As the manager of the Creative Writing Program, Christina Ablaza is surrounded by writers, from the nearly 1,200 undergraduate students looking for the “right” creative writing classes to match with their academic or personal interests, to the famous author visiting Stanford.

It is a constellation that also includes graduate students, lecturers, visiting poets, fiction and non-fiction writers, six professors – writers all – and 20 Stegner Fellows who are spending two years on the Farm practicing and perfecting their poetry and prose.

Ablaza, who joined the Creative Writing Program in 2009 as program assistant and became program manager in 2011, loves the fact that her job puts her in daily contact with writers.

“It’s the best part of my job,” she said. “I love getting to know all the writers we support here, seeing their work develop and celebrating their successes.”

Christina Ablaza

Christina Ablaza (Image credit: L.A. Cicero)

Ablaza is one of three Stanford employees who have been named 2018 Amy J. Blue Award winners. The award honors employees who are exceptionally dedicated, supportive of colleagues and passionate about their work.

The other winners are Sheila Dolezal, director of finance and administration in the Department of Obstetrics & Gynecology of Stanford Medicine, and Rafael Velazquez, a food service worker in Stanford Dining, a division of Residential & Dining Enterprises.

Stanford President Marc Tessier-Lavigne will present the Amy J. Blue Awards at a May 15 ceremony for the winners and their families, friends and colleagues. The event will be held from 3:30 to 5 p.m. in Lagunita Courtyard, located on Santa Teresa Street across from Roble Field. Refreshments will be served. The award, which was established in 1991 to honor the life and work of Amy J. Blue, an associate vice president for administrative services and facilities, includes a $4,000 prize.

As program manager, Ablaza oversees the day-to-day running of the Creative Writing Program, which offers courses for undergraduates – the creative writing minor is now one of the largest undergraduate minors on campus – as well as graduate students.

To the many people who nominated Ablaza for an Amy J. Blue Award, however, the title “program manager” understates her importance to the program, which was founded more than seven decades ago by the celebrated writer and environmentalist Wallace Stegner.

One professor who nominated Ablaza for the award described her as the “beating heart” of the program, an extended family he said included professors, lecturers and fellows, as well as donors, friends and children.

“Her enthusiasm for the students, the staff and the faculty is infectious and hallmarks everything she does for our institution, ennobling every undertaking on our program’s behalf, from colloquia with Pulitzer Prize- and National Book Award-winning writers to cupcake parties with sophomores contemplating poetry electives.

“Christina is part shepherd, part parent, part caring friend to all as she manages to coordinate the myriad moving parts that make our program a rich and meaningful environment. Everything operates to perfection due to her thought and diligence, and I do believe that of all of us, she is the most central, indispensable member of our program. Who would we be without Christina? Who indeed? With her, we are certainly our best possible selves.”

Taught English as a second language

Ablaza, who grew up in San Carlos, California, earned a bachelor’s degree in English at the University of California, Berkeley, where she met her husband, Ronald, on the first day of college – “move-in day” for first-year students.

Later, she earned a master’s degree in English language and literature at the University of Chicago and taught English as a second language (ESL) at Harry S. Truman College, one of seven community colleges that comprise the City Colleges of Chicago.

When Ablaza and her husband returned to the Bay Area in 1995, she began teaching ESL in Berkeley and San Francisco through UC Berkeley Extension. She also worked in project management at the corporate headquarters of Bank of America in San Francisco.

Ablaza, who took time off from work to raise two daughters, set her sights on Stanford when she was ready to return to work. One daughter is now a sophomore at Barnard College in New York City and the other is a junior in high school at Palo Alto High School. The family is mourning husband and father Ronald, who died unexpectedly in February.

Ablaza, who works in a second-floor office in Margaret Jacks Hall, manages the undergraduate program, including the schedules of 23 lecturers who teach courses; the Stegner Fellowship Program, which annually attracts 1,500 applications for 10 positions; and the events program, including colloquiums, readings, speakers and conversations.

Abundant praise

The people who nominated Ablaza for the award found many ways to describe her: a kind and dedicated guide to the Stegner Fellows; a vibrant, dedicated and inspiring manager; a consistently wise, gracious and hardworking steward; a woman of remarkable grace and spirit; and “the heart and soul” of the Creative Writing Program.

“Creative writing is one of the biggest minors on campus, and Christina’s organization and fierce advocacy for our program is the reason we can now offer enough classes to meet student demand, bring so many wonderful guests in as readers and speakers, and why we have such a strong community in our program of camaraderie and supportiveness,” one lecturer said.

Others cited Ablaza’s devotion to the undergraduates who take creative writing courses.

“Christina’s service and whirlwind spirit are especially notable during the beginning of each quarter, as she organizes and places more than 300 students in upwards of 25 creative writing classes,” one lecturer said. “Christina is especially attentive to advising the many students who need to match the right course with the right major or minor requirements, or who simply want to find the right course match for their particular interest.”

Another lecturer said Ablaza had facilitated his teaching in countless ways, including one-on-one conversations to discuss student policy, to assist in his approach to teaching, and to make the workplace as agreeable and productive as possible.

“Christina is a genuine patron of creative writing and creative writers,” he said. “She is so clearly committed to her work and to the people in our shared workplace that I can think of no other word to describe her approach than love – plain and simple.”

In the words of one poetry lecturer: “No one is more committed to people than Christina. The amount of care that Christina extends to faculty, lecturers, fellows and everyone else in the department is unrivaled. Every reading event, dinner, department meeting is better because of her. She makes everyone’s experience in the program a joy.”