Welcome Fall 2018 Cohort: Student Bios

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Sofia Arellano is an advocate, writer, actress, and budding historian.  Her master work lies in her upcoming novel Wild For To Hold, which centers around a first person narrative of Queen Anne Boleyn and her experiences with the intrigues, scandals, and politics of the court of Henry VIII. Her research has taken her to England to speak to Curators, view primary and secondary sources, and tour all relevant sites in her work. She hopes to continue her research abroad to deliver a dazzling account of Tudor life and truly immersive experience for her reader.

As a professional advocate, Sofia works in spreading awareness for endometriosis. Recently, she had her first play Scar Tissue produced and performed which was based around immense hurt she felt around her diagnosis with endometriosis and it’s effect on romantic relationships. In her free time, she authors and owns the blog Bad and Bruja, which pushes the boundaries of literature by expressing personal struggles with chronic illness, heartbreak, and the drudgery and beauty of everyday life through poetry, memoirs, short stories, and anecdotes all intermixed.  Her sense of purpose and passion lies in advocating and educating herself on all things empowering women, and as a Latina, fighting for equity in society by advocating for brown and black lives and pride. She is also a strong proponent of criminal justice reform and bridging disparity in sentencing as well as correcting the discriminative current policies that target men of color. She hopes to delve into these themes in her writing, and one day aspires to write, act in, and produce her own film or TV series.

Kent Black is a fifth generation Californian raised near Pasadena who attended UC Berkeley for his B.A. and then UCLA for his M.F.A. in theatre with the ludicrous intention of becoming a dramaturge. Dropping out a quarter before getting his degree, he first worked as a carpenter, and then lowered his sights and became a journalist. He initially specialized in outdoor/adventure journalism, not out of any particular vision, but because he found it often came with free ski lift tickets. He was hired as a staff writer for a men’s magazine in NY, and has spent much of his career as a staff writer, contributing editor, and freelance writer for publications such as Sports Illustrated, GQ, Men’s Journal, Playboy, Rolling Stone, Smithsonian, and Details, among others. He switched to the other side of the desk when the New York Times Magazine hired him as deputy style editor in 2000. Since then, he has worked as a style editor at the Los Angeles Times Magazine, and as editor in chief for Outside’s Go (a travel magazine for Outside) and editor in chief of Palm Springs Life, from which he resigned in May 2018. Currently, he and his wife, Emily Rapp Black, associate professor at UC Riverside (main campus and low residency, Palm Desert) and bestselling author of Still Point of the Turning World, are partners in Blueprint Manuscript Consulting, a consulting service for both fiction and nonfiction writers. They live in Redlands with their daughter, Charlie, and her cat, Meatball.


Cynthia Alessandra Briano is Director of the Rapp Saloon Reading Series First Fridays in Santa Monica. She is also Founder of Love On Demand Global, which creates custom-ordered poetry for charity. She is recipient of the Lois Morrell & J. Russell Hayes Poetry Prize, a finalist in the James Hearst Poetry Prize, and has been published in the North American Review and These Pages Speak, a creative writing textbook. As a student or educator, Cynthia has been founder, co-founder, or editor of various literary arts journals, such Enie, Ourstory, Small Craft Warnings, and Treasure Chest. She attended Swarthmore College, where she studied English Literature and Creative Writing. She also studied Global Sustainability and Creative Writing at UCLA Ext., and has received a Community Access Scholarship to UCLA Ext. Writer’s Program. She is part of the founding Class of Community Literature Initiative, and serves on the Board of Directors for Rhymes for Good. She has served as Literary Programs Director and Poet-In-Residence at Self-Help Graphics & Art, and has taught creative writing, speech, and English literature in Thailand, the Philippines, and the Getty Villa. Cynthia is a College Counselor, English Literature & Composition Teacher, and Editorial Consultant.


Andrea Eldridge is an airline pilot who would rather be penning a haiku on the hiking trail with her dog, Lincoln. Originally from Washington State and currently living in Claremont, California she can’t wait to join others in the MFA program and write her memoir.


Katie Gilligan is from Redondo Beach, California. She moved to Flagstaff, Arizona to attend Northern Arizona University, where she received a BS in Creative Media and Film. An avid lover of books, film and television, Katie hopes to pursue a career in screenwriting. A new resident of sunny Palm Springs, in her free time you can find her reading by the pool, at the park with her dog, or shaking up cocktails behind the bar.



After a career on the Dark (financial) Side, Jeremy Gluck returned to doing what he wants—writing fiction—about a dozen years ago. He is working on his fourth never-to-be published novel, which is better than the previous three. All are in the suspense/mystery genre, though unpublishability is his true signature. Jeremy has also written more literary short stories, a few of which have been published.  He lives in the SF Bay Area with his wife and cute, but vicious, dog. Back when the planet was cooler, he earned a BA in English/Economics at UC Berkeley and, on a whim, a Ph.D. in Economics at Stanford.


J.D. Horn is the Wall Street Journal bestselling author of the Witching Savannah series, the Witches of New Orleans series, and the standalone dark fantasy, Shivaree. As an undergrad, he studied comparative literature with an emphasis on French (in original) and Russian (in translation) literature. Horn also has an MBA in international business and formerly held a career as a financial analyst before turning his talent to crafting chilling stories and unforgettable characters. His novels have received global attention and have been translated into Russian, Romanian, Polish, German, Spanish, Italian, French, and Turkish. As well as being an avid, if slow, runner of half-marathons, J.D. is a long-time animal rights advocate, animal lover, and non-proselytizing vegetarian. He, his spouse, Rich, and their rescue Chihuahua, Kirby Seamus, split their time between San Francisco and Palm Springs.


P.J. Nutting is an ESL teacher working around Asia and plans to live in Hanoi, Vietnam for the beginning of this program. He studied journalism in Colorado prior to that, and specialized in magazine features and blog content. This program is his debut as a fiction writer, and a futuristic crime novel is in the works.



Jan Steele grew up in the burbs of Chicago and after thirty-two years of shoveling snow, moved to San Diego with her husband and children. She has taught everything from Kindergarten through high school but found her passion for writing years later while living as an expat in Asia for four years. Now back in San Diego (with a small stint in Pittsburgh), she’s ready to take the next step in her writing. She’s a contributing author of Chicken Soup for the Soul, Miracles and More (2018) and shares a blog with her sister-in-law, www.killingjunecleaver.blogspot.com. In addition to writing, she loves to travel, volunteer, watch college basketball and sunsets. She hopes to inspire not only her children but anyone who doubts their ability to fulfill their dreams. Receiving her MFA and publishing her novels would be a dream come true.


Jim Sweeney finds great enjoyment reading history and historical novels depicting conflicts in unique settings, especially if the history is not typically found in history textbooks. He became interested in the story of the Black Caribs from St. Vincent Island in the Eastern Caribbean while doing research for a history thesis. Jim had the memoires of a French Marine Artillery lieutenant translated into English. This young man spent several months living among the Caribs of St. Vincent Island, training them as allies for their common fight against British imperialism during the French Revolution in the Caribbean. He experienced the end of the Second Carib War and the surrender of the Black Caribs to the British, resulting in their exile to Roatan Island. His love for the daughter of his friend, a Red Carib chief, and his adventures among the Caribs made for fascinating reading.

Jim continued reading about the Black Caribs and their ethnogenesis as it relates to the era of Atlantic slave trade. The Black Caribs are a blended ethnic group with a largely Carib Indian and African base. Escaped slaves fled to St. Vincent Island and joined the Caribs. The resulting mix became the Black Caribs or Garifuna; the last indigenous people in the Caribbean to fight the takeover of their lands by European imperialists.

With encouragement from his sons Jim decided to write a novel based on the history of the Black Caribs. This led to more focused reading, four visits to St. Vincent Island, and taking writing classes. What began as a single historical novel morphed into a series of perhaps nine novels written from the perspectives of individuals captured, bound for the Caribbean to labor on plantations, and their escape to St. Vincent Island where they contributed to the Black Carib gene pool.

Except for the story of Chatoyer, the most famous of the Black Carib chiefs, these novels are in need of revision and polishing. Chatoyer: Freedom’s War Chief was completed for Stanford University’s Novel Writing Certificate Program. It is being pitched to agents with the usual response for novice authors.

Jim taught social studies and coached athletics at the secondary and college levels in Panama for the Department of Defense Schools and later lived in Japan, Italy, and Spain teaching anthropology and history for Central Texas College-Asia and the University of Maryland University College-Europe.

Jim and his wife now live in Los Altos, California. He spends much of his time paddling with an outrigger canoe club and taking writing classes.


Jhenna Wieman is a 24-year-old Middle School Language Arts and Creative Writing teacher from Murrieta, CA. She received her BA in English: Writing Practices from Humboldt State University in 2015. She is passionate about education and is a lifelong learner who hopes to pursue her PhD after completing her MFA. She writes both fiction and poetry.



Elizabeth Wilson earned her BA in English and Creative Writing from the University of Iowa in 2016 with a minor in History. Her historical-oriented stories, influenced by Truman Capote, explore the affect of time on the family unit and how environmental, socioeconomic, and personal tragedies culminate to impact the generations to come. Wilson’s current novel, The Poison Tree blurs the line between fiction and non-fiction, seeking to discover the true impact of family on the individual. Beyond her own writing, she has worked as a reader for Iowa Review and as an editor of Professor Constance Bernman’s upcoming text, sequel to Women and Monasticism in Medieval Europe: Sisters and Patrons of the Cistercian Reform. 


Pallavi Yetur was born and raised in Southern California but has been living on the East Coast for the past ten years and is eager to return to her roots. She attended UC San Diego for undergrad where she developed her pop culture nerddom as she studied Communication, and Literature with an emphasis in Writing. She was then fortunate to be able to opt out of prolonged recession unemployment by attending grad school at NYU where she earned her MA in Mental Health Counseling. Pallavi splits her time between practicing psychotherapy in Manhattan, freelance coaching for a consulting firm, winning silver medals in amateur pole sport competitions, and is now thrilled to be a nonfiction MFA student at UCR Palm Desert! She lives in Jersey City, where she and her husband of four years do what basic married couples do: watch HGTV and Bravo, and argue over whose home state has the best tomatoes.














By | 2018-09-24T15:05:20-07:00 September 24th, 2018|Categories: Uncategorized|Comments Off on Welcome Fall 2018 Cohort: Student Bios

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