Before her death in August 2022, and after 31 years as an instructor with the UCLA Extension Writers’ Program, Barbara Abercrombie arranged two parting gifts for her students.
The first was that they be invited to keep three books each from her personal library, on the simple logic that, as she often said, “writers read.”
The second gift was for the students Abercrombie would never meet. This month, the Writers' Program will make good on one of her final wishes when it announces the first recipient of its Barbara Abercrombie Scholarship in Creative Writing. For the friends, family and colleagues whose donations made the scholarship possible, it’s a fitting tribute to a life spent teaching other writers to believe in their work.
“Barbara Abercrombie is synonymous with the UCLA Extension Writers' Program," said Monica Holloway, a former student and now instructor in the program whose initial gift, alongside funding provided by Abercrombie’s daughters, got the scholarship off the ground. “Now she can continue teaching all of us.”
Holloway knows as well as anyone what Abercrombie's support could mean for aspiring authors: It was in her class in 2001 that Holloway took her first steps toward writing as a career. When Holloway needed someone to talk to about her manuscript, or even just some encouragement, Abercrombie was there. When the publication of Holloway's memoir, "Driving With Dead People," led to book signings and author talks, Abercrombie was there, too.
“When my friend and mentor died, I wondered: What was the greatest thing I could accomplish in Barbara’s name? How could we possibly ensure her legacy matched her fierceness and dedication,” Holloway said.
After Holloway and Abercrombie's children set up the scholarship, additional individual donations poured in. The collective efforts of Abercrombie's loved ones and her community ensured that the scholarship would be operated as a self-funding endowment – supporting writers in perpetuity and serving as a lifelong reminder of Abercrombie’s impact on the people around her, said Gil Ramirez, former director of donor development at UCLA Extension.
“Memorial scholarships are a way to honor a loved one’s memory, while also putting students in position to achieve their goals,” Ramirez said. “Barbara gave so much to the community, and the donations that came in were the community giving back.”
The Barbara Abercrombie Scholarship will be awarded to one student each quarter to cover the cost of a UCLA Extension creative writing course, and is designed to help promising writers regardless of background or experience, said Charlie Jensen, director of the Writers' Program.
"So much of what Barbara did in her life was rooted in the idea that everyone can and should write, and that's a core value of our program as a whole," Jensen said. "Barbara had a very special talent for building community and keeping people connected, and this scholarship is really an extension of that."
For Abercrombie’s children, the scholarship was a way for their mother to keep a special relationship with her students alive.
“Creating a scholarship was hugely important to my mother, she’s really the one that made it happen,” said Abercrombie’s daughter, Brooke. “While she enjoyed writing, she loved teaching writing and she loved her students. UCLA Extension was a special place for her.”