Story by Tim Hauserman ·
June Sylvester Saraceno moved to Tahoe in 1984 from her childhood home of North Carolina. “My surfer ski-bum friends talked me into throwing my lot in with them. I’d never skied before,” Saraceno says.
Armed with a Master of Fine Arts in creative writing from Ohio’s Bowling Green State University and a bachelor’s degree in English from East Carolina University, she did what newcomers to Tahoe do, waited tables at Squaw Valley, Lakehouse Pizza and the Left Bank in Truckee, before dipping her toe in, teaching one English class in 1987 at Sierra Nevada College.
After her first year, Saraceno started teaching more classes at SNC; then, in 2002, proposed that the college offer a bachelor’s degree in English. She became the chair of the new department, a position she has held since. In addition to the traditional bachelor’s degree in English, SNC now offers a Bachelor of Fine Arts in creative writing. In 2010, she developed the idea of a Master of Fine Arts Low Residency program at SNC and recruited Brian Turner to become the director.
“The word wise is overused, but it fits June perfectly. She has this intuitive way of bringing out the latent talent in even the most challenging students. They adore her and rightly so.” –Ann Marie Brown
Saraceno lauds the program; it allows students to continue with their lives and doesn’t require them to pack up and move for two years. Instead, they write from their homes and twice a year participate in an intensive two-week residency period at Tahoe. Every few years, SNC takes the residency abroad.
“I’ve really loved working at SNC. It’s small and you get to know the students and I get the opportunity to create so many things,” says Saraceno.
She started the Sierra Nevada Review Literary magazine in 1989 and it has been continuously published ever since. She also started the Writers in the Woods speaker series.
“[Writers in the Woods] is a big pet project. It brings lots of speakers to the college whom I respect and admire. I’m really thrilled on the impact this has on the community and the region and on other writers,” she says.
“Everyone on the faculty looks up to June,” says fellow SNC professor Ann Marie Brown. “Her office door is always open when we need her keen advice or just a good laugh. She is the warmest and most welcoming person I know. The word wise is overused, but it fits June perfectly. She has this intuitive way of bringing out the latent talent in even the most challenging students. They adore her and rightly so. She has changed a lot of lives for the better.”
Saraceno also has a lot of heart. We talked about the recent passing of our mutual friend, Tanya Canino, who taught journalism at SNC while fighting a valiant battle against cancer. Even while sick, Canino was still able to help publish the acclaimed school newspaper, The Eagle’s Eye. “Losing Tanya was the hardest thing our department has ever faced. It really impacted a lot of our students. She still wanted to stay involved right up until the end,” she says. “We left it up to her whether she wanted to be relieved of responsibility and she chose to continue working. We said we would support her on whatever choice she made. She stayed engaged and advised the paper until the end.”
In addition to running a college English program, Saraceno is a prolific poet and fiction writer. She is the author of three books, including a chapbook of prose poems, “Mean Girl Trips,” published in 2006 and two collections of poetry, “Altars of Ordinary Light,” published in 2007 and “Dirt and Tar,” released in 2014. Her pieces have appeared in a variety of literary journals and magazines and she has contributed to several anthologies, including “Tahoe Blues,” published by Bona Fide Press. She has recently compiled a collection of short stories that she is driving toward publication.
Saraceno’s life-long friend Robin Griffin says of her: “She’s sharp, witty, creative and unique and is passionate about life. She goes after what she wants, but not at the expense of other people. She can liven up any dull gathering. As my Uncle Tim used to say, ‘That June — she’s got pizzazz.’ ”
Saraceno will keep working on new ideas to help the literary community in Tahoe.
“Our graduates have published books and edited anthologies. We are spreading the word that we are a literary center. We are a great place to come to write,” says Saraceno.
For more information on upcoming Writers in the Wood presentations, visit sierranevada.edu.
Writers in the Woods
Feb. 3-4 | Author Shaun Griffin
March 3-4 | Poet Brian Turner
March 31-April 1 | Poetry Center Celebration
April 14-15 | Peter Makuck
April 28 | Annual Tahoe Poetry Slam