By Marta Yamamoto

OAKLAND -- Mariah Young is excited about coming home.

Coming home to the East Bay, to the Oakland depicted in her debut collection, "Masha'alla and Other Stories," and to her alma mater, Cal State East Bay, where Young will be the first speaker in this year's Distinguished Writers Series on Nov. 5.

Young received a bachelor's degree in English with a creative writing emphasis in 2006 at Cal State East Bay, went on to earn her Master of Fine Arts from UC Riverside in 2008 and is currently teaching writing and literature in Los Angeles.

The nine stories in her debut collection delve deeply into the lives of working-class families and were written when Young was studying at Riverside.

"I really started writing because I was homesick," Young said. "I was thinking about my old stamping grounds."

The characters represent people not often seen in literary works, those who make do by cutting corners and working under the table, situations Young experienced herself. A connecting thread throughout the collection is how people get by in today's world and how they make it for their families.

"I was writing family narratives and how work shapes the prospects of how people live," she said. "I really wanted to give them a time in the spotlight -- who they were and what their lives were like."

As well as unforgettable characters, the city of Oakland, in all its multifacetedness, plays an important role. Young wanted to capture Oakland's diverse population, experiences and areas in her stories.

"I wanted to capture both the sense of being in Oakland and traveling through it," Young said.

One character is studying Arabic and the term "masha'alla," meaning "what God wills" became the title of the story and the collection, a cornerstone representing the idea that luck, hope and faith are not always givens, but can be negotiated.

"I wanted to show how much power people have to live their lives the way they want to," Young said.

In her wildest dreams, Young would like Oprah Winfrey to read her story, as well as her 18-year-old nephew, but hopes that the collection will cause readers to do a double-take walking by people who are sometimes invisible. Young believes her stories represent moments that can take on a much larger meaning.

"I'd like people to see that everyday, every moment, has that potential to change someone's life," she said.

Young received the first James D. Houston Award, a prestigious recognition for the emerging author. The award was also instrumental in getting the book published by Heyday. Receiving the email requesting submissions spurred Young to send in the collection that was sitting in her computer.

"I'm humbled, honored and just surprised," Young said. "I love how Houston lets the setting and scenery where people live have their own life in his work and I'm thinking about this more as I'm working on new projects."

Another honor is being selected to lead off CSUEB's Distinguished Writers Series. Young wants to give praise to the English Department whose instructors helped her find out who she was as a writer and encouraged her to enter the MFA program.

"I'm so excited to read there because I went to so many of those events as an undergrad and heard so many great writers," she said. "I was inspired and maybe I can do that for somebody in the audience."


What: Mariah Young's "Masha'alla and Other Stories" (Heyday Books, $25 hardcover, $15 paperback)
When: 3 p.m. Oct. 28 at Diesel Books, 5433 College Ave., Oakland, 510-653-9965 and at 7 p.m. on Nov. 5 at Cal State University East Bay, 25800 Carlos Lee Blvd. Admission is free and the public is invited. Campus parking is $2 per hour.