Hollins 2021-22 Reading And Lecture Series To Feature Pulitzer-Winning Poet Forrest Gander And NYT Bestselling Author Imbolo Mbue

“In person” is back in session at Hollins, and not just for classes either. After more than a year of online reading events and lectures, Hollins University is proud to welcome back in-person events for its 2021-22 Reading and Lecture Series. This week, the university’s English and Creative Writing Department released the full schedule of special literary events, readings, Q&As, and lectures. This year’s reading series is roaring back in person with a bang, featuring big-name authors like Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Forrest Gander, Hollins alumnae Anna Caritj M.F.A. ’16 and Kristina Gorcheva-Newberry M.F.A. ’10, and New York Times bestselling author Imbolo Mbue, whose debut novel Behold The Dreamers won the 2017 PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction.

“I’m very proud of this lineup, which includes such a variety of writers in terms of genre, subject matter, and diversity,” said Liz Poliner, professor of English and creative writing and former director of  Hollins’ Jackson Center for Creative Writing. Poliner created the impressive program of authors for this year’s reading series before she stepped down as director last spring. “It took probably six weeks or so of fairly steady effort to line it all up,” said Poliner. “I’m looking forward to absolutely all of them! All are first-time readers at Hollins, as we like to have a fresh lineup each year, and all are truly accomplished writers with so much to offer.”

The series officially kicked off on September 2 and 3 with a dual reading and Q&A from two of Hollins’ newest English and creative writing professors: Candice Wuehle (author of the poetry collection Death Industrial Complex, which was selected as a 2020 finalist for The Believer Magazine Book Award) and Scott Blackwood (author of the novel See How Small, which won the 2016 PEN USA Award for Fiction). On September 23-24, award-winning Cameroonian-American novelist and short story writer Imbolo Mbue will offer a reading and Q&A about her most recent novel How Beautiful We Were.

In all, this year’s reading series will feature 14 published authors across 21 events (all readings and Q&As are held on separate days). That doesn’t include Hollins own talented faculty and student writers, who will also get opportunities to read in person this year.

Unfortunately, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, this year’s reading and lecture series is (for now) only open to current students, faculty and staff. However, all readings will be livestreamed via Zoom so the public can watch from the safety of their own homes. Q&As will remain open to only the campus community.

Get your calendars/smartphones ready and check out the full schedule below.

FALL SEMESTER

Thursday-Friday, September 23-24, 2021: Imbolo Mbue

Mbue, whose previous book Behold the Dreamers was an Oprah’s Book Club selection, will discuss and read from her latest novel, How Beautiful We Were.

Reading: Thursday at 7:30 p.m. in the Visual Arts Center Auditorium.

Public access via livestream only:

Passcode: 159935

Q&A: Friday at 11 a.m. in the Hollins Room, Wyndham Robertson Library (open to the campus community only)

 

Thursday, September 30, 2021: Alison Fraser

Alison Fraser is an associate curator at the University at Buffalo Libraries and will give a lecture entitled, “Sweet Company: Helen Adam and the Archives at the Poetry Collection.”

Lecture: Thursday at 7:30 p.m. in the Hollins Room, Wyndham Robertson Library.

Public access via livestream only:

Passcode: 714888

 

Thursday, October 7-8, 2021: Ada Limón

Limón won the National Book Critics Circle Award for Poetry for her 2015 collection Bright Dead Things and has also been a finalist for the National Book Award and the National Books Critics Circle Award.

Reading: Thursday at 7:30 p.m. in the Green Drawing Room, Main Building.

Public access via livestream only:

Passcode: 404655

Q&A: Friday at 11 a.m. in the Hollins Room, Wyndham Robertson Library (open to the campus community only)

 

Thursday, October 21, 2021: Julie Pfeiffer

Hollins Professor of English Julie Pfeiffer will give a lecture entitled, “Transforming Girls: How We Make Girls into Women.”

Lecture: Thursday at 7:30 p.m. in the Green Drawing Room, Main Building.

Public access via livestream only:

Passcode: 403576

 

Thursday-Friday, October 28-29, 2021: J. Drew Lanham

An award-winning poet and professor of wildlife ecology at Clemson University, Lanhams’ writing explores his experiences as a birder, hunter and “wild, wandering soul.”

Reading: Thursday at 7:30 p.m. in the Hollins Room, Wyndham Robertson Library

Public access via livestream only:

Passcode: 695218

Q&A: Friday at 11 a.m. in the Hollins Room, Wyndham Robertson Library (open to the campus community only)

 

Thursday-Friday, November 11-12, 2021: Dinaw Mengestu

Mengestu’s ambitious 2007 debut novel The beautiful things that heaven bears won him international recognition and the coveted Guardian first book award.

Reading: Thursday at 7:30 pm in the Green Drawing Room, Main Building

Public access via livestream only:

Passcode: 760233

Q&A: Friday at 11 a.m. in the Hollins Room, Wyndham Robertson Library (open to the campus community only)

 

Thursday, December 2, 2021: Writers’ Harvest Reading

Thursday at 7:30 p.m. in the Visual Arts Center Auditorium

Hear Hollins faculty writers read exciting new work to raise money for Feeding America Southwest Virginia, a nonprofit food bank that has been helping feed the hungry in Virginia for 40 years. 100 percent of the proceeds will be donated to this organization. General admission is $10 and $5 for students. Tickets will be available at the door or, to preorder, please contact Lisa Radcliff, administrative coordinator (phone: 540-362-6317; email: English@hollins.edu).

Public access via livestream only:

Passcode: 933103

 

SPRING SEMESTER

 

Thursday-Friday, February 10-11, 2022: Yiyun Li

A native of Beijing and a graduate of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, Li’s novels and short stories have won her many awards, including a PEN/Hemingway Award and a MacArthur Fellowship.

Reading: Thursday at 7:30 p.m. in the Green Drawing Room, Main Building

Q&A: Friday at 11 a.m. in the Hollins Room, Wyndham Robertson Library (open to the campus community only)

 

Thursday-Friday, February 24-25, 2022: Nazera Sadiq Wright

An associate professor of English at the University of Kentucky, Wright’s book Black Girlhood in the Nineteenth Century earned the 2018 Children’s Literature Association’s Honor Book Award for Outstanding Book of Literary Criticism.

Lecture: Thursday at 7:30 p.m.—location to be determined.

Q&A: Friday, time and location to be determined.

 

Thursday-Friday, March 10-11, 2022: Forrest Gander

Raised in Virginia, Gander is a gifted poet, translator, essayist, and novelist whose 2019 poetry collection Be With fetched him a Pulitzer Prize.

Reading: Thursday at 7:30 p.m. in the Green Drawing Room, Main Building.

Q&A: Friday at 11 a.m. in the Hollins Room, Wyndham Robertson Library.

 

Saturday, April 2, 2022: Hollins Annual Literary Festival

The Hollins Literary Festival is an all-day celebration of all things writing related. Readings and the poetry panel will be held in the Wetherill Visual Arts Center Auditorium (Room 200).

9:30 a.m. – check-in and refreshments, 2nd floor lobby

10:30 a.m. – reading by Akhil Sharma

11:30 a.m. – poetry panel discussion of student-submitted works

12:45 p.m. – luncheon, Moody Dining Hall (pay at the door)

2: p.m. – reading by Jenny Boully

3:15 p.m. – reading by A. Van Jordan

4 p.m. – reception, 2nd floor lobby

 

Thursday-Friday, April 21-22, 2022: Anna Caritj and Kristina Gorcheva-Newberry

This is a rare double reading of two recent M.F.A. alums: Anna Caritj ’16 and Kristina Gorcheva-Newberry ’10. Both have new books out that they will be reading from and discussing.

Reading: Thursday at 7:30 p.m. in the Green Drawing Room, Main Building.

Q&A: Friday at 11 a.m. in the Hollins Room, Wyndham Robertson Library.

 

Thursday, May 5, 2022: “The Last Twist”

Thursday at 7:30 p.m. in the Green Drawing Room, Main Building

Enjoy “The Last Twist,” a farewell reading by Hollins seniors and graduating Creative Writing M.F.A. students. This is the Hollins community’s last chance to hear the work of this talented young cohort of writers.

 

 


From Graduation to Publication: Debut Books by New Creative Writing M.F.A. Alumni Head To Press

Poets Maddie Gallo and Gabriel Reed became close friends after they enrolled in Hollins’ Master of Fine Arts (M.F.A.) in creative writing program two years ago and were in the same first-year tutorial class. Fittingly this spring, they not only celebrated together the completion of their respective M.F.A. degrees, but also the achievement of another milestone in their lives: the publication of each writer’s first collections of poetry.

Gallo’s Acorn, Eggshell, Honeycomb and Reed’s Springbook have both been accepted for publication by Groundhog Poetry Press (GPP). Founded by Professor of English and editor of The Hollins Critic R.H.W. Dillard, GPP describes itself as “a small, independent press dedicated to publishing absolutely the best poetry we can find without regard to any factor other than quality.”

The news came as a complete surprise to Gallo. “I wasn’t thinking of it as a book at all until it got accepted as a book,” she says. For Reed, his work is actually composed of two separate projects. Nevertheless, he says, those projects “resonate with one another. The more I thought about how they spoke to one another, the more I was sure that I wanted them together.”

“I Never Thought This Would Happen So Fast”

Gallo was pursuing a Master’s degree in English literature at Wake Forest University when she had an epiphany.

“It was a great program, but I realized I was more interested in creative writing than literary analysis,” she recalls. One of her professors suggested Gallo explore enrolling in an M.F.A. program.

“Because I’m from Radford (located approximately 50 miles from Roanoke), I already knew about Hollins’ creative writing M.F.A. program from people who had gone there. Since I’d been in North Carolina for two years, I thought it would be nice to be closer to home in Virginia.”

Other factors convinced Gallo to apply to Hollins as her first choice. “I could study poetry, which is my favorite genre, but Hollins is kind of unique in that it encourages you to write in other genres as well. A lot of M.F.A. programs are strict in that you can only write poetry or fiction. I wanted to be able to experiment with fiction as well as nonfiction. I applied to some other places, but when I got into Hollins, it was settled.”

Gallo praises Dillard, who taught her first-year tutorial class, for “helping me find my footing and voice in poetry. In my second year, I was more confident in who I was as a writer and the kind of ideas I wanted to write about.” Her second-year tutorial professor, Associate Professor of English and Creative Writing Thorpe Moeckel, furthered that guidance.

Maddie Gallo
Maddie Gallo M.F.A. ’21: “The art of poetry is nearly always a positive thing amid the global and daily tragedies we face.”

“I felt that he gave me the permission to be experimental and strange with my poetry,” she explains. “I’ve always had anxiety about writing poem after poem on the same topic and I can get bored with that repetition.” She worried about how the various subjects and themes she addresses throughout what would become Acorn, Eggshell, Honeycomb would come together into a cohesive whole, but Moeckel “reminded me that the unifying factor of every collection, whether it’s a one-themed project or just a book of unique pieces, is the poet’s voice. He told me, ‘A Maddie poem is always a Maddie poem,’ and while that might seem like a simple comment, it was an enlightening moment for me.”

Gallo adds it was “inspirational” to be in classes where “for the first time I was around a bunch of extremely talented and amazing creative writers. Hollins is good about giving you the time and the right people to work with. They challenged me to become a better writer. I look back at my poems before Hollins, and I think, ‘Who wrote those?’ I feel like I grew so much and in so many different ways. I was able to carve out space and dedicate so much time to doing something I always loved my whole life. I experienced a sense of community there.”

From the outset, Gallo’s goal as a graduate student was to write “a really good final thesis” of poetry that reflected how she wanted to go about being a writer and the kind of work she hoped to craft. “It was something long-term where I could come back to these poems. I was going to dedicate the whole summer after I got my M.F.A. to working with them, and then see if somewhere in the future I could find a home for them with a publisher.” Gallo admits she is “prone to doing constant surgery on my work. I’ll work on a poem forever, and I’ve got poems from years ago I’m still editing. But, I’m trying to give my poems room to breathe and focus only on the edits that need to be done.”

When Gallo submitted her thesis, Dillard recognized the progress she had made in her writing since coming to Hollins. “A few days later, he reached out to me and said, ‘I think this is book material,’ and that his press would love to publish it with their next batch of books. I was stunned. I never thought this would happen so fast.”

Acorn, Eggshell, Honeycomb features themes of femininity (“Women’s relationships to others and themselves, particularly the anxieties concerning their own bodies.”); nature (“It’s a constant comfort to me.”); and poetry itself (“The art of poetry is nearly always a positive thing amid the global and daily tragedies we face.”). The book draws its title from the headings of each of the book’s three sections, which each contain about 15 poems. “I’m obsessed with the ordering of books and collections,” she says. “When I get a book of poetry I think about why the author chose to put one poem first and another poem last, why certain poems are in the middle, and so on. I thought a lot about the order in which I wanted things to appear in Acorn, Eggshell, Honeycomb before I was even considering it as a book. For me, there’s a definite kind of logic and system for each section, but one of the things I enjoyed hearing from my classmates when they read the draft was that they got to decide for themselves what differentiates an ‘Acorn’ poem from an ‘Eggshell’ or ‘Honeycomb’ poem. It’s a fun thing to leave that open-ended for other readers, too. For me, the reader’s perspective is a huge part of what poetry is. I don’t expect and I don’t want readers to think like me. I want each poem to have its own meaning for each person.”

Bringing Acorn, Eggshell, Honeycomb to fruition was certainly a highlight of Gallo’s time in Hollins’ creative writing M.F.A. program. Serving as a teaching fellow and working with undergraduates for the past year was another. “I taught fundamentals of poetry and fiction writing, and it was so much fun helping students fall in love with poetry. Of course I want to keep writing, but after that experience I have to continue teaching. It’s really important for me to keep encouraging other people to want to write. There’s no feeling like that.”

“I’d Always Hoped This Would End Up Being My First Book”

While he had always loved poetry, Reed was firmly grounded in fiction writing until the end of his senior year as an undergraduate at Carson-Newman University in his home state of Tennessee. “I started writing poems the way a lot of people do through self-expressive diary type writing,” he recalls. The mentorship of Appalachian poet Susan O’Dell Underwood profoundly influenced him, as did the fact that in writing workshops, “people liked my poems a lot more than my fiction. So, I stuck with it.”

Reed had already been applying to creative writing M.F.A. programs, but only in fiction. “I was afraid my M.F.A. applications were going to be a waste because I wanted to write poetry now, but then I came across Hollins’ website.” He says he was struck by Hollins’ philosophy “that wasn’t so much specialization in a genre as an interest in the voice you want to curate. And, it’s so writing intensive. It was exactly what I needed.”

In the creative writing M.F.A. program at Hollins, Reed says “I never felt like I wasn’t getting respect and attention from my peers.” During his first year, he was part of a four-person tutorial group led by Dillard where “we were all writing very different poems, but I got the freedom and the room to play, explore, and find my way.” He also started reading more formal poetry and was particularly drawn to the sonnet, which consists of 14 lines and uses a standard rhyme scheme.

Gabriel Reed
Gabriel Reed M.F.A. ’21 with his daughter, Eloise: “I see this book as not just kind of a craft project, but also as a time stamp of my life in Roanoke, the beginning of my family and my daughter’s life.”

Working with Professor of English Cathryn Hankla during his second year at Hollins, Reed says he began “shifting my thinking about my poetry. I narrowed in on what I was attempting to write, and Cathy was perfect for helping me find that voice. One thing she enabled me to see is that the poem has a life of its own, especially if the reader comes away with something separate from what you had in mind. Sometimes someone will have an understanding of your work that’s so much better than what you intended. I had some amazing experiences with visiting writers, too, in broadening my definition of what poetry can be and what it can do.”

Another experience that tremendously impacted Reed and his writing was the birth in January of his daughter, Eloise. Juggling fatherhood as well as serving as a teaching fellow meant “I had less time to waste. I was forced to focus more instead of being in the freeform mode I was in, and I feel like I did the best work of my life this past year.”

That work included his graduate thesis. Written in two parts, the thesis’ first section consists of a long narrative poem about “two people on a farm and how they fall in love with the land,” while the second is made up of sonnets that Reed penned in anticipation of his daughter’s birth. He says he conceived the latter as a response to The Dolphin, a book of sonnets by the American poet Robert Lowell “that ruthlessly chronicles Lowell’s leaving his wife, Elizabeth Hardwick, and daughter, Harriet. Lowell even steals lines from Hardwick’s letters throughout. I was trying to write the anti-Dolphin. Whereas The Dolphin remembers the time in Lowell’s life when he was moving away, I was trying to lean into a celebratory space of the everyday, what it meant to me to become a father, and how to be faithful to and inhabit that.” Reed adds that he conceived of the long poem that opens his thesis as a way to “prepare the reader for a personal encounter.”

Based on Hankla’s recommendation, Dillard welcomed Reed’s thesis for publication by GPP. “I’d always hoped this would end up being my first book,” Reed says. Inspired by a work he admires called The Summer Book, he decided to call his collection Springbook. “One of the sonnets that ends the book is a birth poem and the process of witnessing that. My daughter was born on January 2, thus the book ends in winter and I’m looking ahead. It’s that cliché of spring representing rebirth and new life.”

After living in Roanoke for the past two years to attend Hollins, Reed has moved back to where he’s originally from in the Knoxville area to complete a Ph.D. in poetry at the University of Tennessee. He plans to pursue both teaching and writing, and he says Springbook will continue to resonate for him beyond being his debut book publication. “I see this book as not just kind of a craft project, but also as a time stamp of my life in Roanoke, the beginning of my family and my daughter’s life.”

 

 

 

 


M.F.A. in Creative Writing Alumna Welcomes Launch Of Debut Novel “Leda and the Swan”

Anna Caritj M.F.A ’16 never imagined that the manuscript she started years ago while earning her master’s degree at Hollins would sell, once finished, within just a couple of days. And yet, that’s exactly what happened. Now, two weeks shy of the virtual launch of her debut novel Leda and the Swan, Caritj is still getting used to a new life as a published author. 

“It all happened very fast,” said Caritj. “My agent started shopping the book around and within 48 hours we had an offer from Riverhead Books. It was a whirlwind, not at all what I was expecting.”

Leda and the Swan is a kind of mash-up: a collegiate coming-of-age tale mixed with classic suspense and, of course, some references to Greek mythology. The novel opens at a raucous, on-campus Halloween party and follows the titular character Leda who believes herself to be the last person to have seen her classmate Charlotte (dressed in a swan costume) before her disappearance on Halloween night. Waking up hung-over the following morning, Leda soon feels that she must solve the mystery of what happened to Charlotte as well as piece together the memories from the blacked-out night that she spent with her crush (and Charlotte’s ex), Ian Gray.

Even though she finished a first draft while earning her M.F.A. in creative writing at Hollins, and spent another two years polishing and editing the manuscript, the core idea of Leda and the Swan actually cameLeda and the Swan Book Cover to Caritj during her time as an undergraduate studying Spanish and English literature at the University of Virginia in her hometown of Charlottesville. Specifically, it was a massive mural by famed artist Lincoln Perry called “The Student’s Progress” that first gave Caritj inspiration to write about her own college experience. “[Perry] was working on the mural while I was a student, and I was always passing it on my way to choir rehearsals,” recalled Caritj. “It’s her whole life painted on the wall there, and the thing I liked about that mural is that it doesn’t sugar-coat the college experience. It touches on the complexity of it. We don’t just sort of track this woman’s academic progress. We also see her emotional development—we see her in wild and vulnerable moments. So I wanted to capture that in the same way that Perry did in his painting.”

Skip ahead to grad school and during her first year at Hollins’ Jackson Center for Creative Writing, Caritj started developing a rough version of the novel, then called Let Her Drop, taken from the last words of a W. B. Yeats poem also entitled “Leda and the Swan.” However, it wasn’t until her second-year tutorial with poet, essayist, and Hollins Professor of English Richard Dillard that Caritj got a better feel for the work-in-progress. “Richard’s such a great teacher,” said Caritj. “He’s able to get a sense for what kind of a novel you want to be writing as opposed to the kind of novel he wants to be reading, and that’s a very difficult thing to separate.”

Caritj’s time at Hollins (and Dillard’s sharp readerly eye) clearly paid off. Leda and the Swan was released on May 4 to high praise—TIME called the debut an “affecting narrative about consent, power and loneliness”—and Caritj is currently preparing for the book’s official virtual launch on May 27 with One More Page Books in Arlington. Over the summer, Caritj will participate in a spread of virtual events (a kind of online “book tour”). As if this weren’t enough to keep her busy, Caritj has already finished a rough draft for a completely different second project about a group of female friends reckoning with adolescence.

However, Caritj’s not letting all of the sudden success go to her head. “Don’t take yourself too seriously,” she said. “It’s important to be proud of your work and to stand behind what you’ve created. But, at the same time, if you’re not willing to dismantle your creation—to shake things up, to try something new, to push yourself into uncharted territory—you’ll never make any progress. Out of all the young writers I’ve known, the ones that make the most progress are the ones willing to take a sledgehammer to their work.”

 

Jeff Dingler is a graduate assistant in Hollins’ marketing and communications department. He is pursuing his M.F.A. in creative writing at the university.

 

 


Presidential Inaugural Poet Richard Blanco Talks About Reading For Hollins And His Latest Book, “How to Love a Country”

It’s not every day that a presidential inaugural poet gives a reading for Hollins University. In fact, it’s a first. This Thursday, April 8, Cuban-American writer Richard Blanco, who read his poem “One Today” at the second inauguration of President Barack Obama in 2012, will offer a virtual reading for the Hollins community that’s open to the general public, becoming the first inaugural poet to do so in the university’s history. It’s a rare honor to be selected to read a poem at a presidential inauguration, even rarer than being president (45 individuals have served as U.S. President, but there have been just six inaugural poets, including literary titans such as Robert Frost at John F. Kennedy’s 1961 inauguration and Maya Angelou for Bill Clinton in 1993.) Blanco was the nation’s first Latino and first openly gay inaugural poet, and he wrote about the experience and his life leading up to that moment in his 2013 memoir For All of Us, One Today: An Inaugural Poet’s Journey. Blanco recently spoke about his latest collection How to Love a Country, writing during the COVID-19 pandemic, and his new friendship with fellow inaugural poet Amanda Gorman.

 

Thank you so much for taking the time, Richard. Let’s just start with the big game-changing moment: getting the call to read at then-President Obama’s second inauguration. What was that like?

That was a pretty crazy, alarming, wonderful, all-of-the-above moment. But I guess the most striking thing was that my initial reaction was not of fear or apprehension but really more of immense gratitude, not just for the opportunity that it represented, but more so gratitude for my parents and grandparents and all the sacrifices they made coming to this country. So you realize that your story is not just your story but that it’s a story that started being written a long time before. Gratitude for all of that was, in a way, a kind of closure as well as a new beginning. It closed one chapter of my life but opened up a whole new one.

 

It sounds like the inauguration was cathartic not just personally but artistically as well. Can you talk more about that?

Aesthetically and creatively, I’d never had to write a poem like that before. But I have to say, in an interesting and ironic way, I’d been writing it my entire life. In my very first graduate-level creative writing workshop, my first assignment was “write a poem about America.” [Laughs] My mentor and I joke that Obama gave me the same assignment ten years ago. But to be honest, after four books of writing about being Cuban-American and gay and Latino, I felt I had kind of exhausted the material. I didn’t know how to break out of the more purely autobiographical, and [the inauguration] was an invitation to do just that. I know what America means to me, but what does America mean to America? That was the question I had to ask. So the poem is a response to that and, in a way, it did open up a whole other approach to writing where the idea of the poetry of “We,” not just the poetry of “I,” became very important. And that’s obviously reflected in How to Love a Country as well.

 

Can we expect to hear some poems from that latest book during your Hollins reading?"How to Love a Country" Book Cover

Yes, I’ll read some poems from, How to Love a Country, [plus] some poems that lead up to that book as well. I usually like to tell somewhat of a narrative about my journey, both artistically and personally, and how that’s reflected in the poems. So thinking about growing up as an immigrant gay kid, becoming an inaugural poet, and how that changed my perspective on things in my art, resulting in How to Love a Country, which are poems that are much more socio-political.

 

I love that collection so much. For these poems, did you find yourself struggling to love this country, or struggling to re-evaluate that love?

The question of what is America, what does it mean to be an American, has always been a part of my question. Being selected as presidential inaugural poet was obviously an amazing experience in that it opened my eyes to the idea that my narrative is part of America. Before then, I wasn’t 100-percent convinced of that. [Laughs] But I also started seeing how many narratives weren’t being included although they were part of this country’s fabric, that so many people, like me, felt the same way. So I just started thinking about all the work we had to do still in this country. Our democracy is not a one-off—it’s not a check-and-done—it’s constant work and constant re-evaluation. So the inauguration was a pivotal moment, a positive moment, but it also sent me on a journey to keep investigating this idea of the American narrative.

 

And how has the COVID-19 pandemic affected that investigation? Has quarantine had a big impact on your writing process?

For the most part, no, in the sense that writers are used to working alone. But even I’m going a little stir crazy, and you know when the writers are going stir crazy that something is really bad. [laughs] But I really have a sense of empathy for people who have been working outside their house for years and years. I would say that this last year has instilled in me an appreciation for home and community like never before. There are so many things that we all take for granted, even the smallest things like going to your favorite neighborhood restaurant or just appreciating the people who allow us to have those experiences and understanding, much like the inaugural poem, that all of us matter. All our stories are really happening at once and they’re all interconnected.

 

Speaking of that interconnection, we just had another inauguration in January and another presidential inaugural poet. What did you think of Amanda Gorman’s poem, “The Hill We Climb”?

I know Amanda. She speaks Spanish, which is really wonderful; we text in Spanish so she can practice. As my partner Mark says, more people have been to the moon than have been presidential inaugural poets, so it’s a very small club! [laughs]

But besides her poem and the strength of her poem, what she represents is so powerful. During these chaotic years, I’ve been concerned by what kind of story we’re telling to our children, to our youth. So the choice of this 22-year-old writing dynamo as inaugural poet says a lot: says that you have power, you have agency, you have to participate in this democracy, it’s your country as well. I think she has come at a moment when we need that the most, and I look forward to seeing how she can lead us, especially our youth, through what I think are still very tumultuous years ahead.

 

Jeff Dingler is a graduate assistant in Hollins’ marketing and communications department. He is pursuing his M.F.A. in creative writing at the university.


Hollins Professor Jessie Van Eerden Celebrates Launch of Award-Winning Fourth Book, “Call It Horses”

When it comes to writing, some projects are well worth the wait. Author and Associate Professor of English and Creative Writing Jessie van Eerden certainly understands that. Today, van Eerden celebrates with Malaprop’s Bookstore/Café the e-launch of her fourth book, Call It Horses. Her third novel and the winner of the 2019 Dzanc Books Prize was eight years in the making.

“I didn’t work on it eight years consistently,” laughed van Eerden. “There were a lot of other things in that time, but this book took a lot of reimagining.” Call It Horses revolves around three women—niece, aunt, and artist stowaway—and the 1990 road trip that this improbable trio embarks on from West Virginia to New Mexico. Spending a lot of time experimenting with the book’s structure, van Eerden first tried out a narrative poetry sequence, then a more traditional first-person plot, before finally settling on the current epistolary form (i.e. told through letters).

“I think the joy of publishing a book is seeing something that you’ve labored over come to fruition,” said van Eerden about the long process of writing Call It Horses. “To complete that circuit with readers, that circuit of something that’s lived in your head for so long, it’s pleasurable no matter what.”

Call It Horses Book CoverIn the end, all that hard work paid off for van Eerden. In 2019, she was named the winner of the coveted Dzanc Books Prize for Call It Horses—the manuscript was selected from a pool of hundreds—a win that resulted in Dzanc Books publishing Call It Horses. Flash-forward a year and a half, and now van Eerden’s looking at a spring and summer of events to promote her new novel. “It’s exciting because it’s a book that’s very close to me,” she said. “I’m always interested in letting my characters go out in the world and meet other people.”

Indeed, the novel does hit close to home for van Eerden. Call It Horses starts in Caudell, West Virginia, a small rural town reminiscent of van Eerden’s own upbringing in that same state. “It is interesting my relationship to place with respect to my fiction,” she said. “I feel that there’s the physical landscape of where I grew up, and also the spiritual landscape: of the community of people and the tiny church and the ways that people interacted and cared for each other.” In Call It Horses, those two landscapes inform both van Eerden’s fictional Appalachian world as well as the quasi-spiritual journal out West undertaken by the three central characters.

As for the future, van Eerden isn’t taking a breather. She’s already working on her fifth book, a return to nonfiction and essay portraiture, a form that won her the Foreword INDIES Book of the Year Award for her 2017 portrait essay collection, The Long Weeping. “I’m planning on peering into some portraits of biblical women,” she said. “[I’m] doing a lot of excavation of biblical myth alongside more memoiristic material of my own narrative life—looking into the philosophical realm of human responsibility and human freedom, and the relationship between those two poles of existence.”

The launch of Call It Horses is at 6 p.m. today and will also feature acclaimed writer Siamak Vossoughi, winner of the 2014 Flannery O’Connor Award for Short Fiction. To participate, please RSVP here.

 

Jeff Dingler is a graduate assistant in Hollins’ marketing and communications department. He is pursuing his M.F.A. in creative writing at the university.


Hollins Announces Six Winners of the 57th Annual Nancy Thorp Poetry Contest

Whoever said poetry doesn’t pay must’ve never applied to a poetry competition. Case in point, Hollins University announced this week the first- and second-place winners to its 57th Annual Nancy Thorp Poetry Contest. The international competition for young women in high school recognized six talented writers, awarding the top prize to Samiksha Gaherwar of Lambert High School in Suwanee, Georgia, for her poem “slavish numerals.”

“I’m deeply honored to receive this award and incredibly excited at the opportunity to attend the Hollinsummer creative writing program,” said Gaherwar. “Thank you for [fostering] appreciation and love for poetry in my generation!”

In addition to free tuition and housing for the university’s 2021 summer creative writing workshops, Gaherwar will also receive a $350 cash prize and publication in Cargoes, Hollins’ student-run literary magazine, plus the option to receive a renewable scholarship of up to $5000 a year, should she choose to enroll at the university. 

Hollins also recognized six second-place poems, each of which will be published in Cargoes. In a rare occurrence, two of those poems were submitted by the same student, Chaerim Kim-Worthington of North Hollywood, California, who received a separate “double-winner” prize of free tuition and housing for Hollinsummer. The other second-place winners will receive a $500 scholarship applicable toward those same summer programs. 

It was a very competitive contest this year,” said Jessie van Eerden, associate professor of English and creative writing at Hollins and contest coordinator. The 57th edition received a total of 968 poems written by 607 contestants (each contestant could submit only two poems). The young writers hailed from across the United States, D.C., Puerto Rico, and 18 countries abroad, including some as far-flung as Taiwan, Germany, New Zealand, and Kazakhstan. “[Gaherwar] ended up sending me an email that was really over the moon,” recalled van Eerden about the first-place winner’s response. “She was just so humble, too, and that struck me, that she was kind of taken by surprise to have her work recognized.” 

Picking a winner for the contest during the pandemic was no easy task either. The first round of judging took place in person, and because of COVID restrictions, van Eerden and only around a dozen undergraduate and graduate students were responsible for winnowing those initial 968 poems down to a pool of just 21. The final round of judging took place via Zoom on February 24, involving more than 60 faculty and students in Hollins’ English and Creative Writing Department.

“It’s been lovely to support so many high school young women in the process,” van Eerden said.

Here is the full list of winners:

First Place:

Samiksha Gaherwar

Lambert High School

Suwanee, GA

“slavish numerals”

 

Second Place:

Ashley Bao

Cab Calloway School of the Arts High School

Wilmington, DE

“greenville, ms”

 

Chaerim Kim-Worthington

Harvard-Westlake School

North Hollywood, CA

“modern greek student falls in love with ancient greek student”

and “on wasps”

 

Sarah Mohammed

The Harker School

San Jose, CA

“Spit & a white man’s bruised fist”

 

Gaia Rajan

Phillips Academy

Andover, MA

“Killing It”

 

Olivia Yang

Phillips Academy

Andover, MA

“Etymology of Loss”

 

Jeff Dingler is a graduate assistant in Hollins’ marketing and communications department. He is pursuing his M.F.A. in creative writing at the university.


London Calling: Through an Internship Abroad, a Senior “Storyteller” Furthers Her Growth as a Writer and Film Student

When a high school English teacher who also happens to be an alumna of a university nationally recognized for creative writing realizes that one of her students has a passion and talent for the craft, the mission she undertakes isn’t surprising.

“She was always asking me, ‘Have you checked out Hollins?’,” Carly Lewis ’21 recalled, laughing. “She got me the Hollins Creative Writing Scholarship as sort of a final ‘Please look at Hollins’ creative writing program, it’s really good.’”

So, the native of Richmond, Virginia, did just that. “Since I liked going to an all-women’s high school, attending a historically women’s college sounded right up my alley. But I mostly wanted to come here because I found that the writing program was indeed very good. I’m a big storyteller, a storyteller in all regards, and I wanted to become a better writer and learn with other like-minded writers.”

From the beginning, Lewis thrived. The first class she took “was with a phenomenal graduate assistant who tossed a lot of rules out of the window. In high school, I was already breaking the rules of writing a little bit. But then I got to Hollins and that graduate student told me, ‘Just write what you want and do what you want. It’ll all come together in the end and we’ll help you.’ Having that freedom right off the bat was such a gift. It opened my eyes to the possibilities of what I could write and how to hone my craft before I even knew what honing my craft meant.”

Three members of Hollins’ English and creative writing faculty subsequently had a profound impact on Lewis. Professor of English and Creative Writing T.J. Anderson III showed her she could blend music with writing and it could be “heartbreaking and lovely and moving,” she said.

Lewis remembers feeling both excitement and trepidation when she enrolled in her first advanced creative writing workshop, which was taught by her advisor, Professor of English and Creative Writing Cathryn Hankla. “I was scared to read something from one of our random writing exercises during class because I thought it wasn’t going to be good. She told me, ‘No first draft is good. Just read it and you can fix it later. It’s not meant to be good at first.’ That’s always stuck with me. Even if you think it’s good, there’s always work to do. She’s always encouraged me to have confidence and trust in my writing.”

This semester, Lewis is taking her fourth and final advanced writing workshop, and her second with Associate Professor of English and Creative Writing Jessie van Eerden, who is “always cheering me on. She’s a comforting good source of critique and support.”

While Lewis came to Hollins to study creative writing, she also considered herself a visual person (one of her hobbies is photography) and enjoyed an interest in film. “I don’t know why, but it wasn’t something I’d entertained in studying until I had the opportunity to take an Introduction to Film class. I realized it’s not unlike analyzing or critiquing a book. So I thought, ‘A writer who can talk about movies, too. It’s a good pairing,’ and I ended up adding a film major.”

Lewis said the film classes that she has particularly loved are the ones she’s taken with Professor of English and Creative Writing R.H.W. Dillard. “He’s a great film critic. I’m in my third of his Film as a Narrative Art classes. He does a great job of connecting the filmmakers to their work and getting to know them, their techniques, and the history of the time when the film was made that might have impacted it.”

Another of Lewis’ aspirations when she came to Hollins was international study. Trips to Italy and Spain during high school sparked her interest in spending a semester abroad, so during one of her visits to Hollins as a prospective student, she attended a meeting about the Hollins Abroad – London program.

“I was immediately hooked. Going to London became a big part of why I wanted to come here. You take classes, but the most important thing is that you actually get to immerse yourself in life in another country.”

Carly Lewis '21 WMA
Lewis (left) at London’s Weller Media Agency. “I loved my internship and being around a bunch of crazy creatives every day.”

As Lewis prepared to travel to London to spend the 2019 fall term, she decided that completing an internship there would enrich her experience. Hollins’ Office of International Programs works through CAPA to provide international internship opportunities for students based on their areas of interest, and Lewis was placed with Weller Media Agency (WMA), a global digital creative and marketing company specializing in promoting talent in the music and entertainment industries, especially up-and-coming artists.

“It was a dream come true, it was like they read my mind almost about what I wanted to do,” Lewis said. “I’ve always been a big music person but I’d never done anything before in the music industry. I loved my internship and being around a bunch of crazy creatives all day, every day. They were just so nice and encouraging.”

Lewis did everything from graphic design and social media content to writing for Spindle (a magazine affiliated with WMA), engaging in public relations activities, and assisting with film and photography production. “It was fun because everyone is working in the same room and all I had to do was walk from one table to the next to see if there was anything they needed. They were very gracious and excited to have me help out on a bunch of projects such as shooting music videos and meeting and interviewing talent. Interacting with the artists I listened to or wrote about was really cool.”

Carly Lewis '21 Arlette House London
“Going to London became a big part of why I wanted to come [to Hollins]. You get to immerse yourself in life in another country.”
The Hollins senior believes her WMA internship has opened a door for her. “I never really entertained the thought of working in the music industry in terms of film and photography or even as a writer, but this showed me I could do it and how it could happen. And Weller was such a great place for networking.”

The WMA experience mirrored what Lewis encountered throughout her semester in London. “The people are so kind and giving, and so imaginative,” she said. One of her favorite parts of the city is Brick Lane, located in the East End. “There are loads of little thrift shops and it’s really artistic. They do graffiti tours down there so there’s always artists spray painting the walls with these giant murals. I really liked their music scene, too. I went to a lot of concerts there.”

Carly Lewis '21 Brick Lane Graffiti Tour
Lewis was captivated by Brick Lane on London’s East End with its graffiti tours, thrift shops, and vibrant music scene.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Lewis praises the host family with whom she lived. “I loved them so much. My host mom was interested in what was doing, very supportive, and recommended what to see and where to eat. She made sure I knew how to get to those places, too, whether it was on the Tube or taking a bus. She was always looking out for me, and it was nice to have someone who was already living there be a guide. I can’t recommend enough living with a host family.”

Carly Lewis '21 Stratford Upon Avon
A jaunt through Stratford-Upon-Avon in the county of Warwickshire, England.

Lewis’ final semester is a busy one. She’s wrapping up her third year as a CA (Community Assistant), a position that has offered her the chance to draw upon her experience as the oldest sister in her own family to mentor first-year students. “I get to watch them when they first come to college and see how they change. It’s crazy how much they grow into themselves, even in the first semester. It’s just great to be a part of that.”

But perhaps the most ambitious project on Lewis’ plate at the moment is her first novel, which she began a couple of years ago and draws upon her study abroad experience. “It’s realistic fiction and it involves music, it’s about a band, and it’s set in London,” she explained. “It’s combining all of my favorite things and in the genre that I think is the most ‘me.’ It’s very hard but it is fun.” She noted that Hankla and van Eerden have both been very supportive, reading parts of the novel and offering suggestions as the work progresses.

Carly Lewis '21 Hampstead Heath
Lewis at London’s Hampstead Heath: “Eventually I think I will go back. I felt like I was leaving behind a home, and one day it will be time to go back home.”

 

 

 

 

Following graduation this spring, Lewis hopes to secure a music editorial internship with NPR. She’s also been in touch with Hollins alumnae in Richmond about possible opportunities within the area’s robust film production industry. “I also want to look at music studios to intern or just come in and see what they are all about, partly because I’m interested in getting to know the music industry better, but also to gather research for my novel.”

Even though her future plans are still coming together, Lewis has little doubt a particular city will figure prominently whatever she pursues. “After I returned here following my London experience, it seemed like I should be back there. Eventually I think I will go back, possibly for grad school in a couple of years. I felt like I was leaving behind a home,
and one day it will be time to go back home.”


English and Creative Writing Professor’s Artistic Journey Brings “Voices Into Dialogue”

When Professor of English and Creative Writing T.J. Anderson III is asked how long he spent writing his newest book, he says he always answers, “It took me 62 years.”

Of course, he’s joking. But as Anderson further explains, a profound truth lies in that reply. “First, I had to acquire language. I next had to acquire an aural sensibility because music is very much a part of my aesthetic. Then of course, I had to read a lot of books and a lot of poetry to get to this point.”

The latest literary stop on what Anderson describes as his life’s “artistic journey, a journey that is rooted in African-American culture and American culture” is Devonte Travels the Sorry Route, a collection of poems published in 2019 by Omnidawn Publishing. The work is his fourth volume of poetry following Cairo Workbook (Willow Books, 2014), River to Cross (The Backwaters Press, 2009), and the chapbook At Last Round Up (lift books, 1996). He is also the author of Notes to Make the Sound Come Right: Four Innovators of Jazz Poetry (University of Arkansas Press, 2004) and the spoken word CD, Blood Octave (Flat Five Recordings, 2006).

“I think the work that I write is me, and it’s also not me and it’s community,” Anderson said. “One of the things that I think is true, which is a way of thinking about the afterlife of slavery in regard to how we inhabit this historical time, is the sense of temporal engagement where the past, the present, and the future are not discreet and cut off from one another. Rather, we live in simultaneity of that entanglement. That’s my challenge as a writer: How does one narrate that? How do I bring those voices into dialogue?”

When describing his aesthetic, Anderson cites two core components. He employs fragmentation and compares it to making “a quilt where I’m constantly gathering various kinds of materials, different kinds of fabrics, some silk, some rough cotton, and stitching these things together so that these fragments are in conversation. There’s the use of space in my work, too, where there are things that can’t be said or I haven’t found the words for these things.”

Devonte Travels the Sorry Route is presented in four parts, and Anderson has also developed a process for making those divisions that aligns with his perception of the poem as a musical score. “I’ll print out all of my poems and go into a large room and lay every piece of paper on the floor. Then, I’ll walk around and read them. I’ll see what fits, what’s developing in terms of a narrative and musicality. First and foremost, it’s music. I’m orchestrating things in terms of how I hear them sounding and putting them into a particular order. They’re kind of musical sections.”

Anderson’s inspiration to begin writing the poems that would ultimately become Devonte Travels the Sorry Route stemmed from seeing a painting byDevonte Travels the Sorry Route Irish-American artist Brian Counihan called “The Sorry Route.” He was intrigued by the work’s two dominant figures – one man in a tri-cornered hat and another who appeared to be in shackles – and the way the painting evoked colonialism.

“All of a sudden I started writing these poems that came to me that embodied this voice of a character who called himself ‘Dickerson,’” Anderson recalled. “After I drafted a few of my Dickerson poems, I started sending them out to magazines and some were getting accepted, which was really pleasing. I began to see that somehow I was working on a series.”

Anderson learned that Omnidawn, which specializes in innovative and experimental writing and is one of the author’s favorite publishers, was sponsoring an Open Book Poetry Contest where anyone who has already published a book can submit an entry. He put the series of poems into a manuscript, changed the main character’s name from “Dickerson” to “Devonte,” and Devonte Travels the Sorry Route was created. To Anderson’s surprise, the manuscript was named a contest finalist.

“The publisher called to congratulate me and as I talked to him I realized that I had only 20 poems of mid-size length in the series. Now, that will get you what is called a chapbook, usually a small printing of poems that runs about 40 to 50 pages and has just a limited dissemination. So, I really tried to expand it by writing more poems and opening up more space.”

Why did Anderson change the name of his poems’ key figure? “‘Dickerson’ has a kind of harshness to it, so one point I was going to call the character ‘Dante’ as an allusion to The Inferno, but I decided not to do that. I chose ‘Devonte’ because it alluded to ‘Dante’ but it also was a distinctly African-American name and certainly sounded more poetic than ‘Dickerson.’ At the same time, I realized there was a young man by that name who was a victim of police violence.”

In the series, Anderson says his title character “traverses time. His sense of identity is constantly being cut by historical events, so much so that there becomes no discernable separation of past and present. I’m responding to the painting and shifts of identity within the African-American cultural and historical narrative. Devonte inhabits multiple dimensions, and in several poems, he encounters history on both a macro and micro level that doesn’t solely apply to dates and images. How do we deal with the ghost of history? Devonte resists and straddles all those attempts of containment by society.”

At its core, Devonte Travels the Sorry Route is the story of an artist for whom jazz is a profound force. “It is a spiritual connection that goes beyond consumptive entertainment and appreciation,” Anderson explained. “The idea of music – tonal sounds, tonal vibrations – and  what it does to the body, and how it can affect one’s ability to be in multiple places at multiple times, that’s of interest to me.”

The book’s second pivotal character, “more of an idea than an actual person,” is “Isabella.” “I see her as a representation of colonialism and its exploitation of the land that some people see as feminine. But Isabella is being used. She becomes a participant in White supremacist domination. It’s a gendered idea that’s problematic and I hope readers see that.”

Still, Anderson is comfortable with readers approaching his work differently from his own interpretation of it and even missing the allusions he makes. He recalls his own study years ago of the influential American poet Charles Olson and his seminal work Maximus Poems, a long serial poem that encompasses more than one thousand pages. “I read that entire book, I also read the criticism, I also read the biographies on him, and I didn’t understand everything. But later on, the more you allow things to ruminate and to simmer, I began to gain more of an understanding of his work. I think that’s the way I’ve always approached literature and particularly difficult literature. I don’t necessarily feel the need to ‘get’ something at first reading, that it’s important to go back and sit with something, and maybe 20 years from now you might say, ‘Oh, that’s what that line meant. Okay, I get it now.’ And that’s fine. The process for me, the process of literature, is an organic process.”

Watch Anderson’s presentation, Devonte Travels the Sorry Route: The Making of a Manuscript, part of the Faculty Authors and Achievers series sponsored by the Wyndham Robertson Library.

 

 

 

 

 

 


Tinker Mountain Writers Workshop Hosts Winter Recharge Weekend, Jan. 29-31

Offering both manuscript and “write now” workshops, the Tinker Mountain Writers Workshop (TMWW) at Hollins University is presenting its first-ever Winter Recharge Weekend, Jan. 29-31.

“This is an opportunity to recharge your creativity, reconnect with the Tinker Mountain community of writers, and reframe your work,” said TMWW Director Fred Leebron.

Manuscript workshops, limited to eight participants, enable writers to get feedback on their work and learn what other writers are doing. Write now workshops, limited to ten participants, allow writers to immerse themselves in the craft of writing and generate new work without the pressure of preparing or reading manuscripts.

The Winter Recharge Weekend will be entirely virtual, kicking off with a social session on Friday evening, January 29. Workshops will be held on Saturday and Sunday, January 30 and 31, from 10 a.m. to noon and again from 2 to 4 p.m.

“The weekend is just the right amount of time to affirm your writing and reset for the balance of winter and spring,” Leebron explained.

Workshops include:

  • “All Styles/All Forms Fiction Manuscript Workshop” with Leebron, an award-winning novelist and short story writer. He has founded and directed writing programs in Europe, Latin America, and the United States, and has taught at both the undergraduate and graduate level for nearly 30 years. He also co-authored a textbook on fiction writing.
  • “The Middle Place Manuscript Workshop for Fiction Writers, Memoirists, and Essayists” with Barbara Jones, an executive editor at Henry Holt & Company, where she edits fiction, memoir, and an idiosyncratic short list of nonfiction. Her writings have been published in Salon, The New York Times, and The Washington Post.
  • “Write Now Workshop: Poetry and Nonfiction” with poetry and nonfiction author James McKean, who has published two books of essays and three books of poems. A winner of the Iowa Poetry Award and the X.J. Kennedy poetry prize from Texas Review Press, McKean’s work has also appeared in The Atlantic, Iowa Review, Gettysburg Review, and the Southern Review.
  • “Write Now Workshop for Fiction Writers” with Daniel Mueller, author of two collections of short fiction, a winner of the Sewanee Fiction Prize, and a faculty member at the University of New Mexico and in the low-residency M.F.A. program at Queens University of Charlotte. He is currently working on a memoir.

Visit the TMWW Winter Recharge webpage for more information on the workshops and faculty


“Memorial Drive: A Daughter’s Memoir” by Natasha Trethewey M.A. ’91 Shortlisted for Carnegie Medals for Excellence

The American Library Association (ALA) has announced that Memorial Drive: A Daughter’s Memoir by Pulitzer Prize winner and two-time U.S. Poet Laureate Natasha Trethewey M.A. ’91 is one of six finalists for the 2021 Andrew Carnegie Medals for Excellence in Fiction and Nonfiction.

The awards recognize the previous year’s best fiction and nonfiction books written for adult readers and published in the United States, and are intended to serve as a guide to help adults select quality reading material. The two medal winners will be recognized at the Reference and User Services Association’s Book and Media Awards event, which will be held online on February 4, 2021. Winners will each receive $5,000. All finalists will be honored during a celebratory event in the summer of 2021 during the ALA Annual Conference.

The ALA calls Memorial Drive “a work of exquisitely distilled anguish and elegiac drama. Trethewey confronts the horror of her mother’s murder through finely honed, evermore harrowing memories, dreams, visions, and musings. She writes, ‘To survive trauma, one must be able to tell a story about it.’ And tell her tragic story she does in this lyrical, courageous, and resounding remembrance.”

Established in 2012, the Carnegie Medals for Excellence are the first single-book awards for adult books presented by the ALA and reflect the judgment and insight of library professionals and booksellers who work closely with adult readers. Made possible in part by a grant from the Carnegie Corporation of New York, the Medals are co-sponsored by Booklist, the ALA’s book review magazine.