UCLA

100 Ways: Arts & Letters

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Published May 10, 2019 3:20 PM


Stories on artificial intelligence, Angela Davis, and alumni writers.


The Mighty Pen

Bruin Poets and Authors


Tom Lutz (above) met Juan Felipe Herrera in the San Francisco Bay Area in 1988. Both men were headed to Iowa, where Lutz would teach at Iowa State, and Herrera, who had already published several volumes of poetry, would earn an M.F.A. “It was the first time I had ever known someone who was a 24-hour poet,” says Lutz, “open all night, someone who turned the world into words and words into the world, and did it all day, every day. He transformed my sense of language, let me understand that the key to beauty is an immense sense of play — playing with words, the play of the senses, working as play, play as work, playing our way into joy, joy as the goal of the play of words."

UCLA counts among its illustrious alumni two U.S. Poet Laureates: Kay Ryan and Juan Felipe Herrera, both of whom served in the post for two terms.

Kay Ryan ’67, M.A. ’68, who served in the post from 2008 to 2010, is a Californian through and through. Born in San Jose and raised in the San Joaquin Valley and the Mojave Desert, Ryan attended Antelope Valley College before transferring to UCLA to earn both a bachelor’s and a master’s degree. Despite having won such prestigious awards as the Pulitzer Prize and MacArthur and Guggenheim fellowships and published seven volumes of poetry, Ryan taught remedial English at College of Marin in Kentfield, California, for more than 30 years. Her students were not aspiring poets but people for whom learning basic English was a critical life skill. “Teaching basic skills is like saving lives,” Ryan says. “There is nothing more important or more satisfying.”

Juan Felipe Herrera ’72 also served two terms as the nation’s top poet, from 2015 to 2017, after serving as California’s poet laureate for two years, the first Latino in that post. A native of Fowler, California, Herrera spent his first six years in migrant worker camps in the San Joaquin Valley. “My beginnings were at the margins of society,” he says, adding that doors opened for him when he enrolled at UCLA. “I want to tell the big story through the people at the very edge of society.” During his tenure as national poet laureate, he engaged people of all ages and circumstances across the country, encouraging them to tell their stories. Herrera, who taught creative writing at UC Riverside, has published 30 books, including poetry collections, prose, short stories, young adult novels and children’s books. A New York Times critic wrote that Herrera’s art is “grounded in ethnic identity, fueled by collective pride, yet irreducibly individual, too.” His language is unique, yet universal.

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar ’69’s name became a household word because of basketball, but since his NBA retirement in 1989, the all-time leading scorer has garnered new fame as a bestselling author. His books have shed light on such diverse subjects as the Harlem Renaissance; an all-black tank unit in World War II; White Mountain Apaches; his friendship with Coach John Wooden; possible solutions to racism in politics; and remarkable achievements by African Americans. His kid-friendly What Color Is My World? profiles little-known African-American inventors. His book Coach Wooden and Me: Our 50-Year Friendship On and Off the Court describes the love that grew between an old-fashioned white Midwesterner and a black kid from New York City, whose bond looked unlikely on paper but grew into a lifelong friendship.


A League of Their Own

Title IX and UCLA

Forty-seven years ago, a law passed that said nothing about athletics — but that changed UCLA sports history forever.

The law, Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, stated: “No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving federal financial assistance.”

Title IX opened the floodgates of opportunity to female athletes, especially in high school and college.


Illustration by Brian Stauffer

But the law has generated controversy, sometimes heated, as institutions struggled with compliance and reduced spending on or cut less profitable men’s sports, such as wrestling, swimming and gymnastics. And those first women athletes after the law was passed often had to make do with woefully limited facilities.

But despite it all, Title IX gave women the right to sweat, and for UCLA, the result has been glorious.

In 1974 — a year marked now as the start of the modern era of UCLA women’s sports — Ann Meyers Drysdale ’79 received the first full-ride women’s athletic scholarship in basketball. Considered by many the greatest women’s player of all time, Meyers Drysdale helped put both UCLA and women’s collegiate sports on the map by leading her team to the 1978 national title in Pauley Pavilion.

And it’s only gotten better. So far, 41 of UCLA’s 116 NCAA titles have come from women’s teams, including the history-making 100th championship that the women’s water polo team won in 2007.

“I remember, in 1975, we were the talk of the [AIAW] tournament,” says former Bruin volleyball star Sheila King ’79, M.S. ’82. “UCLA had started putting money on the table for women’s volleyball in terms of scholarships, and we were winning it all. It got people thinking and gave other schools the impetus to get serious about volleyball, about women’s sports, and about what female athletes could be and do.”

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