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Meet Johnny Payne of Mount Saint Mary’s University in Downtown

Today we’d like to introduce you to Johnny Payne.

Johnny, let’s start with your story. We’d love to hear how you got started and how the journey has been so far.
I’m a writer. That’s the core of everything I do. Beginning with poetry, I expanded to novels and plays. Though it can be a solitary craft, I live it socially, by teaching, collaboration, and founding/directing MFA programs, one of them bilingual. Now, at Mount Saint Mary’s University in downtown LA, I have the chance to participate in the shaping of working adults with their own stories to tell. Collaboration has brought me into partnership with composers, actors, directors, painters, graphic designers and artists, soundscape DJs, and creators of digital visual collages. The most current of these are those with who I am co-creating virtual reality games that exist alongside graduate courses and my own novels. As in an ice cream parlor, I want to try everything, because no single flavor, no matter how delicious, will satisfy me.

Has it been a smooth road?
I don’t consider anything I’ve done a struggle. It’s all how you look at it. My children gave me the nickname “Almost Famous.” I have had a solid and continuous career, and brushes with fame, but I never hit it big. I’m like a character actor who always gets work. My favorite career moment was when an editor from a large publishing house called me and said “We want you to write a creative writing manual because somebody better known than you turned us down.” I said “Sign me up.” Of course I get frustrated when a novel I know to be excellent gets turned down. Meanwhile, I jump into the next project, so really I’m always happy. I have iron discipline, but quite simply its fun. It’s what I want to be doing, apart from whatever recognition I get. Nonetheless, I consider myself savvy about being ahead of the curve. My bilingual MFA at the University of Texas El Paso was the first in the nation. My VR experience Odyssey is the first of its kind among 350 MFA programs. I have a good business head and am not the kind of artist who is just “the talent.” I actively shape my destiny and am aware of market forces.

Is our city a good place to do what you do?
I came to LA three years ago and I have thrived. The city is bursting with opportunity. It’s competitive but you feel like you can succeed. On a creative level, I enjoy the speed of the city because it’s my speed. My one piece of advice to L.A., is to get out of your cliques. This tendency narrows the arts in many cities, and L.A. is a little more that way than most, maybe because the film business sets the tone. For those starting out, I’d advise tenacity. Don’t give up and don’t let anyone tell you how things are. You define that. Be interested in other people without expecting something in return. Don’t feign affection to advance your career. Be real. Los Angeles is as good a place to start as any. You can help set the right tone by being generous and not always thinking “What’s in it for me?” I grew up in modest circumstances, but my mother taught me that “manners cost nothing,” anyone can have them. Don’t assume the worst about anybody, even if they’re a little crass. You be the person with etiquette and genuine refinement. Even if you’ve only lived here for one day, it’s your city too.


  • $950 per unit to study at MSMU

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Image Credit:
Cate Roman

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