HISTORY

Beginnings
  • The Center for Literary Arts (CLA) was created as an Organized Research Unit at San Jose State University in 1989 under the stewardship of Dean of Humanities and the Arts John (Jack) Kenny Crane, a historical novelist, and William Styron, a scholar. Alan Soldofsky, poet and Professor of English and SJSU’s long-serving Creative Writing director, was appointed the CLA’s founding director. The CLA launched its first Major Authors Series in 1989 – 90, presenting a series of four readings, followed by conversations, featuring Anne Beattie, Amy Tan—who had just published The Joy Luck ClubWilliam Styron, and Nobel Laureate poet Czeslaw Milosz.

  • The mission of the CLA was established to promote interest in contemporary literature and genres of creative writing throughout the South Bay region and to facilitate cross-cultural understanding through the literary arts. From its inception, the goal for the Center has to present free or low-cost programs that are open to the SJSU campus community and the public.

  • In subsequent seasons, the CLA quickly began to diversity it’s offerings, thanks to grants from the San Jose Fine Arts Commission (now the San Jose Cultural Commission); the California Arts Council; the Santa Clara Arts Council (now Silicon Valley Creates); the National Endowment for the Arts; and donations from many individuals and corporations, including Applied Materials Corporation. In addition to presenting the Major Authors Series, the CLA developed a Poets-in-Residence Series, and an occasional series of events featuring emerging writers and a multi-cultural focus, Origins: Dialogues on Writing and Culture.

First Decade
  • In its first decade, the CLA established itself as one of Northern California’s leading literary arts presenters. The CLA presented many of America’s most highly acclaimed authors, including winners of the National Book Award, the Pulitzer Prize, the National Book Critics Award, and the American Book Award. For a list of the poets and authors hosted by the CLA, please visit our Archives.

  • The Center likewise presented a diverse list of acclaimed and award-winning poets in the Poets-in-Residence series and the Origins series. The poets often taught master-classes or visited SJSU workshops in addition to giving public readings on the SJSU campus or in off-campus venues such as the San Jose Museum of Art. For a list of the poets, authors, playwrights and screenwriters hosted by the CLA, please visit our Archives.

  • In addition, with funding from the San Jose Fine Arts Commission, the CLA created an ongoing educational outreach poetry workshop at Independence High School and published two poetry anthologies featuring students from Independence and from other schools in San Jose’s East Side Unified High School District. The first was titled Clearly Ambiguous (1990), and the second, Shattered Reflections (1991), which included poems and artwork collected from young poets from Hong Kong Vietnamese refugee camps.

  • Also, through the auspices of the educational outreach program, and in affiliation with the Academy of American Poets, in May 1992 the CLA co-sponsored a visit by four acclaimed younger poets from the People’s Republic of China who read their poems at SJSU and at Independence High School. The four poets—Bei Dao, Duo Duo, Gu Cheng, and Shu Ting—were members of the “the Misty poets,” associated with the Chinese Democracy Movement. They were part of the first generation of modern Chinese poets to write poems filled with personal imagery and emotion and to write outside the official sanctioned style of modern Chinese verse. They were accompanied on their San Jose visit by translator/poets Donald Finkel and Carolyn Kizer and by Orville Schell, director of the Center for U.S.-China Relations of the Asia Society. 

  • As it expanded its educational outreach program, the Center brought a number of distinguished poets and authors to speak to students at San Jose’s Mt. Pleasant High School, working in conjunction with Mt. Pleasant teachers and with administrators in the East Side Unified High School District.

Second Decade
  • In its second decade, the CLA was led by poet Beth Anstandig, then by fiction writer and filmmaker Mitch Berman, and lastly by the duo of writers Kate Evans and Kelley Harrison. The Center continued to present a diverse list of Major Authors to the campus and public as SJSU developed as a major metropolitan university.

  • The CLA also began presenting a few more its author programs in the new Martin Luther King, Jr., Library that opened on in August 2003. Among the writers the Center presented were: bestselling essayist and poet Diane Ackerman; legendary science fiction and fantasy writers Ursula K. Le Guin and Neil Gaiman; celebrated and award-winning novelists Russell Banks, Kiran Desai, Khaled Hosseini, Gish Jen, Anne Lamott, Alice Sebold, and Gore Vidal; and acclaimed international authors of fiction and nonfiction Salman Rushdie and J.M. Coetzee (recipient of the 2003 Nobel Prize for Literature); and award-Book Award-winning Scottish novelist and playwright James Kellman (Lurie Visiting Author.

  • The CLA also presented bestselling essayist David Sedaris and bestselling nonfiction writer Simon Winchester (Lurie Visiting Author Spring 2004).

  • In addition, the Center presented award-winning playwrights Tony Kushner, David Henry Hwang, and Terrance McNally. The Center also presented a number of acclaimed poets, among them: Kim Addonizio, Robert Bly, Anna Castillo, Billy Collins (U.S. poet laureate 2001 – 03), Mark Doty, W. S. Merwin (Pulitzer Prize 1971 and 2008, U.S. poet laureate 2010 – 11), Sandra M. Gilbert (2009 Lurie Visiting Author), Carolyn Kizer (1985 Pulitzer Prize, 2001 Lurie Visiting Author), Ishmael Reed (2005 Lurie Visiting Author), Al Young (2002 Lurie Visiting Author, California poet laureate 2005 – 08), and Nicaraguan poet Ernesto Cardenal.

Third Decade
  • The CLA began its third decade led by novelist and professor of English Andrew Altschul. After 2015, the Center was led by nonfiction writer and professor of English Cathleen Miller, followed in 2018 by the Center’s current director fiction writer and professor of English Selena Anderson.

  • The CLA further diversified its programming, presenting more emerging writers and writers of color. The Center also presented programs in the Hammer Theatre Centre, which reopened in 2016 under the management of SJSU’s College of Humanities and the Arts, as well as in other community venues such as the San Jose Museum of Arts and Café Stritch in downtown San Jose.

  • In its third decade, the Center presented a diverse list of some of the nation’s most acclaimed established and emerging fiction writers including: Daniel Alarcón, Paul Beatty (2016 Booker Prize, National Book Critics Circle Award), T. Coraghessan Boyle, Natalie Brazile, E. L. Doctorow (2006 National Book Award), Andre Dubus III, Andrew Sean Greer (2014 Lurie Visiting Author, Pulitzer Prize 2018), Cristina Garcia (2015 Lurie Visiting Author), Daniel Handler (aka Lemony Snicket), Aleksander Hemon, Denis Johnson (2007 National Book Award), Chang-rae Lee, Viet Thanh Nguyen (2016 Pulitzer Prize), Jane Anne Phillips, Vendela Vida (2017 Lurie Visiting Author), Geoffrey Wolff, Tobias Wolff, and Karen Tei Yamashita. 

  • The Center also presented a diverse series of established and emerging poets, included among them: Kim Addonizio, Rae Armantrout (2010 Pulitzer Prize, National Book Critics Circle Award), Peter Balakian (2016 Pulitzer Prize), and Marilyn Chin. For a full list, please visit our Archives.

  • As the Center completes its third decade, its programming continues to innovate. Since 2016 the CLA has led off its season with the Reed Magazine reading and launch party, featuring contributors to that year’s issue of Reed. Reed, published by the SJSU English Department, is the oldest continuously published literary journal west of the Mississippi. For 2018 – 19, the Center has created the CLA Book Club. Free and open to the SJSU community and the public, the Center’s book club invites members to read and discuss works by authors that the CLA presents during its season.