Aspiring novelist Woody Brown is going to have quite the author’s bio for his future dust jacket.

“I grew up a mighty weird autistic kid who was presumed to be retarded because I couldn’t speak,” said the fourth-year student. “My intelligence was not fully acknowledged until I went to Pasadena City College, where they accepted me and my upward trajectory began.”

Since transferring to UCLA, Brown said, he has experienced an “intellectual revelation,” even with the COVID-19 pandemic keeping him from spending time on campus. And now he has been honored by the UCLA English Department with the 2020–21 Christopher Zyda Creative Writing Award.

Upon learning that he had been chosen for the honor, he said, “I was more speechless than usual — it felt like Christmas, my birthday and a miracle in one. I had gotten good feedback on my writing from professors and classmates, but it never occurred to me that I could compete with neurotypical writers on anything near a level playing field.”

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