Unbroken Lines

The literary legacy of M. Garren Tinney ’01

“I have to write things down to feel I fully comprehend them,” wrote Haruki Murakami, one of the many authors on the shelf of the late Michael Garren Tinney ’01. A prolific writer who sought to understand the world, Tinney left a legacy that will continue through the M. Garren Tinney Memorial Fund. His mother, Donna “Dee Dee” Tinney, established this fund to support three writing awards in her son’s memory. She hopes that young writers find the inspiration and support that her son discovered at UC Santa Barbara.

The fund will support the M. Garren Tinney Fellowships, prestigious honors for students with writing projects; the M. Garren Tinney Travel Awards, for students to attend writing conferences, retreats and seminars; and three M. Garren Tinney Writing Awards in the Writing Program, the Department of English, and the Writing & Literature Program at the College of Creative Studies.

Tinney spent one semester at the University of Oklahoma before transferring to UC Santa Barbara as an English major. Two of his favorite classes were “The Culture of Information” and “Wordsworth and Romanticism,” both taught by Department of English Distinguished Professor Alan Liu, a pioneer in the digital humanities.

In a 2001 letter of recommendation for Tinney (who was known by his middle name), Liu wrote: “Garren is widely and deeply educated in a way I rarely see among undergraduates today. He has challenged himself by taking a broad, ambitious spectrum of courses; he reads voraciously. … His interests are wide-flung, but what he becomes interested in he really pursues. He has a fine kind of intellectual curiosity, flexibility, and questing spirit. I’ve discussed with him his future plans and have suggested that given his sensibility and writing talent he might set his sights on being the kind of reflective journalistic, feature or travel writer that is exemplified by someone like Lance Morrow or Pico Iyer. Garren has that level of talent.”

“He sent me every story and poem he ever wrote,” says Dee Dee. He wrote about the wheat and cotton fields of his native Oklahoma, his father, who he lost at 10 years old, and his stepfather, who passed away recently.

As a young boy, Tinney collected baseball cards, geodes and books. As a young man, he began collecting experiences. He worked in politics in Washington, D.C., entertainment in Los Angeles, and journalism and public relations in Manhattan. He studied at Fudan University in China, appreciated the art and culture of Italy and France, and backpacked through Australia, Fiji and New Zealand.


Garren Tinney

Tinney was working at Warner Bros. Studios as a script reader when he received his acceptance call from the Columbia University School of Journalism. After graduating with a master’s in journalism, he moved to Pasadena to pursue writing full time. He died in 2019.

The focus of the newly established endowed fund is to support undergraduate students at UC Santa Barbara in the practice of writing, particularly creative writing, and to support those who have shown a commitment and interest to pursue writing careers. The M. Garren Tinney Memorial Fund will be administered through the writing program in the Division of Humanities and Fine Arts.

“I'm very grateful for the M. Garren Tinney Memorial Fund,” says Karen Lunsford, associate professor of writing and director of the writing program. “Our student writers are innovative: They delve into research about topics that interest them; they create interesting texts that inform and entertain; and they compose imaginative works. With appropriate mentoring, their projects can reach a wide range of readers. The M. Garren Tinney awards are unique because they focus on this aspect of the writing process. They will enable mentors to work with students with nearly complete projects to polish their manuscripts and to submit them to appropriate venues for publication.”

“Equally important,” adds Lunsford, “the fellowships will fund students to allow them the time to finish. We are also excited about being able to offer travel awards to allow students to form professional writing networks, and the M. Garren Tinney Writing Award at the end of the year to celebrate student work. We are looking forward to seeing the writing careers that the M. Garren Tinney Memorial Fund will launch.”

“Students, keep writing and never give up,” urges Dee Dee. “Garren used to say to me that he was too young to write ‘Moby Dick’ — that he lacked the life experience to write a novel. You may think you don’t have the experience, but just keep writing. You’re too young to let the light go out, you know?”

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