Largely overshadowed by the presence of UCLA and USC, two pre-eminent institutions of higher learning in Los Angeles County, Mount Saint Mary’s University remains a unique presence as the only independent college for women locally. With dual campuses nestled near both the city’s major universities (the Brentwood campus houses its undergraduate program), the Catholic liberal arts school has recently launched a new co-educational masters of fine arts program in creative writing at its Doheny campus near University Park USC.

Established last year as part of its weekend residency program for working adults, it is available to individuals interested in fiction, nonfiction, playwriting, poetry, publishing, and screenwriting.

Under the leadership of acting director Ana Thorne, Ph.D., the program aims to establish an intimate relationship with the community, including voices traditionally not included in the literary arena.

In addition to this new academic endeavor, the school collaborated with the local chapter of the Women’s National Book Association to host the first L.A. Writers Conference on March 14, on the Doheny campus. Designated to be an annual event, the conference offered both seasoned and aspiring writers workshops on various literary genres, pitching book deals, and interactions with publishers and literary agents.

Highlights included opening keynote speaker Margaret Stohl, a bestselling author in the lucrative young adult (YA) fiction genre, who also has extensive writing experience in the video gaming industry.

The closing speaker was iconic poet and Virginia Tech University professor Nikki Giovanni, who ironically shares a personal history with Professor Thorne. Both shared their childhoods growing up in a suburb of Cincinnati, Ohio.

Giovanni first came to prominence in the culturally and politically provocative 1960s, winning numerous academic and literary awards along the way, and the reception she received from the crowd at the school’s Rose Hills Auditorium proves her legacy remains as forceful and compelling as ever.