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Creative Writing Program graduate student Plascencia wins prestigious Soros Fellowship
Creative Writing Program graduate student Plascencia wins prestigious Soros FellowshipApril 06, 2001Jonathan Hayjhay@syr.edu
Salvador Plascencia is a long way from his home, family and friends–a situation that is both difficult and constructive. Plascencia, a student in Syracuse University’s M.F.A. program in creative writing in The College of Arts and Sciences, is a continent away from the rich family and cultural influences of Southern California that fuel his writing. The distance, though, has taken away familiar distractions and given him time to focus on his writing. “The culture of Syracuse is nothing like El Monte (California), and the distance allows me to romanticize home more and build it up in my mind,” Plascencia says. “I miss my family and friends, but the culture at SU gives me a chance to get work done. I don’t get respect for being a writer at home. Here they value that part of my life.” Plascencia’s talent is valued not only in the University’s Creative Writing Program. He is one of 30 named recently as 2001 Paul and Daisy Soros New American Fellows. The Fellowship Program was founded to support graduate education for outstanding immigrants and children of immigrants. Fellows receive a stipend of up to $20,000 plus half-tuition for two years of graduate study at any institution in the United States. Now in its fourth year, the Soros Fellowship has already become one of the country’s most highly recognized awards for graduate study. More than 900 people who are naturalized citizens, resident aliens or the children of naturalized citizens completed applications this year. “Salvador truly exemplifies the kind of extraordinary creativity and determination to pursue a distinctive vision that the fellowship program seeks to recognize and support,” notes Warren Ilchman, director of the Fellowship Program. “From very modest beginnings–his parents were migrant farm workers who traveled frequently between Mexico and California–he pursued his own very special approach to capturing the character and meaning of life in a Mexican-American community of greater Los Angeles. Creative writers typically find their voices and achieve public notice much later than, for example, students in the sciences and medicine, but our panels were quite persuaded that Salvador has the talent, vision and commitment to produce important writing.”
Plascencia was born in Gudalajara, Mexico, and moved frequently between California and his home in Jalisco State. His family eventually settled in the greater Los Angeles community of El Monte, but much of the inspiration for his writing has come from discussions with his grandparents at their home in rural Mexico. Plascencia says his grandparents passed along a wealth of stories that have never been written. “I’m really just passing on an oral tradition of my family,” Plascencia says. “These are very personal stories set in a small Mexican town, but in their telling, hopefully, they will spread to a larger cultural meaning.” Plascencia is spending most of his time working on a novel. He says the Soros Fellowship is providing him a unique opportunity to write without worrying about paying the bills, which allows him to take full advantage of all that SU offers. Plascencia says the guidance and support of the Creative Writing Program faculty, particularly assistant professors’ George Saunders and Arthur Flowers, is invaluable. In addition to the faculty, Plascencia believes the input from his classmates in writing workshops, which form the core of the M.F.A. program, has had a positive influence on his writing. “My writing has softened in a good way, and I’m beginning to see things differently,” he says. Along with funding, the Soros Fellowship provides networking opportunities to Plascencia and the other Fellows. He hopes to finish his novel and M.F.A. degree work by the end of the Spring 2002 semester. “My only plan is to get the book done and keep writing,” Plascencia says. “I’m not good at anything else. The Soros Fellowship gave me the kind of space and time to work on my writing that I’ll probably never have again. For that, I’m very thankful.”