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Guest Residency Faculty

Scott Alexander has been writing professionally since 1986. He met his writing partner, Larry Karaszewski, when they were roommates at USC’s School of Cinema. On a whim, they wrote a screenplay during their senior year, which sold a week after graduation. They are best known for writing very unusual biopics with larger-than-life characters. They wrote the highly-acclaimed ED WOOD, for which they were nominated for Best Screenplay by the Writers Guild. They followed this with THE PEOPLE VS. LARRY FLYNT, for which they won the Golden Globe for Best Screenplay, as well as a special Writers Guild award for civil rights and liberties. They scripted the extremely postmodern MAN ON THE MOON, the life story of Andy Kaufman. They wrote BIG EYES, the strange-but-true story of Margaret and Walter Keane, for which they received an Indie Spirit Best Screenplay nomination. They recently ventured into television, creating the hit FX miniseries THE PEOPLE V. O.J. SIMPSON, for which they won the Emmy, Golden Globe, PGA and WGA Award for Best Limited Series. All four of the feature scripts have been published in book form. Other than biopics, Alexander and Karaszewski are quite eclectic. They wrote the hit Stephen King adaptation 1408. They produced the Bob Crane biopic AUTO FOCUS, and they wrote and directed the comedy SCREWED. They have also written numerous family films, including PROBLEM CHILD, PROBLEM CHILD 2, AGENT CODY BANKS, and GOOSEBUMPS. Scott started his Hollywood career toiling on low-budget horror films as a music editor. As a director, his work has appeared on MTV and Nickelodeon. He also wrote for HBO’s TALES FROM THE CRYPT and the television series MONSTERS, which he directed. Scott is a Mentor in the USC School of Cinema, and he’s served four terms on the Writers Guild’s Board of Directors. He has volunteered as a Sundance Writing Lab advisor numerous times, as well as teaching at writing workshops around the world. Scott is married, with three children.

Emilie Beck is a playwright and director, as well as the literary manager at The Theatre@Boston Court. Her plays have been produced and workshopped at Hartford Stage, Pasadena Playhouse, Piven Theatre, Playwright’s Theatre of New Jersey, Winding Road Theatre, Elephant Theatre, El Portal Theatre, Daedalus Studio, The Road Theatre, and the HBO Workspace. As a director, her work has received Ovation, Joseph Jefferson, and LA Weekly awards. She was Associate Manager at Center Theatre Group where she produced 365 Days/365 Plays as the hub theater for Los Angeles, and she re-envisioned and produced the Sherwood Award Program through 2010. At Boston Court Emilie directed productions of Shiv and Cassiopeia; directed workshops of Lottie in the Late Afternoon and Cricket Woman Mother Earth (or) a Nasty Comeuppance; and dramaturged The House in Scarsdale, Everything You Touch, RII, Alcestis, The Children, and Heavier Than. Emilie curates and produces Boston Court’s new play reading festival. Her work has been published in The Colorado Review, LARB, and HowlRound. She holds a BS in Performance Studies from Northwestern University, and an MFA in Fiction from Warren Wilson.

Chelsea Marelle Benson came to Echo Lake after earning her Master’s Degree in Producing from AFI in Los Angeles.  She holds a BA degree in Film Production (with a minor in Literature) and a BFA degree in Dance from the University of Arizona.  As a performer, she brings a unique perspective on entertainment as it relates to film and television and provides a fresh approach to the management team at Echo Lake.

Michael Besman. A graduate of the prestigious UCLA Producers Program, Besman began his long entertainment career assisting director Michael Wadleigh on the horror film Wolfen, and then producer Aaron Russo on the Eddie Murphy comedy Trading Places. In 1983 he became a production executive at Paramount Pictures, where he worked on such diverse films as Witness, Beverly Hills Cop, Summer School, Adventures in Babysitting, and Star Trek 4. Besman joined The Guber-Peters Company as Vice President in 1987, where he put his experience to good use supervising Tim Burton’s groundbreaking superhero blockbuster Batman. The producing duo tapped Besman to follow them to Sony Pictures Entertainment, where he was quickly promoted to Executive Vice President of Production for TriStar Pictures. There he oversaw such films as Remains of the Day (nominated for eight Oscars), Sleepless in Seattle (Oscar nominee, best screenplay), Single White Female, Jumanji, Devil in a Blue Dress, and As Good As It Gets (Oscar nominee, Best Picture and Screenplay, Winner Best Actor and Actress). Deciding to break out of the studio system, Besman began his independent producing career in 1997 with Jean-Jacques Annaud’s acclaimed Seven Years in Tibet, starring Brad Pitt. He followed up with Don Roos’ The Opposite of Sex. The film opened at the Sundance Film Festival, and won honors at the Venice and Deauville Film Festivals, earned Independent Spirit awards for best first feature and best screenplay, and appeared on many ten best lists. Besman would reteam with Roos on Bounce, starring Gwyneth Paltrow and Ben Affleck. His next film, About Schmidt, premiered at the Cannes Film Festival, and opened the New York Film Festival. The film won two Golden Globes and was nominated for two Academy Awards. Both the London and Los Angeles film critics voted it best film of 2002. Besman’s busy and diverse slate also included the Garry Marshall film, Georgia Rule, which starred Jane Fonda, Felicity Huffman and Lindsay Lohan, the indie Careless, with Colin Hanks, and Loving Leah for CBS/Hallmark Hall of Fame. He even wrote a screenplay, Lightning, that was optioned by Universal Pictures, before recently transitioning into the exciting world of television. At present, he’s West Coast President of Caryn Mandabach Productions, where he works on the hit Netflix drama Peaky Blinders (now into its fourth season) as well as overseeing Mandabach’s deal with MGM TV. In his spare time he still likes to watch classic movies, adding to his already encyclopedic knowledge of old Hollywood!

Yennie Cheung is co-author of the book DTLA/37: Downtown Los Angeles in Thirty-seven Stories. She holds an MFA in Creative Writing from UC Riverside-Palm Desert, and her work has been published in such places as The Los Angeles Times, Word Riot, Angels Flight • Literary West, The Best Small Fictions 2015, and The Rattling Wall anthology Only Light Can Do That. She lives in Los Angeles.

Carina Chocano is a contributing writer to The New York Times Magazine. Her work has appeared in New York magazine, Elle, Vogue, Rolling Stone, Wired, The California Sunday Magazine, Bust, The Washington Post, Vulture, The Cut, GOOD magazine, Texas Monthly, The New Yorker, The New Republic, and many others. She has been a film and TV critic at The Los Angeles Times, Entertainment Weekly, and Her book You Play the Girl is out now from Mariner Books. She lives in Los Angeles.

Allison Adelle Hedge Coke’s authored books include: (poetry) The Year of the Rat (chapbook), Dog Road Woman, Off-Season City Pipe, Streaming, Blood Run (poetry/verse-play); and a memoir Rock Ghost, Willow, Deer. Hedge Coke has edited eight additional collections, including: Sing: Poetry of the Indigenous Americas, Effigies (Pacific Rim), Effigies II (US Continent), and Ahani (ToTopos). Current projects include Burn (MadHat Press 2016), Effigies III (Pacific Island) (2017), and the Red Dust film-media-lit-music project (in production). Hedge Coke directs the Literary Sandhill Crane Retreat & Festival and has been awarded fellowships/residencies with Lannan Foundation, Weymouth Center for the Arts, Kimmel Harding Nelson Center, MacDowell Colony, Hawthornden Castle, Great Plains Center, and her honors include an American Book Award, Library of Congress Witter Bynner Fellowship, a Lifetime Achievement Award, a Mentor of the Year Award, an IPPY Medal, a Pen Southwest Book Award, three distinguished positions, and numerous literary and arts grants. She is a poet, writer, performer, editor, and literary activist. She came of age cropping tobacco and working fields, waters, and working in factories.

Jalysa Conway hails from the mean streets of Washington DC (and by mean, we actually mean “quite nice”). After graduating from the University of Virginia, she commissioned as an officer in the U.S. Air Force. Uncle Sam taught her how to hack, and then let her roam the globe. She spent five years on active duty as a Cyber Operations Officer, in places like Mississippi, Latvia, Italy, and good ole Alabama. She’s been read into things that’d make you want to shit your pants. After receiving her MFA in Creative Writing from UC Riverside’s Low Res MFA Program, she traded in her M-9 for a pen, left the military, and secured a job in ShondaLand as Shonda Rhimes’s second assistant. She climbed the ranks, and in two short years, was able to accomplish her dream of getting staffed onto GREY’S ANATOMY as a writer. Jalysa hopes to regale the television world with the stories she has heard, seen, and experienced. And she still holds a Top Secret clearance, so she’ll try not to get anyone blacklisted while she does.

Maggie Downs is a journalist and essayist based in Palm Springs, California. Her work has appeared in The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Los Angeles Times, Smithsonian, Outside, and Lithub, among others. Excerpts from her memoir have been published in Lonely Planet’s True Stories From the World’s Best Writers, and the Best Women’s Travel Writing anthology. She holds an MFA in Nonfiction from UCR.

Jennie Dunham has been a literary agent in New York, New York since May 1992. In August 2000 she founded Dunham Literary, Inc. She represents literary fiction and non-fiction for adults and children. Her clients have had both critical and commercial success. Books she has represented have appeared on the New York Times Best Sellers in adult hardcover fiction, children’s books, and children’s book series. Her clients have won numerous awards including: New York Times Best Illustrated Book, The Schneider Family Award, Boston Globe Horn Book Honor, and Los Angeles Times Book Prize Finalist. She has been a member of AAR (Association of Authors Representatives) since 1993. She served on the Program Committee and was Program Committee Director for several years. She was also a member of the Electronic Committee. She started her career at John Brockman Associates and then Mildred Marmur Associates. She was employed by Russell & Volkening for 6 years before she left to found Dunham Literary, Inc. She graduated from Princeton University with a degree in Anthropology and has a master’s degree in Social Work from New York University (although she only practices with characters on the page).

Janet Fitch is the author of the #1 national bestseller White Oleander, a novel translated into 24 languages, an Oprah Book Club book and the basis of a feature film, and Paint It Black, also widely translated and made into a 2017 film. She has written a young adult novel, Kicks, short stories, essays, articles, and reviews, contributed to anthologies and regularly teaches at the Squaw Valley Community of Writers. She taught creative writing for 14 years in the USC Master of Professional Writing program, as well as VCFA’s Writing and Publishing program, A Room of Her Own (AROHO), the UCLA Writer’s Program, and Pomona College. Fitch was a 2009 Likhachev Cultural Fellow to St. Petersburg, Russia, a Helen R. Whiteley Fellow, a Research Fellow at the Huntington Library and a Moseley Fellow at Pomona College. Fitch graduated from Reed College in Portland, Oregon in 1978 with a BA in History. Her latest novel, The Revolution of Marina M. has just been released.

Michelle Franke is the Executive Director of PEN Center USA and founding editor of The Rattling Wall, a literary journal. Michelle has produced over 200 literary events across Southern California and was named a 2013 “Face To Watch” by the Los Angeles Times. She currently teaches in the UCLA Extension Writers’ Program in Los Angeles.

Emily Ziff Griffin lives in Los Angeles, where she writes, produces, teaches, daydreams, and mothers two young kids. When she was twenty-five, she cofounded Cooper’s Town Productions with Philip Seymour Hoffman and produced the Academy Award–winning film Capote, along with Hoffman’s directorial debut Jack Goes Boating, and John Slattery’s God’s Pocket. She’s run three marathons, slowly, and holds a degree from Brown University in art-semiotics, the study of how images make meaning. She believes children are way more sophisticated than adults typically give them credit for and writes for the teenager who is ready to claim their own worldview and be grounded in their own power. Light Years is her first novel. Find her at

Dara Hyde is an agent at the Hill Nadell Literary Agency in Los Angeles and represents a wide range of fiction and nonfiction, including literary and genre fiction, graphic novels, narrative non-fiction, memoir, and young adult. Before joining Hill Nadell, Dara spent over a decade as an editor and rights and permissions manager at independent publisher Grove Atlantic in New York. A graduate of Bard College, Dara has always balanced her love of film and literature. At the agency she assists with foreign and film rights for the whole agency in addition to managing her own clients. Dara has taught or spoken at a number of writers’ conferences and events, including 826LA, Los Angeles Times Festival of Books, BinderCon, New Orleans Writers’ Conference, Pima Writers’ Workshop, PubWest, Long Beach Comic Expo, IWOSC, Antioch University LA MFA, Chapman University MFA, UC Riverside MFA and UCR Palm Desert MFA. You can follow her on Twitter @dzhyde.

Liska Jacobs holds an MFA from the University of California, Riverside. Her essays and short fiction have appeared in The Rumpus, the Los Angeles Review of Books, Literary Hub, The Millions, and The Hairpin, among other publications. Catalina is her first novel.

Rachel Kann is a modern-day mystic: irreverently reverent and exuberantly human. Her poetry has been featured on Morning Becomes Eclectic on NPR and as The Weather on the podcast phenomenon, Welcome to Night Vale. She is the 2017 Outstanding Instructor of the Year at UCLA Extension Writers’ Program. She’s a Write Club Los Angeles champ and resident writer for Hevria, where she is also featured as a performing artist on The Hevria Sessions. Her latest poetry collection, A Prayer on Behalf of the Broken Heart, was recently published by Finishing Line Press. Her poetry and short story collection, 10 For Everything, was published by Orange Ocean Press. Her writing (poetry and fiction) also appears in journals such as Eclipse, Permafrost, Coe Review, Sou’wester, GW Review, Quiddity, and Lalitamba. You can find her work in anthologies including A Poet’s Haggadah, Word Warriors from Seal Press, His Rib from Penmanship Press, and Knocking at the Door from Birch Bench Press. She has three spoken word albums, The Upward Spiral, Ptolemaic Complex & Word to the WHY?s, and collaborates with producers such as Jaz1, End.User, Tack-Fu, and conductor/composer Gee Gee Gallegos.She’s performed her poetry with artists and leaders such as daKAH Hip Hop Orchestra, Marianne Williamson, Sage Francis, Saul Williams, and Rahzel, at venues such as Disney Concert Hall, Royce Hall, The Broad Stage and The San Francisco Palace of Fine Arts, as well as spiritual and sacred spaces like Jewlicious Fest X aboard The Queen Mary, Agape Spiritual Center and Sinai Temple, conferences such as Psychedelic Science 2017, Women’s Visionary Congress and Visionary Convergence, and festivals like Lucidity Fest and the Vans Warped Tour. Her work has received accolades from the Rabbit Heart Poetry Film Festival, (best music and curator’s choice), James Kirkwood Fiction Awards (short story), Writer’s Digest Short-Short Story Awards (micro-fiction), LA Weekly Awards (best supporting actress), Backstage West Garland Awards Critic’s Picks (best supporting actress) and both the audio and video award for the International Slam Idol (poetry). Rachel was commissioned by The Broad Stage to write and perform a contemporary retelling of Peter Pan from Tinker Bell’s perspective, accompanied by Maestra Rachael Worby’s 18-piece orchestra, Muse/Ique. Rachel’s music video, “Lie Down Beside You,” created with director Brad Cooper and choreographer Keith Johnson, has received screenings at the 4 The Camera Film Festival and Landlocked Film Festival. The choreography for the track has been presented at Alvin Ailey Dance Center and The Kennedy Center. Her music video, “Drunk,” in collaboration with Student Oscar-nominated and Student Emmy-nominated filmmaker Rahat Mahajan and producer Jaz 1, was awarded Best Music in the Rabbit Heart Poetry Film Festival. Her poetry video, “Mermaid Esther: An Astonishing Fire,” directed Brad Cooper was awarded Curator’s Choice in the Rabbit Heart Poetry Film Festival. Rachel was invited to perform her poetry at TEDx UCLA and in Flight 18 (where she was the DJ and Dance Captain as well) at 3LD Technology in New York City. She teaches poetry and fiction workshops through the Writers’ Program at UCLA Extension.

Kathryn McGee is co-author of DTLA/37: Downtown Los Angeles in Thirty-seven Stories, a non-fiction coffee table book about Downtown Los Angeles. She also writes horror fiction. Her short stories have appeared in Gamut Magazine and anthologies including Horror Library Vol. 6, Winter Horror Days, and Cemetery Riots. Her poem “First, the Tongue,” is published in the Horror Writers Association Poetry Showcase Volume IV. She has an MFA in creative writing from UC Riverside Palm Desert and is a member of the Horror Writers Association. Additionally, she holds a Master’s of Urban Planning from UC Irvine and works as an architectural historian in Los Angeles. Visit for more information.

Guy Nicolucci  is an Emmy-winning writer who has worked on the team for The Daily Show with John StewartLate Night with Conan O’Brien, where he earned 4 WGA Awards, and The Martin Short Show. He has written comedy material for Seth Rogan, James Franco, Jonah Hill, Charlie Sheen, Mike Tyson and many more for Comedy Central’s notorious Roast series as well as the recent TV movie The Stranger Inside.  His articles have appeared in such publications as US WeeklyNew YorkEntertainment Weekly and Rolling Stone, and he was formerly the Senior Editor at Spy Magazine. A graduate of the MFA in Screenwriting program at UCR, he is a screenwriting professor at Loyola Marymount University and NYU.

Maret Orliss is the Associate Director of Events at the Los Angeles Times, where her responsibilities include overseeing the program for the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books, The Taste, Envelope Screening Series, Indie Focus Screening Series, Ideas Exchange series and more. Prior to working for the Times, she was the associate promotional director at Vroman’s Bookstore.

Elizabeth Rosner is a bestselling novelist, poet, and essayist living in Berkeley, California. Her first book of non-fiction, SURVIVOR CAFÉ: the Legacy of Trauma and the Labyrinth of Memory, will be published in September 2017. Her third novel, ELECTRIC CITY, published in 2014, was named among the best books of the year by National Public Radio. Her poetry collection, GRAVITY, was also published in 2014. THE SPEED OF LIGHT, Rosner’s acclaimed debut novel in 2001, was translated into nine languages. Short-listed for the prestigious Prix Femina, the book won several literary prizes in both the US and Europe, including the Prix France Bleu Gironde; the Great Lakes Colleges Award for New Fiction; and Hadassah Magazine’s Ribalow Prize, judged by Elie Wiesel.  BLUE NUDE, her second novel, was selected as one of the best books of 2006 by the San Francisco Chronicle. Rosner’s essays have appeared in the NY Times Magazine, Elle, the Forward, and several anthologies; her poems have been published by Poetry Magazine, Catamaran, Poetry East, Southern Poetry Review, and many other journals. She travels widely to lead intensive writing workshops, to lecture on contemporary literature, and to visit with book groups. Her book reviews appear frequently in the San Francisco Chronicle. Website:

Dan Smetanka has worked in the publishing industry for over twenty-five years. As an Executive Editor at Ballantine/Random House, Inc., he acquired award-winning books including The Speed of Light by Elizabeth Rosner, Down to the Soundless Sea by Thomas Steinbeck, and Among the Missing by Dan Chaon, a 2001 Finalist for the National Book Award. He is currently Vice President, Executive Editor for Counterpoint Press. He acquires both fiction and nonfiction, and his projects include works by Elizabeth Crane, Dana Johnson, Abby Geni, Tod Goldberg, Gina Frangello, Elizabeth Rosner, Jared Yates Sexton, Natashia Deon, and Karen E. Bender, a 2015 Finalist for the National Book Award.

Phoef Sutton started as an actor and playwright in college; he was lucky enough to go to a small liberal arts college in Virginia, James Madison University, which encouraged student playwrights. Phoef was one of the only undergraduates to win the Norman Lear Award for Comedy Playwriting. After graduation, Phoef had plays produced at various regional theaters around the country, had his award winning play BURIAL CUSTOMS selected for publication by the Theatre Communications Group and was awarded a National Endowment for Arts Playwrights Fellowship. After marrying and moving to Los Angeles, Phoef started his career at the NBC television show CHEERS. He stayed with the show for eight years, working his way up from staff writer to executive producer, winning two Emmys and a Writer’s Guild Award. A greater training ground for a writer could not be imagined. After CHEERS, Phoef has produced and created a number of television shows and consulted on others, including NEWS RADIO and BOSTON LEGAL. He is honored to have won a Peabody Award, a GLAAD award and a Television Academy Honors award for this work on BOSTON LEGAL. Recently, he has worked on critically acclaimed series TERRIERS for FX and THE SOUL MAN for TV Land and DEFIANCE for the SyFy Channel. A particular favorite is of his is the cult comedy THANKS, a sit-com about the Pilgrims starring Cloris Leachman and Jim Rash. Lately, he’s been writing television movies for the Hallmark Movies & Mysteries channel. DARROW & DARROW, starring Kimberley Williams-Paisley, Wendie Malick and Tom Cavanaugh, aired in 2017. PAST MALICE and DARROW & DARROW II will air in 2018. He has enjoyed working with actors as diverse as Bob Newhart, John Cleese, Emma Thompson, Tim Curry, Brian Dennehy and William Shatner. He has directed a short film – a suspense tale called ‘TIL DEATH, starring Joe Mantegna. ‘TIL DEATH has been shown at various film festivals around the world and received prizes at the Garden State Festival and WorldFest in Houston, Texas. Still involved in the theater, he co-wrote the musical SONGS FROM THE TALL GRASS, which was performed at the Ford’s Theater in Washington and other regional theaters around the country. Phoef has also worked for many years as a screenwriter and script doctor. MRS. WINTERBOURNE, directed by Richard Benjamin, was an adaptation of a novel by one of his favorite authors, Cornell Woolrich. THE FAN, directed by Tony Scott and starring Robert DeNiro, was an adaptation of the novel by Peter Abrahams. Phoef is also a published novelist, author of the critically acclaimed CRUSH series of mystery novels: CRUSH, HEART ATTACK AND VINE and COLORADO BOULEVARD. FROM AWAY, a supernatural romantic thriller, is due out in 2018. He has also written FIFTEEN MINUTES TO LIVE, a romantic thriller, and THE MIDNIGHT SPECIAL, a horror novel, and is the co-author of REBORN: A DEAD MAN ADVENTURE. He also co-authored two novels with Janet Evanovich, WICKED CHARMS and CURIOUS MINDS.

Megan Stielstra is the author of three collections: The Wrong Way To Save Your Life, Once I Was Cool, and Everyone Remain Calm. Her work appears in the Best American Essays, New York Times, Chicago Tribune, Poets & Writers, Tin House, Guernica, Catapult, Lit Hub, Buzzfeed Reader, PANK, The Rumpus, and elsewhere. A longtime company member with 2nd Story, she has told stories for National Public Radio, Radio National Australia, Museum of Contemporary Art, Goodman Theatre, Steppenwolf Theatre, the Neo-Futurarium, and regularly with The Paper Machete live news magazine at The Green Mill. She is currently an artist in residence at Northwestern University.

Luke Yankee’s The Last Lifeboat is published by Dramatists Play Service and has received 23 productions around the country in the past three years. His latest play, The Man Who Killed the Cure (developed at UCR) received a workshop production at UC Irvine last February and was recently a semifinalist for the National Playwrights Conference at The Eugene O’Neill Theatre Center. His memoir, Just Outside The Spotlight: Growing up with Eileen Heckart has been touted by critics as “One of the most compassionate, illuminating showbiz books ever written.”  It is published by Random House with a foreword by Mary Tyler Moore. His award-winning comedy, The Jesus Hickey premiered in Los Angeles starring Harry Hamlin. His play, A Place at Forest Lawn (also published by Dramatists Play Service) has been performed at several theatres around the country. As a director and producer, he has run two regional theaters, assistant directed six Broadway shows and directed Off Broadway and at professional theaters around the country. He graduated with his MFA from UC Riverside (Palm Desert) in December of 2016 and is currently an adjunct faculty member at Cal State Fullerton and Goldenwest College. www.lukeyankeecom.