Creative Writing instructor’s journey: From adversity to academia

Lamberto Diaz Diaz, Staff Writer

Her road started in a midwestern town, in grinding poverty, without such simple things as central heating or a telephone. It led her to becoming a creative writing instructor, mentor, housing rights activist and co-founder of the Flash Fiction Forum.

Lita Kurth started teaching at De Anza College in 1996 and then worked as a fundraiser. She said she realized her true calling was teaching English and writing, and returned to De Anza in 2007.

Kurth candidly shared her story of overcoming the adversities of receving an education in the woods of Wisconsin.

“I have often felt I lived in another century or a Third World country when I was growing up,” she said.

During her early years, her family pumped the water from a well and heated it on a wood-and-bottle-gas stove, Kurth said.

“This was not by choice, but by poverty,” she explained.

But that did not stop Kurth from obtaining an education. Her family had a set of encyclopedias, and her parents read out loud Huckleberry Finn, poetry, and the Bible. Kurth also said that attending church was another educational opportunity.

“I still know the third and fourth verses to a lot of hymns,” she said.

Despite her teacher’s recommendation to attend college, poverty and her parent’s decision to end their education after the eighth grade discouraged her from it, Kurth said.

After winnig fourth place and $15 in an essay contest sponsored by the Rex Rod and Gun Club, she became hopeful and decided to become a writer, she said.

Working at De Anza, Kurth is never too busy to lend a piece of her advice and personal writing experiences to her writing students.

“I would say do not deprive yourself of the value and power of a writing community. Begin with a group of fellow students and start going to writing events (many are free),” she said. “Tell yourself you are not a real writer until you have received at least 50 rejections.”

Many of Kurth’s creative writing students have their works published in the annual campus student writer’s compendium, The Red Wheelbarrow.

Kurth always attends the yearly Red Wheelbarrow award’s ceremony and Open Mic night at the Euphrat Museum to support her students.

When Kurth is not in the classroom, she divides her time equally among social projects she is passionate about, as an affordable housing advocate and a reviewer to the Working Class Studies Association.

Kurth is also active in the writing community as a cofounder of the Flash Fiction Forum, a bi-monthly reading series held in downtown San Jose.

Despite all her experience, Kurth said, “I continue to learn about writing; it’s a field in which one can never say one has reached the end.”