"There are a lot of great writing program in the country, but at Hollins you can get individual attention and focus on you as a whole person. If you have the drive to be a writer, that will be nourished and encouraged in many ways," says Mary Stewart Atwell '00. "Being a writer is more than just skills. To be a good fiction writer, you have to try to understand other people; you have to work on being a compassionate person. Hollins will help you to grow as a person."
Atwell, a doctoral candidate in English literature at Washington University in St. Louis, will see her first novel, Wild Girls, published by Scribner in October. She set her novel at a boarding school in an Appalachian town, where adolescent angst can take supernatural, and violent, form. "My experience at Hollins probably had a lot to do with the way I approached my main character in the novel," Atwell says. "She has some faults, but she really cares about her friends and her plans for the future, and though she cares about boys, too, she doesn't let them define her. I know that her personality and her friendships were informed by the strong women I knew when I was at Hollins."
A native of Radford, Virginia, Atwell had always known she wanted to write and knew that Hollins, where even beginning writers feel recognized, was an obvious choice. "I think being able to take yourself so seriously as a writer, that young, is rare," she says.
She remembers her English classes most of all, and mentions several influential professors: Richard Dillard, Eric Trethewey, Pinkney Benedict, Cathryn Hankla and Julie Pfeiffer. "All my classes in the humanities were terrific, and many of my friends were history majors and art majors," she says. "So even though I was really serious about writing, I wasn't just talking to writers. There was lots of conversation around other subjects."