Elizabeth Poliner, associate professor of English and creative writing at Hollins and director of the Jackson Center for Creative Writing, has been selected as a finalist for the 2019 Nelson Algren Literary Award, presented by the Chicago Tribune.
Named in honor of the American author best known for his National Book Award-winning 1949 novel, The Man with the Golden Arm, the Nelson Algren Literary Award is a nationally recognized contest for original short fiction. Held annually since 1981, the contest received more than 3,000 entries this year. It was judged by Jennifer Acker, founder of The Common, an online literary magazine; Mona Simpson, who won the Chicago Tribune Heartland Prize in 2001; and Jane Smiley, a two-time winner of the Heartland Prize.
Poliner is the author of the novel, As Close to Us as Breathing, winner of the 2017 Janet Heidinger Kafka Prize in Fiction, finalist for the Harold Ribalow Prize for Jewish fiction, and an Amazon Best Book of 2016. She is also the author of a story collection, Mutual Life & Casualty, and a volume of poetry, What You Know in Your Hands. Her stories have appeared in Michigan Quarterly Review, The Kenyon Review, The Common, Colorado Review, and TriQuarterly, among other journals. A member of the Hollins faculty since 2008, she teaches in both the Master of Fine Arts and undergraduate creative writing programs.
To illustrate his daughter’s fearlessness, Lilly Potter ’19 says her dad loves to tell the story of her childhood trip to India for a family wedding. “We encountered a cobra charmer and I just went and tried to pet the cobra. Fortunately, my dad got me away in time.”
The double-major in English and international studies has certainly learned to set boundaries in the ensuing years, but while at Hollins, her curiosity and sense of adventure have continued to flourish. She has devoted January Short Terms to traveling in Japan and Greece and spent full semesters studying abroad in London and Paris. She completed internships with Peace Boat US in New York City; the Diplomatic and Consular Officers Retired in Washington, D.C.; and the Nursing Times in London. Her community service includes volunteer work last summer with the Costa Rica Animal Rescue Center, where she gained firsthand experience with the inner workings of an international nonprofit organization. The trip was funded in part by Hollins’ Hobbie Trust Fund, which provides financial assistance for students to engage in a research or service project that is clearly connected to ethics or values.
“It’s a testament to Hollins and its flexibility that I was able to fit in so much,” Potter says. “The school made each of these experiences possible. I don’t hear from my friends at other schools that they receive the same support to participate in these kinds of extracurricular opportunities.”
Potter was drawn to Hollins because she says she knew that “Hollins makes good writers and good writers seek out Hollins. I think the ability to express myself orally and through the written word is something with which Hollins has gifted me, along with being able to synthesize different topics that may not have an immediate correlation. Everything connects if you really look for it.”
Believing Hollins has given her “a Renaissance education,” Potter has taken classes in philosophy, gender and women’s studies, statistical analysis, “and a lot of French” in addition to the coursework in her majors. She is also earning a certificate in leadership studies from the Batten Leadership Institute. “That was one of the strongest pulls of Hollins for me. I didn’t see women-centered leadership development courses at other universities.”
This fall, Potter will be attending William & Mary Law School. “It’s a really good fusion of my love of English and rhetoric and my desire to get out there and do something positive in the world. I’m interested in human rights law, and I’d like to live internationally and work in either the nonprofit or foreign service sectors.”
Professor of English Marilyn Moriarty has known Potter since her sophomore year, when she became Potter’s academic advisor in English. “Lilly is a woman of action, dedicated to her work and animated by a social conscience. She is intelligent and dedicated, works hard but remains modest about her accomplishments, and has the needed character traits to set goals, persevere, and achieve them. In addition to being capable and truthful, she is also tactful and kind. These many qualities convince me that she will make an excellent lawyer.”
When asked what she will miss the most about Hollins, Potter cites “a community that’s small and majority women, one that’s focused on women’s rights. I’m very grateful for the incredible, ferocious, and intelligent women and other people that I’ve met here. They really inspire me.”
When deciding on a college, Yitazba Largo-Anderson ’19 needed to look no further than her own family for sound advice. “My dad is a professor and my mom is a librarian, and they value education,” she explains. “They urged me to go to a liberal arts school because they knew it would help me round out who I am as a person.”
The campus beauty and “a really strong creative writing program” are what Yitazba says drew her particularly to Hollins after living most of her life in Phoenix, Arizona. “I came here not knowing what I wanted to study, I’m interested in so many things,” she adds. After taking classes from several disciplines, she chose to major in English with a concentration in multicultural literature and a minor in social justice.
Yitazba describes her Hollins experience as “finding the power of my voice,” and she cites the crucial roles many faculty members have played in that quest. “[Professor of English] TJ Anderson, [Professor of English] Pauline Kaldas, and [former Visiting Assistant Professor of English] Nick Miller challenged me to think differently and critically about literature, how it was going to impact me, and what I was going to take from it.”
Those lessons deeply influenced the ways she has transformed her love of writing poetry.
“Poetry to me is not only something you read or that’s visual. It’s also very sensory. I love doing music with my poetry.”
Yitazba’s talent for expression evolved when she met Mary Eggleston, a voice instructor in Hollins’ music department. “I had never taken voice lessons before, and Mary helped me come out of my shell with singing. I’ve never had someone teach me how to challenge my voice to go higher than it did the week before, or become a sound that carries in a room.” This spring for the first time, she sang opera for a campus recital.
Last year, Yitazba felt another important breakthrough while participating in theatre. “Hollins professors make suggestions to one another about students who could benefit from some activity. [Professor of Anthropology and Gender and Women’s Studies] LeeRay Costa talked to Rachel Nelson in the theatre department about asking me to play a part in a production she was directing. I’m shy and I never considered being on stage, but I loved it. I want to speak my poetry more now in public, and instead of just submitting my work for publication, I’d like to get into slam poetry.”
Yitazba’s roots are Scotch-Irish and Diné (the Navajo Nation’s preferred name, it translates to “of the people”), and while she has always been attached to Native American culture through her grandmother, she never had the opportunity to engage in a serious exploration of Native American studies until she came to Hollins. “It was the first time I had ever experienced a whole class dedicated to Native American women and taught by a Native American woman, [Visiting Instructor of Sociology] Shari Valentine.”
Yitazba will spend the next year engaged in a fellowship at the College of William and Mary’s Swem Library. She’ll be working with their Project Outreach initiative on making inclusivity and diversity more prevalent in academic research. She then hopes to attend law school and focus on some aspect of Native American law, but doesn’t intend to make a legal career her lifelong vocation.
“I’d like to get an M.F.A. in creative writing after law school and eventually teach Native American voice through poetry in conjunction with Native American studies. My parents and my professors have all inspired me – Shari Valentine has especially been a constant source of encouragement, and I want to make an impact on a student like she’s done for me. I want to pass that gift down to someone.”
Associate Professor of Art Jennifer Printz led one of her classes in creating a series of original works, one of which would be selected to be installed on an entire half of a Valley Metro bus. “Wishes” by Horizon student JM Lamb (pictured above) was chosen by representatives of Hollins, RIDE Solutions, and the Arts Commission to be displayed this year.
Lucy Marcus, who is pursuing an M.F.A. in creative writing at Hollins, was selected through a competitive process by a panel of arts commission and community members as this year’s Writer By Bus. She will ride various buses throughout April and May to produce literary works about her experiences, the people she meets, and the neighborhoods she visits. Her chronicles can be followed on the Writer By Bus Facebook page. Marcus’ final works will appear on the RIDE Solutions webpage this fall.
“These are exciting opportunities for our students not only to be involved in promoting this vital public service, but also to see an example of how the arts can be used to draw attention and change perceptions about important issues in our community,” said Hollins President Pareena Lawrence.
Kevin Price, general manager of the Greater Roanoke Transit Company, added, “We hope to make the role of public transit more visible, and to make the experience of taking the bus more exciting.”
Lamb’s design (along with works from the City of Roanoke’s public arts collection that will be displayed on the exterior of two other Valley Metro buses) was officially unveiled at an event on the Hollins campus on April 18. “My intention with this project was to create an image that invokes memories and feelings that instill joy, transcending age, race, and cultural differences, as well as socioeconomic class inequalities. In short, something for everyone,” Lamb explained. “Initially when most of us think of dandelion seed ‘puffs,’ we can mentally scroll back to childhood and the hours spent stalking the yard for an intact ‘puff’ to blow in the wind. So simple and satisfying was this playful task, the thought of it produces a smile on most of our faces.”
Marcus, who was recognized with Lamb at the event, noted, “I feel very lucky to live here, where our city workers and elected officials who do the difficult and vital work of keeping the transit circulating also create such rich programming to integrate and support the arts. I look forward to riding and writing with my eyes and heart open.”
Few publications have celebrated the prodigious talents of Southwest Virginia writers and artists as Artemis.
For the better part of four decades, the literary journal, published annually, has showcased compelling new voices in tandem with notable authors that have ranged from poet laureates to Pulitzer Prize and other major award winners and nominees. The rich history of creativity at Hollins University in the written word and other artistic expression has played an integral role in the success and perseverance of Artemis: Through the years, over 140 Hollins writers and artists, including more than 90 students and 40 professors, have been featured contributors, or have donated their time and expertise as board members for the all-volunteer operation.
“Without Hollins and the direction it provided, Artemis would not have lasted,” says editor and founder Jeri Rogers, who herself is a Hollins alumna, having earned her Master of Arts in Liberal Studies in 1991.
Artemis began in 1977 while Rogers was serving as director of the Women’s Resource Center in Roanoke, sponsored by Total Action Against Poverty (now Total Action for Progress). “I had gotten a grant to do a photographic study of women and in the process found that a lot of my subjects were writers. At the same time, one of the biggest problems I saw at the center was women who had suffered from abuse. That’s a really tough subject to deal with because poverty, drug and alcohol abuse, and homelessness are also involved. It was so upsetting and sad to see this, but I thought, ‘What can we do to help move this forward?’ So, I started a writing workshop for abused women.”
The first workshop, which was run “with the help of some of Hollins’ best writers,” she says, generated “amazing results.” Rogers was inspired to launch a new literary journal that she named Artemis after the lunar goddess. “I pitched the idea and my supervisors were like, ‘go for it, we’ll get some money for you.’ That was how it started and it was such a great vehicle because it published some of the writings of these women and talked about the work we were doing at the center.”
Poems and short stories by Hollins students and professors appeared as well in the debut issue of Artemis, and over the years, contributions from acclaimed Hollins authors such as Professor of English Jeanne Larsen M.A. ’72, Professor of English Cathryn Hankla ’80, M.A. ’82, and Beth Macy M.A. ’93, and artists including Professor of Art Emeritus Bill White and Betty Branch ’79, M.A.L.S. ’87, have been published. Well into the 1980s, Hollins faculty writers including Amanda Cockrell ’69, M.A. ’88 (founding director of Hollins’ graduate programs in children’s literature), Thorpe Moeckel (associate professor of English), and Professor of English Eric Trethewey (who passed away in 2014) continued to play a prominent role in the writing workshops. Rogers notes that “[Professor of English] Richard Dillard got involved early on, and thanks to him, every issue of Artemis is now part of Special Collections at Hollins’ Wyndham Robertson Library.”
The first 20-plus years of the journal’s existence were gratifying yet exhausting for Rogers and her volunteers. During the same time period she was raising three children and working as a professional photographer. Artemis went dormant in 2000 for more than ten years, but its concept and mission never diminished. “There were a number of us who missed it,” Rogers recalls, “and we decided to resurrect it in 2014” with one caveat: “We’ve gotta keep it small.” Today, the Artemis staff features Rogers and just six other volunteers, and she’s emphasized recruiting younger people to ensure the journal continues for years to come.
Rogers admits that producing a “beautifully printed, perfect-bound,” 200-page volume in the digital age “is a challenge. It’s pushing that boulder up that hill. But we don’t give up. There’s nothing like having your work printing in a page form in a book. You can have all kinds of things done in a digital format that are then uploaded to ‘the cloud,’ but how do we know that’s going to be there five years from now?”
Since its return, Artemis has actually seen its print number increase to somewhere between 500 and 600 copies. Most copies are sold for $25 each during a celebration launch event held each year at Roanoke’s Taubman Museum of Art. The official debut of Artemis XXVI, the 2019 edition of the journal, takes place on Friday, June 7, and will feature a special dance performance by the Southwest Virginia Ballet.
Artemis is also made available for purchase online – the journal is planning a pre-sale event for the 2019 edition this spring where the book will be available for $20 – and Rogers says sales have “gone beyond the Blue Ridge Mountains,” reflecting the fact that submissions have been coming in from writers and artists outside the region.
“Among the more than 1,000 submissions we had last year, some came from Italy, England, and France, and we published those,” Rogers explains. “The power of the Internet has helped spread the word about the quality.”
Fittingly, the two featured writers and artists in Artemis XXVI are distinguished Hollins alumnae: Natasha Trethewey M.A. ‘91, Pulitzer Prize winner and former U.S. Poet Laureate, and Sally Mann ’74, M.A. ’75, who was named “America’s Best Photographer” by Time magazine.
“Natasha – you just can’t get much better that that. And what can we say about Sally other than ‘Wow,’” Rogers states. “They both have dealt with being Southern artists and writers, and I think they both really tie into that Southern Gothic scene. Natasha’s poem in the new edition of Artemis addresses racism and is called “Reach.” Sally said she’d be honored to be paired with Natasha, and the image of hers that we’re considering is so good, we think it’s cover-worthy.”
While Rogers acknowledges that she’s “not going to be around forever” as editor of Artemis, she clearly relishes the achievement each edition represents and considers last year’s issue to be her proudest moment. At the same time, she is quick to praise the many volunteers that have supported the journal over the years, noting that “it literally takes a village to sustain the energy needed for Artemis.” Two of the key players along with Rogers since the beginning who continue to play vital roles today are literary editor Maurice Ferguson and design editor Virginia Lepley. Rogers also cites organizations such as the Taubman, which provides space for the annual issue launch free of charge, and the Roanoke Arts Commission, whose grants have given Artemis crucial financial support.
“When you start something, it’s probably going to work out if you have good intentions,” Rogers concludes. “If it’s egotistically motivated, it’s going to have some problems. It won’t last. All along, during the history of Artemis, there have been people who get on board, are so dedicated to the arts, and want to keep this thing going. I think that’s why we’ve existed as long as we have.”
Top Image: The artwork for the cover of Artemis‘ 2015 issue, created by Hollins Professor of Art Emeritus Bill White.
“Ode to My Mother’s Ex-Boyfriend, Ending in a Bushel of Strawberries” by Mae Tromsness of Greenville, South Carolina, has won first place in the 55th Annual Nancy Thorp Poetry Contest for Young Women.
The competition awards scholarships, prizes, and recognition for the best poems submitted by young women in high school.
A student at the South Carolina Governor’s School for the Arts and Humanities, Tromsness will receive a $350 cash prize; publication in Cargoes, Hollins’ award-winning student literary magazine; ten copies of Cargoes; a renewable scholarship of up to $5,000 provided through the Creative Talent Award in Creative Writing for a total value of $20,000 in scholarship funds over four years (applicable if she enrolls at Hollins); and free tuition and housing for the university’s Hollinsummer creative writing program for rising ninth through 12th grade students.
Six other works earned second place honors in this year’s contest. Each of the authors will receive publication in Cargoes; two copies of Cargoes; a renewable scholarship of up to $1,000 provided through the Creative Talent Award in creative writing for a total value of $4,000 in scholarship funds over four years (applicable if the authors enroll at Hollins); and a $500 scholarship to apply toward the Hollinsummer creative writing program.
The second place winners include:
“Ode to Soul(Food)s in the Deep American South
South Mecklenburg High School
Charlotte, North Carolina
Alexander W. Dreyfoos School of the Arts
West Palm Beach, Florida
Jesuit High School
Cresskill High School
Cresskill, New Jersey
“Ears (A Ghazal)”
Hunter College High School
New York, New York
“Getting to Know You”
New Orleans Center for Creative Arts
New Orleans, Louisiana
The podcast hosted by the star of Roots, Star Trek: The Next Generation, and Reading Rainbow is presenting a new short story penned by Hollins’ Distinguished Visiting Professor of Creative Writing.
“The Cell Phones” by Karen Bender, which will appear in her forthcoming collection, The New Order, is the focus of the latest episode of “LeVar Burton Reads,” which “invites you to take a break from your daily life, and dive into a great story.” Launched in 2017, the podcast has previously featured stories by such acclaimed authors as Neil Gaiman, Haruki Murakami, Octavia Butler, and Ray Bradbury. Each work of short fiction read on the podcast is handpicked by Burton.
Earning selection for “LeVar Burton Reads” is just the latest accolade for Bender. Her short story collection, Refund, was a Finalist for the National Book Award for Fiction and shortlisted for the Frank O’Connor International Short Story Prize; it was also a Los Angeles Times bestseller. Another of her books, Like Normal People, was a Washington Post Best Book of the Year, a Los Angeles Times bestseller, and part of the Barnes and Noble Discover program. Her stories have appeared in magazines including The New Yorker, Granta, Zoetrope, Ploughshares, Guernica, and The Harvard Review, have been anthologized in Best American Short Stories and Best American Short Stories, and won two Pushcart prizes.
Bender joined the Hollins faculty in 2015. She has also taught creative writing at the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, Warren Wilson College, the University of North Carolina Wilmington, Chatham University, Antioch University Los Angeles, and Tunghai University in Taiwan.
Rachael Walker ’18 has been named the recipient of the Fourth Annual Bill Hallberg Award in Creative Writing, presented by the Department of English at East Carolina University (ECU).
The competition is open to undergraduates at colleges and universities in North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, and Virginia, and this year’s award was given for excellence in creative nonfiction.
Walker, who graduated this spring from Hollins with a degree in English, was recognized for her essay, “A Small Seed of Fate Carried Inside Me.”
“As politics continue to make women’s reproductive rights a national conversation, Rachael Walker’s ‘A Small Seed of Fate Carried Inside Me’ reminds us of the personal, often fraught relationships women have to their bodies,” said Renee K. Nicholson, assistant professor of multi and interdisciplinary studies at West Virginia University and a judge in the contest. “As it explores the terrain that is women’s bodies, it complicates it by simultaneously addressing what it means to be of mixed ethnicity. Gently threading these ideas through sections, Walker takes us through familial relationships as well as the journey to better understand the self.”
Walker will receive a $150 cash prize. A reading of her winning essay will take place at ECU on Wednesday, November 14 at 3:30 p.m.
Hollins University has long earned its place on the literary map, producing dozens of writers of national and international acclaim, including Pulitzer Prize winners Annie Dillard, Henry Taylor, and Natasha Trethewey; bestselling authors Lee Smith, Jill McCorkle, and Beth Macy; Kiran Desai, winner of the Man Booker Prize for Fiction and the National Book Critics Circle Award; Madison Smartt Bell, recipient of a Strauss Living Award for literary excellence from the American Academy of Arts and Letters; and Will Schutt, winner of the Yale Series of Younger Poets competition.
Now, Hollins’ Jackson Center for Creative Writing, which offers both a concentration and a minor in creative writing in addition to a Master of Fine Arts degree in the field, is introducing an undergraduate major in creative writing, beginning in the 2018-19 academic year.
“ ‘Where students mature into authors’ is one of the Jackson Center’s guiding principles and is even more relevant with the advent of this new opportunity for undergraduates,” said Cathryn Hankla, professor of English and creative writing and chair of the English and creative writing department at Hollins.
“At Hollins, we strive to create an environment in which each undergraduate and graduate creative writing student develops a way of seeing and saying that is distinctively their own,” added Patricia Hammer, vice president for academic affairs. “The new creative writing major strengthens this commitment. It ensures that we will continue to successfully foster new generations of authors in growing their craft.”
Hankla explained that the new major in creative writing will emphasize a multi-genre approach in its core curriculum. “The major will provide students with a working knowledge of three genres, along with ample opportunity for focused exploration through individual projects and classes in poetry, fiction, nonfiction, or cross-genre writing and literatures,” she said, noting that the major will be intertwined with the study of literature, “which the department views as essential.”
The new major features allied study in dance, visual art, film, music, or theatre, and will immerse students in a diversity of writers, writing theories, and literary experiences on campus. The major will be closely tied to the Jackson Center’s other distinctive offerings, including the Louis D. Rubin Jr. Writer-in-Residence program, the Lex Allen Literary Festival, and the visiting writers series.
“The creative writing major will offer students a systematic study of the field with an outstanding faculty of published authors,” Hankla stated. “I don’t know of any liberal arts college with as many authors of multiple books who are permanent faculty.
“I’m excited that Hollins, with its amazing publishing legacy of graduates and faculty, will add this to its curriculum.”
The Jackson Center endows substantive scholarships for undergraduate students. New students may choose to submit their work for Creative Talent Awards.
Home to Hollins’ undergraduate and graduate writing programs, the Jackson Center for Creative Writing was initiated in 2008 through a $5 million gift from Susan Gager Jackson ’68 and her husband, John Jackson. It maintains Hollins’ long-standing reputation among the top creative writing programs in the nation.
The author of one of the country’s most-talked-about new novels also happens to be a member of the Hollins University faculty.
Associate Professor of English Elizabeth Poliner’s As Close to Us as Breathing (Lee Boudreaux Books) has been named an Amazon Best Book for March 2016 and is one of four new releases this month that W magazine calls “must reads.” Reviews have also been published or are forthcoming in The New York Times as well on NPR.org and in People, Good Housekeeping, and Washingtonian magazines.
As Close to Us as Breathing is the story of a close-knit Jewish family that strives to cope following a tragedy that occurs while summering at the Connecticut shore in 1948. Publishers Weekly calls the book “an exquisitely written investigation of grief and atonement, and an elegy for a Jewish family bound together by tradition and tribe.” Pulitzer Prize-winning author Edward P. Jones says, “Vivid, complex, and beautifully written, [it]brims with characters who leave an indelible impression on the mind and heart. This moving story of the way one unforgettable family struggles with love and loss shows an uncommon depth of human understanding. Elizabeth Poliner is a wonderful talent and she should be read widely, and again and again.”
In conjunction with the novel’s publication, Poliner will be appearing at the following bookstores during March and April:
Tuesday, March 15: Newtonville Books, Newton, MA, 7 p.m.
Thursday, March 17: RJ Julia Bookstore, Madison, CT, 7 p.m.
Saturday, March 19: Politics & Prose, Washington, DC, 6 p.m.
Sunday, March 20: Book Court, Brooklyn, NY, 4 p.m.
Tuesday, March 22: Longfellow Books, Portland, ME, 7 p.m.