November 2012, Volume 16, Number 5

Making Their Mark

Where the Story Begins

Miami Dade College has helped cultivate some of the most talented, successful minds across all academic disciplines and industries, and literature is no exception. Dozens of acclaimed authors and writers are proud to call MDC a place of inspiration that helped foster their talents and passion and offered critical support on their path to success through creative expression.

Road to a Pulitzer

For award-winning playwright, screenwriter, professor and MDC Hall of Fame alumnus Nilo Cruz, inspiration came in the form of a play, where he had an epiphany and found his calling. He immediately enrolled at Miami Dade College to study theater.

“It didn’t take long for my teacher to identify the writer in me and tell me that I must write plays,” Cruz said.

Nurturing his talent, his drama professor incited him to go study with legendary Cuban playwright María Irene Fornés in New York City, which propelled him to pursue a Master of Fine Arts degree at Brown University, studying under noted American playwright Paula Vogel.

Now a Pulitzer Prize and a Steinberg Best New Play Award winner for his play Anna in the Tropics and recipient of the 2009 PEN/Laura Pels International Foundation for Theater Award for a distinguished American playwright in mid-career, Cruz’s life is the stuff Broadway dreams are made of.

“I found my voice as a writer in New York, but MDC showed me the way there,” said Cruz, whose play A Bicycle Country recently opened at New York’s Theater for a New City. He is also busy penning an opera commissioned by world-famous soprano Renée Fleming.

Paying Opportunity Forward

Philanthropist and author Lin Arison is well aware of the crucial role inspiration plays in the arts. She has drawn plenty of it from her life experiences as the basis for her books, including Travels with Van Gogh and the Impressionists: Discovering the Connections and Feast for the Senses: A Musical Odyssey in Umbria. Arison’s writing has reaped the fruits of her inextricable ties to the artistic community – and her community college.

“When I went back to school at 32, Miami Dade College opened up my life and gave me the way to think,” Arison said. She attests it was in one of MDC’s programs where she first discovered the “Learn by Doing” system that resulted in her first book, Love Story in Mediterranean Israel. Her mythology class served as the foundation from which she developed critical thinking skills by observing a professor who “didn’t pretend that she knew everything and encouraged me to research the answers for myself. 

“I discovered the practical answers to a fuller life at MDC,” added Arison. As co-founder of the National Foundation for Advancement in the Arts and the world-renowned New World Symphony orchestral academy, alongside her late husband, Ted Arison, founder of Carnival Cruise Lines, Lin, now 75, has experienced the power of inspiration as a writer and arts benefactor. She is currently working on her fourth book and was recently awarded the 2012 National Arts Award by the prestigious Americans for the Arts.

From Student to Professor

For author, MDC alumnus and Professor Eton Geoffrey Philp, inspiration and community go hand in hand.

A native of Jamaica, he grew up in a close-knit community. When he immigrated as a young writer to the United States in 1979, Philp never imagined that he’d encounter a community like the one he had left behind. But he did.

“The first time I heard the phrase from one of my professors at MDC, ‘We’re a family and we look out for each other,’ I didn't believe him,” Philp said. “But at every stage of my academic career, MDC has helped me with the three essentials of a writer’s life: income, time and support.”

Philp’s close connection with the College has also enriched his family life. He met his wife at MDC, which their two children now attend, and he currently teaches English and creative writing at the College’s North Campus, where he is the College Prep department chair.

MDC also has influenced his writing. In several of his works, he has drawn upon people and places from campus life to explore the themes of individuality, family and community in a Miami setting.

“As the years get closer to my retirement,” Philp said, “I can truly say that I am grateful for all that the College has done for me, and I believe with all my heart our credo: ‘Opportunity changes everything.’”

— HP

More Making Their Mark Articles

Miami Dade College is accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges to award associate and baccalaureate degrees.
Contact the Commission on Colleges at 1866 Southern Lane, Decatur, Georgia 30033-4097 or call 404-679-4500 for questions about the accreditation of Miami Dade College.
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Office of Equal Opportunity Programs/ADA Coordinator/Title IX Coordinator, at 305.237.2577.