With so many possibilities to consider, choosing a college is a decision a lot of students understandably aren’t able to make until their junior or senior year of high school.
Lindsey Hull ’23 made up her mind when she was in the second grade.
“I had a teacher who arranged for a field trip to Hollins,” the Roanoke resident recalls. “We walked around, we saw the horses, and it was just so beautiful. I was seven or eight years old, and I thought, ‘That’s where I want to go to college.’”
After high school, Hull started a family, earned an associate degree from Roanoke’s Virginia Western Community College, and began work tutoring homeschoolers, but “I had always known I wanted eventually to finish my education at Hollins.” After deciding during the pandemic that she needed a career change, her childhood dream became a reality when she enrolled at Hollins to complete a degree in English with a concentration in creative writing.
“It’s been a wonderful experience to come alongside these professors to learn from them, work with them, and get feedback on my writing,” she says. “[Professor of English] T.J. Anderson, [Professor of English and Susan Gager Jackson Professor of Creative Writing] Pauline Kaldas, and [Professor of English] Julie Pfeiffer have been so supportive. My advisor, [Professor of English] Marilyn Moriarty, helped me tremendously when it came to mapping my academic path and finishing my degree. [Assistant Professor of Creative Writing] Matthew Burnside and students from Hollins’ creative writing M.F.A. program who instructed me were really encouraging when it came to leaning into creative writing.”
One of Hull’s achievements as an undergraduate in English has been the completion of her senior thesis, “A Bird in the Bell Tower: Stories from the Edge of Appalachia,” which culminates a year of research she conducted on the tradition of storytelling in and around south-central Appalachia. She got the idea while serving as a volunteer scoutmaster. “When I took my scouts to camp in 2021, one of the things I noticed was missing there was the presence of storytelling performance. It led me to wonder what was happening in that world, and if storytelling was dying off. So many of the tellers had to move to Zoom or YouTube formats during the pandemic, and I wasn’t sure if it was coming back the way everybody hoped it would.”
To her surprise and delight, Hull found that storytelling was not becoming a lost art. In fact, she discovered that what she calls a “third storytelling revival” is taking place. “Traditional tellers are reimagining traditional tales, and in doing so are breaking through those Appalachian stereotypes and allowing audiences to see more of the region, I think, in a positive way.”
Hull is also heartened by the growing diversity of storytellers through regional initiatives such as Roanoke’s Hoot and Holler, a live storytelling event, and The Moth, a nonprofit organization based in New York City that’s dedicated to the art and craft of storytelling. “We have younger tellers coming up, we have females starting to become increasingly involved on the national stage, and people of color are getting invited into storytelling spaces. Storytelling event planners are purposefully pairing longtime and newer tellers together so that somebody might also get to hear a story told by a person whose voice has traditionally not been heard in storytelling venues. What I’ve found is that storytelling connects people across communities and helps build understanding in communities.”
Hull’s research resonated on a personal level for her when she invited her 14-year-old daughter to accompany her to the National Storytelling Festival in Tennessee. What began as just “a day out of school, a trip to go see something new” for her daughter ended with a newfound enthusiasm. “By the time we got through the first couple of performances she knew who she wanted to see and what stories she wanted to hear. It was exciting to have her as my guide,” Hull says. “She came back and started getting her friends to tell stories at campouts, and then she arranged for us to take her and her friends to the Sounds of the Mountains Story Festival (an annual event held at Camp Bethel in Fincastle, Virginia) this spring.” Hull’s daughter even inspired the thesis title when she spied a bird in a bell tower while attending the National Storytelling Festival.
A few years ago, when Hull was still teaching, she shared with a friend who worked in the media that journalism would be her second choice for a career. “She told me, ‘You don’t want to do that. Newspapers are closing up shop, people are getting laid off. It’s not a good place to be.’ So, I put that aside and figured it was not a viable option at that point.”
But during the ensuing years, two developments occurred which caused Hull to reconsider. One was the establishment of two new digital news sources in the Roanoke area, The Roanoke Rambler and Cardinal News. The second came when Hull enrolled in classes through Hollins’ Batten Leadership Institute, a reflection of her attraction “to positions of responsibility, either in teamwork, my own employment, or volunteer roles.”
For her Batten capstone project, Hull chose to compose articles pertaining to leadership that could be considered worthy for publication in either a journal or newspaper. Over two semesters she wrote two op-eds, both of which were subsequently published by The Roanoke Times: “Local Youth Programs Offer Leadership Development in the Outdoors” and “New LOVE Sign Highlights Clifton Forge’s Best Assets.” “Those helped get me started on this path of journalism,” she says.
Another Batten assignment led to the next stage in Hull’s evolution as a journalist. As part of her work with the Institute, she was required to make a “big ask” of someone, and “I chose to seek out an internship,” she explains. Through a mutual friend, Hull contacted Dwayne Yancey, executive editor of Cardinal News, and she was offered a reporting internship that began in February and continues through this spring.
For Hull, the experience has “really helped shape my future career goals.” In just three months, she has reported on the 47-bell carillon at Hollins and efforts at Bridgewater College to repatriate Native American remains and artifacts. Beyond higher education, she has profiled artist Steven Weitzman, who is creating a sculpture of civil rights activist Barbara Rose Johns for the U.S. Capitol, spotlighted a Roanoke ballet performance intended for both hearing and deaf audiences, and written a three-part series about the pause in the sister city relationship between Roanoke and Pskov, Russia.
“The thing I like most about this internship is that it has let me get into spaces that I wouldn’t ordinarily, such as the carillon and the bell tower at Hollins and the archives and vault room at Bridgewater,” she says. “Getting to talk to people about old or unusual or cool things, their origins and their futures, has been exciting.”
Hull is looking forward to engaging in freelance reporting after graduation and hopes to do more with arts and culture or the intersection between travel, culture, and entertainment. She’s also hopeful that her thesis will gain a wider audience, which she credits two of her professors for helping make possible. “I had a nice partnership with Dr. Anderson and Dr. Kaldas when it came to writing my thesis and how to get it published. I’ve been able to ask questions and they’ve been there to answer them, and I feel like I’m moving ahead with what I need to know in this publication process.”