Samantha Macher M.F.A. ’12 won the Gold Award for Best Writer for To the New Girl, based on the critically acclaimed play of the same name that she wrote in 2010.
The film, which was made by an all-woman cast and creative team, also won a Gold Award for Best Feature – First Time Filmmaker for directors Aurora J. Culver, Ambika Leigh, and Adriana Gonzalez-Vega, a Silver Award for Best Actress (Skyler Vallo), and an Honorable Mention for Best Editing (Hillary Wills).
“It’s such an honor to be recognized by the Queen Palm Film Festival,” Macher told Digital Journal. “We’re so appreciative that they recognized so many creative and technical elements of the project and are looking forward to celebrating (virtually) with our cast and crew.”
An anthology film released by New Girl Pictures and available through Amazon Prime Video, To the New Girl follows ten women scorned as they directly address their exes’ new wives and lovers at an open mic night in Los Angeles. Created by a group of emerging filmmakers at a time when audiences are demanding films made both by and for women, the 80-minute movie taps into a social and political climate that’s left women poised to take back their voices and be heard.
“What I love about the project is that Samantha’s writing really connects with audiences on a universal level and our actresses bring the words to life with these phenomenal performances,” producer Laura Hunter Drago said last summer. “I’m so excited that we’re able to share that with audiences and spark some interesting conversations about how we all process heartbreak and relationships.”
Macher’s play was first produced at SkyPilot Theatre in Los Angeles and at Studio Roanoke with the Playwright’s Lab, and went on to earn enthusiastic reviews, including “A bracing blitz of pure estrogen” (Los Angeles Times), “Smart and sophisticated, witty and charming” (NoHo Arts District), and “A provocative study of the deep pain of ‘cheating’ by your ‘one and only'” (Tolucan Times).
Funded through a Kickstarter campaign by supporters of women in entertainment, To the New Girl was filmed in just three days on location in Los Angeles with a budget under $20,000.
When Rebekah Manley M.F.A. ’11 set out to create not only her first book but one designed to defy the standards of a whole genre, her chosen muse was none other than one of Hollins’ best-known graduates and one of America’s most distinguished children’s writers.
“I like to think I channeled the spunky spirit of Margaret Wise Brown (a member of Hollins’ class of 1932 and the author of Goodnight Moon, The Runaway Bunny, and other timeless children’s classics) as I broke through the expectations of what a picture book ‘should be’ and wrote the one I wanted to read,” the Austin, Texas-based author explains. “One for adults that might break the mold a bit.”
“Ultimately, it’s a story about friendship and empowerment,” says Manley, who runs the Texas Center for the Book and works to encourage literacy, reading, and library use in the Lone Star State.
Alexandra’s story blends fiction with Manley’s own real-life misadventures. “Honestly, there were some dates I’ve experienced that seemed too ‘unbelievable’ for the book,” she explains. During one of Alexandra’s disastrous dinner dates, “Her date insisted she get prime rib – and that women should just accept the wage gap. ‘Your brains are just different,’ he mansplained. Alex grabbed her steak to go and let him enjoy the financial success of buying her meal.”
Manley praises Catalina Oliveira, the book’s illustrator, for “bringing this book to life with warmth. I’m grateful she was onboard to add a special character I created, Lottie the French bulldog. Lottie has her own unique role, even though she is never mentioned in the text.”
Authors and illustrators typically don’t communicate directly while a picture book is in progress, so Manley and Oliveira’s editor served as the go-between. “It’s always important to give the illustrator space to create and I didn’t want anything I said to stifle her creativity. We were, however, on a tight deadline and my editor wanted me to give a lot more feedback and direction that might normally occur in creating picture books for children.” As a bonus for readers, Manley reveals there are a number of “Easter eggs,” or almost hidden illustrations, placed throughout Alexandra and the Awful, Awkward, No Fun, Truly Bad Dates: A Picture Book Parody for Adults. “It might take a few reads for people to discover them – they mostly center around friendships in the book.”
Manley also cites her time at Hollins, where she earned her Master of Fine Arts degree in children’s literature “and believed I would become an author. My professors were so knowledgeable and supportive. Hollins gave me that immersive creative experience I needed to dream, hone my craft, and get a solid portfolio of work together. The ‘magic’ felt almost palpable, and I’ll always be grateful for the green and gold foundation.”
Alexandra and the Awful, Awkward, No Fun, Truly Bad Dates: A Picture Book Parody for Adults has earned rave reviews.
“In this funny, clever, rueful, and ultimately uplifting picture book parody, debut author Rebekah Manley taps into universal anxieties about loneliness and singledom while addressing the special agony of dating apps for today’s single woman,” says Amy Gentry, bestselling author of Good as Gone and Last Woman Standing, while Bethany Hegedus, author of Rise! From Caged Bird to Poet of the People, Maya Angelou, notes, “What we all need right now is a connection and a good laugh. With humor and heart, Rebekah Manley’s Alexandra and the Awful, Awkward, No Fun, Truly Bad Dates: A Picture Book Parody for Adults has both.”
Manley believes her book can be enjoyed and appreciated as a shared experience. “I hope people will buy and read this with their single friends and family members and be reminded: yes, the dating struggle is real, but there is a whole lot of humor and goodness along the way.
“I also think this is a book our Hollins sisters will enjoy – those central themes of friendship and empowerment are two pieces that rang loud and clear from my education there.”
She adds, laughing, “And maybe people will read this and get some info on what NOT to do on a date!”
As an undergraduate student at New York City’s Fashion Institute of Technology, Amanda Kelly decided to embark on an ambitious artistic project: purchasing and building a Willow Dollhouse Kit. Because of its size, assembling the kit in her dorm room would in and of itself become an ambitious undertaking. But, she also struggled to acquire the modern miniature objects that were essential to filling each of the dollhouse rooms.
“Through my study of illustration and oil painting, I had developed the patience and creative eye for miniature making,” Kelly, who currently is pursuing a Master of Arts in Teaching degree with a visual arts endorsement at Hollins University, recalls. “So, when I wanted something specific, I attempted to create it myself.”
Kelly found collecting and making miniatures to be an exhilarating process. Soon, her work began attracting admirers who sought out her creations, and this in turn led her to launch her own business, Panda Miniatures, as well as a dedicated Instagram page that currently boasts more than 34,000 followers. The presence of Kelly’s miniatures on social media also captured the attention of the producers of a new HGTV holiday series for 2020: Biggest Little Christmas Showdown, a four-episode competition in which “the nation’s best miniaturists…face off to create the merriest mini holiday houses, complete with all the festive, tiny trimmings.” Kelly and her fiancée and partner in Panda Miniatures, Bree Sepulveda, were subsequently invited to vie for the grand prize of $50,000, which Kelly notes “would be amazing for our wedding.” The pair successfully competed against two other teams in the series’ debut episode (which originally aired November 27 and is available for viewing in its entirety online) and will be among the three finalists when Biggest Little Christmas Showdown concludes on December 18.
A native of Brooklyn, New York, who recently relocated to Roanoke (she teaches art at a local middle school), Kelly believes miniatures “are such a mystifying art form because of their ability to teleport the viewer into another world.” She considers creating realistic and contemporary miniatures and scenes her “go-to style. I love when miniature scenes or dollhouses have a cluttered and lived-in look to them as if someone just left. An empty glass, receipts on a counter, trash overflowing, half-eaten chocolate bars – those are the details that bring a miniature scene to life.”
Kelly admits that “making tiny objects by hand is tedious at times, but it has taught me to be a perfectionist and to be proficient in scale accuracy. These became essential skills when I began 3D modeling and utilizing my 3D printers for unique miniature creations.” Her professional opportunities have included making miniature props and sets for clients such as Coca-Cola and Swarovski as well as various TV shows.
Another benefit Kelly cites from her work is the camaraderie she has experienced with others who echo her passion. “The community of miniature artisans has always been so welcoming to me as a young artist, and I appreciate how everyone is eager to share designs with each other.” With so many miniature conventions canceled this year due to COVID-19, she enjoyed seeing other miniaturist friends on the Biggest Little Christmas Showdown set. “It’s a pretty close-knit community…you could say it’s a ‘small world,’” she adds, laughing.
In their preliminary competition, Kelly and Sepulveda and the two other teams were challenged by Tony Award-winning actor and series host James Monroe Iglehart to “take tropical Hawaiian vibes and make a structure inspired by the island greeting ‘Mele Kalikimaka,’ Hawaii’s way to say ‘Merry Christmas.’” The contestants were given a month in advance to begin building their projects and finish up to half of their miniatures; Biggest Little Christmas Showdown’s November 27 episode covers the 12 hours the teams had to complete their designs. At the end of the time period, a panel of judges evaluated each creation based on three criteria: interpretation of the theme, creativity, and execution.
“‘Mele Kalikimaka’ is the perfect theme for Christmas because it forces you to think out of the box,” Kelly says during the show. She and Sepulveda created a floating tiki bar, a pontoon they dubbed “Santa’s Tiki Boat,” augmented by a sandy beach, a palm tree, and even two “sand people” in the classic snowmen shape.
Kelly and Sepulveda skillfully overcame some unexpected challenges and setbacks during the 12-hour construction marathon and emerged triumphant with the judges, who praised their structure as a “completely unexpected approach” and “Jimmy Buffett having Christmas on the beach.”
“What set us apart from the other teams is our attention to detail,” Kelly says, “things that just take it to next level of realism.”
As she and Sepulveda prepare for the competition final, Kelly continues to find encouragement in a particularly cherished childhood memory.
“When I was a little girl, one of my favorite things to do was play with my Grandma Kelly’s dollhouse. It was built from scratch in the 1980s and filled with vintage miniature furniture. During special occasions, Grandma Kelly would hide a miniature chocolate bar inside one of the rooms of the dollhouse and encourage me to search for it. I would carefully open tiny drawers and peek behind little cabinets until I found the hidden treasure. When I found the miniature chocolate bar, Grandma Kelly rewarded me with a handful of M&Ms. We continued this tradition until I inherited Grandma Kelly’s dollhouse after she passed away in 2016.
“As 2020 comes to a close, I think of the miniaturists who came before me, like my Grandma Kelly, who inspired me to keep creating and bringing the joy of miniatures to the world.”
Top photo: Miniatures of Amanda Kelly (left) and Bree Sepulveda from the Biggest Little Christmas Showdown wrap party.
From his service as a U.S. Army officer and a career teaching high school English to embracing a stint as a stay-at-home father, Kelly Stephenson M.F.A. ’20 had always cherished a desire to someday write a novel.
So, while his daughter Clare was preparing to graduate from high school, Kelly and his wife began seriously considering “the next phase of my life. We were talking about what’s next, and she said, ‘why don’t you apply to grad schools and see where you get in?’ Hollins University was at the top of my list because I knew it had a really strong writing program. I applied, I got accepted, and we decided that it must be fate.”
“I was terrified,” he recalls. “I was older and I hadn’t been to school in 30 years except to earn my teaching license. It was nerve-wracking, too, because my family wouldn’t join me here,” but remain at their home in Princeton, New Jersey, until Clare finished high school. “I was going to be a geographical bachelor.”
Nevertheless, Kelly came to Hollins motivated to finally begin writing that novel. “I decided at my first tutorial that I had a good idea and I was going to push forward with it. For the first half of my first year, I wrote fervently and completed seven chapters. In the second half, I started revising.”
Kelly states that the amount of writing he completed in his first year at Hollins “was great. The instruction I got from my professors in terms of taking my writing to the next level was wonderful.” And while he missed his family, “having my space to write was fantastic. It really did make a big difference with my writing and what I was able to accomplish.”
One of the attributes of the creative writing program that Kelly praises is its emphasis on the rewriting process. “During my revisions, I was encouraged to deepen my characters’ inner life, and I started assimilating that naturally into my writing. I also learned my strengths and my blind spots as a writer. I was definitely enriched by the instruction I received. I thought I would improve around the edges, but I got the opportunity to not only write a lot, but also to write better.”
Kelly believes the M.F.A. in creative writing at Hollins offers a unique and beneficial approach in other ways. “They have a sense of what the student needs, and one of those things is the fire to write. If you’re just getting slammed, it’s discouraging. They want you to keep doing what you’re doing well. The philosophy during rewrites is not that what you’ve done is a disaster, but how can you build upon what you’ve already done. I had some things worth polishing.”
He adds that he was inspired to pursue writing in different genres. “I wanted to be a novelist, but I was encouraged to write poetry and creative nonfiction, and I have eight good short stories that I’m proud of. Some programs have a tendency to put you into a certain genre.”
Kelly sees further upsides when comparing Hollins to other creative writing schools. “There’s much more competition in those programs between the writers themselves and in getting attention from faculty. At Hollins, it’s not like that. I was never made to think, ‘Oh, I’ve got to write better than this person.’”
The sense of destiny that Kelly and his wife feel led him to Hollins may have also played a role in determining Clare’s college destination. “I had a class in high school that focused on helping you find what you want out of college and where the best fit might be,” she explains. “I was very interested in single-sex colleges, and Hollins kept coming up for me.”
At the same time he was on the Hollins campus with Clare for a visit, Kelly learned that he had been accepted into the M.F.A. program in creative writing. On top of that welcome news, Clare was forming a very good impression of the university. “I liked the feel of community during my tour. The vibe was very comforting to me. It felt good in terms of how women grow into the type of person I wanted to be. As a liberal arts school it really was set up to help me to explore what I really wanted to do in life.”
Clare, who is also an aspiring author (she hopes to double major in creative writing and the performing arts), was accepted at Hollins during Kelly’s first fall at Hollins. She became a residential first-year student during her dad’s second year in the creative writing program, when he also taught an undergraduate class, Fundamentals of Writing Poetry and Fiction.
In order to give Clare space to grow and engage in her education on her own, Kelly says he purposefully kept their interaction on campus to a minimum. “We didn’t see each other that much except on weekends, and that was more as a father and daughter rather than fellow students.” There was the occasional overlap: Kelly shared a faculty office with Visiting Lecturer in English Sydney Tammarine, who taught Clare in a creative writing class (“I made it a point not to talk about Clare with Sydney at all.”), and this spring, they actually shared the same instructor (“Clare had Karen Bender [Hollins’ Distinguished Visiting Professor of Creative Writing] for a class and I had her for a tutorial.”). Still, Kelly says Clare’s first-year experience “was so great. She’s really found a great group of friends who are very nurturing and helped her acclimate into a study routine.”
Clare adds, “It helped that I was close enough to my parents’ apartment in Roanoke where I could come over whenever I wanted.”
When Hollins transitioned to remote instruction in March due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Kelly and Clare found that their individual academic experiences became a bit more intertwined when they both had to complete their studies for the semester from that apartment.
“I think for Clare it was a weird experience sitting at a kitchen table and me coming in to get a snack,” Kelly says. “Plus, my wife was working in the next room, so we had several people at any given time in the pockets of our apartment.”
Moving forward, Kelly is seeking to finish his novel as well as a memoir about his time as a stay-at-home dad. “I’m taking another year to get a big chunk of writing done with a goal of getting publication. As one of the oldest graduates of the M.F.A. program, I realize I have a narrower window to see my dreams come true.”
Clare is excited to return to campus this fall, and hopes to expand her Hollins experience beyond the classroom. “I’m looking into internship opportunities and considering study abroad.”
“I’m so happy she is here in this kind of environment,” Kelly says. “Not everyone gets to see their son’s or daughter’s educational experience up close, and I think Clare made a great choice in Hollins.”
The announcement follows Virginia Governor Ralph Northam’s stay-at-home order issued on Monday to protect the health of Virginians and mitigate the spread of the novel coronavirus. The order, which is in effect until June 10, requires all institutions of higher learning to cease in-person instruction and cancel gatherings of more than ten people.
“As June 10 falls after the beginning of our summer session,” explained Interim President Nancy Oliver Gray, “we have made the difficult decision to move all summer graduate programs online.”
Gray assured new incoming students that the directors of each of the summer graduate programs “have been planning for this eventuality and will deliver a top-notch and enriching experience online. They look forward to welcoming you as you embark on your degrees.”
For returning students, Gray emphasized that Hollins is “committed to maintaining, in an online environment, the high-quality instruction you are already accustomed to receiving. Your faculty and program directors are developing creative ways to deliver, as closely as possible, what they would ordinarily provide in person. We have Zoom-enabled classes that will support the experiential learning and interactive engagement that make our programs so relevant to professional work. Your instructors are eager to reconnect with you virtually this summer.”
Gray noted that the directors of the summer graduate programs would share further information with new and returning students in the near future.
Through a new partnership with Hollins University, teachers from Roanoke’s North Cross School are taking a significant step forward in growing their skills for the benefit of their students, their school, and their careers.
Beginning this fall, North Cross is providing for eight of their faculty members to earn a graduate degree at Hollins as part of their professional development. The teachers will all be working toward completing a Master of Arts in Teaching and Learning (MATL) at the university.
“This collaboration is not only a unique benefit to our faculty, but will strengthen our academic experience for students,” said North Cross Head of School Christian Proctor. “We have faculty from all areas of studies represented in this first group, so, ultimately, we will become more consistent in our academic approach across divisions and disciplines.”
The MATL at Hollins is designed for PreK-12 teachers who want to learn more about the practice of teaching; acquire and develop new knowledge; develop curricula in collaborative teams; and assume leadership roles within a school and/or school system.
“The teachers will be taking two classes each semester,” explained Lorraine Lange, director of the MATL as well as Hollins’ Master of Arts in Teaching and Master of Arts in Liberal Studies programs. “We anticipate their graduation in about two years.”
Students in the coed MATL program must complete six core courses online. Three program electives are also required, and as part of its partnership with North Cross, Hollins is customizing those electives and offering them to the eight teachers through face-to-face instruction. In lieu of a graduate thesis, the North Cross teachers will design an instructional classroom project intended to benefit their students.
“Students in the program have the opportunity to work with accomplished faculty in the areas essential in today’s continually changing landscape of PreK-12 education: writing, inquiry, instructional design, assessment, leadership, technology, and contemporary issues in education,” Lange stated. “Faculty members encourage collaborative efforts and provide opportunities for students, experienced teachers themselves, to learn from one another.”
To learn more about the MATL or the other coed graduate programs at Hollins, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 540-362-6575.
Award-winning author and illustrator Mary Jane Begin, who will become chair of the program on July 1, deconstructs the creative process and shares the development of two book projects, Revolution and Ping Meets Pang, in the exhibition Mapping the Imagination, which will be on display June 28 – September 9. Begin has selected artwork that reflects both the inspiration for the story concept and for the technical style that fit each book, as well as formation sketches that explore the organic, iterative nature of creativity.
Revolution is based on the story of Begin’s grandmother, who immigrated to America and worked as a child laborer in the textile mills of New England. Ping Meets Pang is about two pandas that are convinced that the other is not a panda because they don’t look or act alike. Each of these stories were inspired by the ideas of immigrants and “otherness,” topics that have been deeply resonant for the artist as she continues to contemplate the current cultural and political landscape. Begin explores these themes through an investigation of story, style, materials, and imagination.
Begin is best known for her acclaimed picture books Little Mouse’s Painting, Before I Go to Sleep, A Mouse Told His Mother, retellings of The Sorcerer’s Apprentice and Willow Buds, and tales inspired by Wind in the Willows. Her latest picture book is My Little Pony: Under the Sparkling Sea, published by Little Brown Books. She has served as a professor at the Rhode Island School of Design for the past 21 years.
The Wilson Museum will host Begin for an artist lecture on Friday, June 28, at 7:30 p.m. in Room 119 of the Richard Wetherill Visual Arts Center. A reception and book signing will follow.
The Eleanor D. Wilson Museum at Hollins University is open Tuesday – Sunday, noon – 5 p.m., and Thursday, noon – 8 p.m. Admission is always free.
Image: Mary Jane Begin, Illustration from Ping Meets Pang, 2019. Courtesy of the artist.
Hollins University has named Julie DeLoia, Ph.D., as dean of graduate studies at the university. She will oversee the university’s established graduate programs and be responsible for developing new programs.
DeLoia comes to Hollins from Jefferson College of Health Sciences in Roanoke, where she had served as dean of the college and professor of arts and sciences since 2017. She also held a secondary appointment at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University School of Medicine, where she was a professor in the department of interprofessionalism. Previously, she held various academic appointments and leadership positions at the George Washington School of Public Health, Georgetown University School of Nursing and Health Studies, and the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine.
DeLoia holds a B.S. in biology from Westminster College and a Ph.D. in human genetics from Johns Hopkins University. She completed a post-doctoral fellowship at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wistar Institute.
“We are excited to welcome DeLoia as a member of the Hollins leadership team,” said Hollins President Pareena Lawrence. “The university and our graduate programs will benefit greatly from her broad experience and expertise. She is a proven leader with a track record of innovation, including developing and launching successful distance education programs, creating flexible, hybrid course programming for working students, and tracking marketplace trends through alumni and employer engagement to inform curricular revisions.”
“I am honored to be joining Hollins University, which is one of our nation’s outstanding institutions and one that is committed to superb liberal arts education,” said DeLoia. “I have been impressed and inspired by President Lawrence’s energy and dedication to growing Hollins in alignment with its mission and values and look forward to being part of the Hollins community.”
Hollins offers coed Master of Arts (M.A.) degrees in children’s literature, liberal studies, screenwriting and film studies, teaching, and teaching and learning, and Master of Fine Arts (M.F.A.) degrees in children’s book writing and illustrating, children’s literature, creative writing, dance, playwriting, and screenwriting. For more information about the university’s graduate and certificate programs, visit https://www.hollins.edu/grad.
The NPATP Award comes with a cash prize; membership in the Dramatists Guild and the Playwrights’ Center of Minneapolis; an invitation to attend the National Festival at the Kennedy Center, April 16 – 19; and a professional development summer residency. McCord’s play was nominated from among eight Kennedy Center college regions for the national award.
Moving tells the story of several couples over 30 years as they move in and out of a single apartment in the Silverlake neighborhood of Los Angeles. The story was inspired by some of McCord’s own adventures as a struggling Hollywood screenwriter after graduating from the UCLA Film School. The play was first developed as a staged reading for the Playwright’s Lab, where McCord is pursuing his Master of Fine Arts (M.F.A.) degree.
“We’re very proud of the recognition this play is receiving, and how that success reflects on the graduate playwriting program at Hollins,” notes Playwright’s Lab Program Director Todd Ristau, who will be directing a full production of Moving as part of the Hollins – Mill Mountain Theatre Winter Festival of New Works in January 2020. “You learn the most about a play when you are in production and I’m really looking forward to helping Sean continue to develop the piece in rehearsal.”
McCord, a resident of Charlottesville, plans to start his M.F.A. thesis play at Hollins this summer. “It’s been an amazing journey,” he says. “Moving was the first full-length play I wrote after my initial year at Hollins, utilizing all the tools I was given in my early classes, and it has continued to follow me in my development as a playwright.”
Moving premiered in Charlottesville in 2017 as the inaugural production of the Charlottesville Playwrights Collective, a theatre company started by McCord and other local playwrights dedicated to the production of new works by area writers. In addition to the NPATP Award, Moving has won the Southeastern Theatre Conference 2018 Charles M. Getchell New Play Award and the 2019 David L. Shelton Award at the Kennedy Center American College Theatre Festival Region IV.
“We bring a piece of LA to the Roanoke area,” Albaugh said, noting, “I get a lot more satisfaction now helping a student launch their career than I do with any of the professional work that I do.”
Deely added, “You’re not only connected to your classmates in the current program, but also creating opportunities for alumni to come back, so it’s really exciting to see folks who did the same the same program of study I did who are now working in the industry.”