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Honoring a Gifted CalArts Writer

"On the death of a friend, we should consider that the fates through confidence have devolved on us the task of a double living, that we have henceforth to fulfill the promise of our friend's life also, in our own, to the world."—Henry David Thoreau

Katie Jacobson

When Katie Jacobson (Writing Program MFA 2010) passed away last October, her parents, Leslie Jacobson and Jeanine Caltagirone, considered several ways to honor her growing writing prowess. “We agreed that we needed to initiate something to carry on the writing she did and carry on her name,” said Caltagirone. And they decided that the tribute should be at CalArts, where (Katie) Jacobson spent two productive years, honing her craft.

The result of their generosity is the new Katie Jacobson Writer-in-Residence Program in the CalArts School of Critical Studies. Each fall, beginning this year, a world-renowned writer will spend a week at the Institute, working with students, participating in classes and delivering a public lecture. The first Jacobson Writer-in-Residence is the award-winning, short story writer Lydia Davis, a 2003 recipient of the coveted MacArthur Fellowship and the 2013 winner of the Man Booker International Prize. Davis is a professor at the State University of New York at Albany.

"We are extremely grateful to the Jacobson family for this wonderful donation to our Creative Writing Program. Their generosity means that our students will benefit from intensive and one-to-one interaction with internationally-renowned writers, enriching the creative life of the community at CalArts in immeasurable ways."—Amanda Beech, dean of the School of Critical Studies

A Precocious Young Writer

Jacobson, who grew up on the East Coast, came to CalArts in 2008 after receiving her bachelor’s degree from Occidental College in 2007. Her mother recalls that she was interested in language, reading and writing from an early age, often with humorous results. "She read and wrote very early on, and was even writing notes at a pre-school age. I remember her writing a note to me that she would be going downstairs to watch the TV cartoon show The Littl’ Bits."

Jacobson’s mother remembers that she liked to read Francesca Lia Block and poems of John Ciardi when she was young. "Later, two favorites were The Scarlet Letter and Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye. Katie also enjoyed the mechanics of language. When my husband asked her to explain the meaning of the Oxford comma, she did so without hesitation, but also sent us a funny illustration to emphasize the point."

According to Janet Sarbanes, chair of CalArts’ MFA Creative Writing Program, Jacobson was "very bright and a pleasure to talk to. Her writing was quirky, original, thoughtful and darkly humorous."

Choosing Lydia Davis

"We chose Lydia Davis to inaugurate the program because of her experimental impulse—having basically invented her own form of fiction, the very-short short story," Sarbanes says. "She’s a great person to bring into an innovative writing program like ours and a terrific model for students. She also has a multi-dimensional practice, which is something else we encourage in our interdisciplinary setting. In addition to being a world-renowned and prize-winning author, she’s also a celebrated translator of Proust, Flaubert and others. And finally, her absurdist sensibility and minimalist aesthetic puts us in mind of Katie—we think she would have enjoyed her visit very much."

Lydia Davis. | Photo: Theo Cote

A Residency to Enrich Learning

Sarbanes says that the residency program offers a unique opportunity for CalArts students to gain special access to important contemporary writers beyond the Institute, and to discuss with them the role of literature, working methods and the writing life.

"The Jacobsons have made CalArts a tremendous gift in memory of their beloved daughter, for which we are profoundly grateful.”—Janet Sarbanes, chair of CalArts’ MFA Creative Writing Program.

"The gift also helps raise awareness of our unique, interdisciplinary creative writing program among the general public," Sarbanes says. Davis’s public presentation will take place on November 13 at the Roy and Edna Disney/CalArts Theater (REDCAT) in downtown Los Angeles, and Caltagirone and her husband are looking forward to attending the event.

"We’re hoping that this goes on for years. Maybe some young writer will attend the CalArts’ program, or develop his or her work, and go on to realize a dream."—Jeanine Caltagirone, mother of Katie Jacobson


To make a gift to the Katie Jacobson Writer-in-Residence Program:


  • please click here - and under "Special Instructions", please enter "Katie Jacobson Writer-in-Residence Program", 
  • or, please call Jessica Cosio at 661.222.2748. 

Thanks for your support!

Last edited by rsdavid on May 07, 2014
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