainly prepared me for a plethora of opportunities in that regard. Moreover, being chosen to participate in Jimmy Gauntt’s legacy with this award is such an un-expected privilege, and I am sincerely grateful for such distinguished recognition
I was born in Russia, a country with a very strong theatrical tradition, and my parents had always made a point of taking me to as many plays and showing me as many classic movies as possible. As a result my childhood heroes were a Russian actor named Vladimir Visotsky, most famous for his portrayal of Hamlet, and a French actor named Jean-Paul Belmondo. As an unmotivated and directionless high school sophomore I decided to take an introductory acting class. I thought this class would be the easiest way to satisfy my school’s arts requirement and hoped it might entertaining, so I figured I would give it a shot. Three years and three plays later I found myself as an incoming freshman at the USC School of Theatre. Despite the fact that I almost immediately switched majors – first to Psychology, then Political Science, then Comparative Literature, and finally English – my love for theatre has never diminished. I realized that, although I did not necessarily want to be an actor, I was nowhere near being ready to give up on my infatuation with plays.
I eventually ended up with a major in English and a minor in Theatre. Along the way, a few of my classes gave me an opportunity to keep acting; but most of all, I have realized I love examining theatre in an analytical sense. Within both the Theatre department and the English department I have greatly enjoyed classes, in which I had a chance to study plays ranging from Romeo and Juliet to Ruined, the 2009 Pulitzer Prize winner. I have come to realize that analyzing theatrical works helps me appreciate everything about them – the set designs, the acting, and everything else. This led me to write my senior thesis on an intersection between my interests in literature and theatre. I focused on Martin McDonagh, a contemporary Irish playwright, and the theatrical qualities of his works.
I am not entirely sure what the future holds for me. On one hand I have been interested in going to law school for quite some time, but then again I also want to pursue my passion for theatre. I plan on taking a year off after graduation in order to make a decision. During the summers of 2008 and 2009 I interned at a law firm and at a theatre for social justice organization, so I hope to continue in both of these varying directions while I attempt to figure everything out. One thing I am sure of is that, regardless of what I end up doing, my love for both literature and theatre will only continue to grow. For this reason, I am very grateful to be receiving the JIMMY award for my academic career – it feels amazing to be recognized for something that has become so rewarding. I would like to thank everyone involved in organizing this award. I am extremely honored.
Aliviana Sanders’ first writing project (around the age of 7) was a sequel to the Little House on the Prairie series. However, the project went unfinished and Aliviana turned to other hobbies, focusing mainly on playing different musical instruments. Growing up in the suburbs of Los Angeles, thousands of artistic opportunities were available; she dabbled in painting, photography, and theatre but nothing really clicked. It wasn’t until her junior year of college that she rediscovered her love of writing and decided to major in USC’s Creative Writing program. Again, the journey was rocky. She took a fiction class that felt more like a requirement than anything else. Feeling burned out already, she left the country to study in Spain for five months, leaving her writing far away in Los Angeles.
At the beginning of her senior year, Aliviana hesitantly signed up for her first poetry workshop requirement. She had little experience with poetry other than the nonsense her emo friends scrawled into their notebooks in high school, and was not exactly looking forward to the semester. She was completely unprepared for the revelation of everything she had been missing over the years. Thanks to the efforts of two fabulous professors (Molly Bendall and David St. John) and an incredibly talented group of classmates, Aliviana was able to experience real poetry and discovered she had both the talent to compose and the desire to read and write all different kinds of poetry.
This summer, Aliviana will be promoting AIDS prevention in a remote village in Zanzibar, then will hopefully come back to a position as a corps member of City Year Los Angeles, working with underserved kids on staying in school and succeeding in their classes. She hopes to be an elementary school teacher, but deferred her acceptance into USC’s Rossier School of Education to gain some hands on experience working with kids and to experience life outside of a university for a year. She fully plans on coming back for her master’s degree in education and hopes that these experiences continue to provide her with lots of inspiration for new poems.
I was drawn to USC for many reasons, but two of the most persuasive were its palpably creative atmosphere and its location right in the nerve center of Los Angeles. Over four years, those reasons have remained sturdy. I have grown tremendously as a writer since I arrived. Coached by our writing faculty and rubbing shoulders with many cool and gifted friends helped considerably with that growth. And I am more or less in love with Los Angeles after living here for four years. There is basically nothing I would rather do than spend an afternoon exploring its urban wilderness. I grew up in the suburbs of Kansas City with farms just a few miles south of my house, so exploring LA still feels new. The move was a huge cultural change, but one I’ve nonetheless felt embraced by.
Literature first grabbed my attention when I was a larva. Apparently, my first word was “book,” which is pretty fortuitous as omens go. Through my childhood and high school, I both wrote and read consistently. Since coming to USC, my time has largely been devoted to “book”-related activities. I was involved with after-school tutoring in Pico-Union for the first three years of college. In this past year, I was President of the student organization Writers in the Community, a group that sponsors a large youth poetry reading twice per school year. My relationship with books has also contained a life-long, dynamic journey through the text of The Bible, which led to my getting involved withCampus Crusade for Christ at USC for three years. I also have been a part of theThematic Option Honors Program and USC’s Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Transgender Assembly—while I have on occasion kissed good books, I prefer boys.
Recently, I completed my English Senior Honors Thesis. Supervised by Professors Dana Johnson and Aimee Bender, it is titled “Whatever You Called It: The Fetus as Destabilizer in Twentieth Century Literature of Abortion” (critical component) and “This” (creative component). Over the summer of my junior year, I also did research with English Professor Vicki Forman on “Religious Conversion/Apostasy during Adult Life”. I am delighted to receive the Jimmy Gaunt scholarship, because never in my life has a scholarship meant more to me. Now that school is complete, I want to explore. To explore LA, the country, maybe the greater world if I feel cheeky enough. It’s time to wander, not as to avoid work but to seek out new ways to be a citizen of the earth and to mark that down in words. I’m so excited I often can’t even feel it.
Janet Thielke graduated from Houston, TX’s High School for the Performing and Visual Arts theatre department in 2006. Soon after having a play produced there as part of a student festival, she abandoned a burgeoning career as a classically trained actress for the much more financially secure pursuit of creative writing. While at USC, she studied Advanced Fiction with Aimee Bender, Marianne Wiggins, and T.C. Boyle. Other highlights of her college career include serving as research assistant to Bruce Smith during fall 2007 and studying abroad in Norwich, England spring 2008. Her theatre background came in handy in summer 2009 when she was granted an internship with LA Stage Alliance through the LA County Arts Commission. She was later hired as Assistant Editor and staff writer for their online magazine LA Stage (www.lastageblog.com) and has worked for them through her senior year. This past semester, she completed a senior honors critical thesis on Flannery O’Connor and Carson McCullers. For her creative thesis, she began a novel; unfortunately, as is so frequently the case, they were both young, there were irreconcilable difference, etc., and they have temporarily parted ways.
She is so honored to be one of the Jimmy Award recipients – celebrating an amazing individual and writer – and considers it the highest of her writing accolades. Other wins include second place in the USC wonderland award and second place in the Edward W. Moses Undergraduate Creative Writing Competition. She also took first place in the Undergraduate Writing Awards an unprecedented two times for her short stories. Nationally, she has been awarded an NFAA ARTS Merit Award for excerpt from a novel, a Scholastic Art and Writing Silver Award for dramatic script, and another Silver Award for her general writing portfolio. She realizes these awards mean very little without context, but appreciates that their names are long and provide ample padding for her bio. In August 2009, her first professional play was staged by Mildred’s Umbrella Theatre of Houston as part of the Freneticore Fringe festival, where it won audience’s favorite. Her second play for the company premieres May 2010. She has also volunteered to write a play to be performed by troubled youths at the Center for Success and Residential Rehab in Houston summer 2010.
A travel enthusiast, Janet’s life goals center on becoming a vagabond and starving artist. Achievements in this pursuit thus far include train-hopping across Europe; braving the Canadian wilderness at a fly-in fishing cabin sans electricity, running water, and another female for twenty miles; and SCUBA diving the underwater cavern/cenote in Playa del Carmen, Mexico. Immediately following graduation, she will return to the UK for an internship with Anthem Press in London and read submissions for the online literary journal Narrative. She plans to continue to work and write fiction and plays in Edinburgh, Scotland in the coming year.