Hollins Graduate Natasha Trethewey Named U.S. Poet Laureate

tretheweyHollins University alumna and Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Natasha Trethewey was named Poet Laureate for 2012-13 by the Library of Congress on Thursday.

Trethewey, the daughter of Hollins English professor Eric Trethewey, is the Charles Howard Candler Professor of English and Creative Writing at Emory University in Atlanta and served as the 2012 Louis D. Rubin Writer-in-Residence at Hollins. The Hollins Theatre staged an  adaptation of her book of poems, “Bellocq’s Ophelia,”earlier this year.

Trethewey is a native of Gulfport, MS and earned her Master of Arts degree in English and creative writing from Hollins in 1991. She won the Pulitzer Prize for poetry in 2007 for her collection, “Native Guard,” which pays tribute to African American soldiers who were stationed near the city during the Civil War. She has garnered numerous other prestigious writing awards and was named Mississippi’s Poet Laureate in January, a four-year appointment she will continue to hold.

Trethewey, the 19th U.S. Poet Laureate, will take up her duties in the fall, opening the Library’s annual literary season with a reading of her work on Thursday, September 13.

In announcing the appointment, Librarian of Congress James H. Billington, said, “Natasha Trethewey is an outstanding poet/historian in the mold of Robert Penn Warren, our first Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry. Her poems dig beneath the surface of history—personal or communal, from childhood or from a century ago—to explore the human struggles that we all face.”

Trethewey succeeds Philip Levine as Poet Laureate and joins a long line of distinguished poets who have served in the position including W. S. Merwin, Kay Ryan, Charles Simic, Donald Hall, Ted Kooser, Louise Glück, Billy Collins, Stanley Kunitz, Robert Pinsky, Robert Hass, and Rita Dove.

She is the author of three poetry collections, including “Native Guard,” (2006), winner of the 2007 Pulitzer Prize in Poetry; “Bellocq’s Ophelia” (2002); and “Domestic Work” (2000). Her newest collection of poems, “Thrall,” is forthcoming from Houghton Mifflin Harcourt in 2012. Trethewey is the author of a nonfiction book, “Beyond Katrina: A Meditation on the Mississippi Gulf Coast” (2010).

The Poet Laureate is selected for a one-year term by the Librarian of Congress. The choice is based on poetic merit alone and has included a wide variety of poetic styles.

Photo by Jon Rou

“Goodnight Moon” Among Library of Congress’ “Books that Shaped America”

goodnightmoonA classic children’s book by a Hollins-educated author has been named one of the 88 “Books that Shaped America” by the Library of Congress.

Goodnight Moon by 1932 Hollins graduate Margaret Wise Brown is among the books ”reflecting America’s unique and extraordinary literary heritage,” according to the Library. An exhibition showcasing the list is kicking off the Library’s multiyear “Celebration of the Book.”

Published in 1947, Goodnight Moon has become the quintessential bedtime story, selling more than 11 million copies worldwide (the book has been translated into French, Spanish, Hebrew, Swedish, and Hmong). The New York Public Library named Goodnight Moon one of its “Books of the Century” in 1996.

Hollins celebrated Brown’s life and work with a yearlong festival that began in June 2011. It included the Hollins Theatre’s production of the musical stage adaptation of Goodnight Moon and a performance of the classical lullaby based on the book by the Hollins University Concert Choir and the Valley Chamber Orchestra. Hollins’ Eleanor D. Wilson Museum is featuring original illustrations from Goodnight Moon in its exhibition, “Goodnight, Hush: Classic Children’s Book Illustrations,” which continues through September 15.

The Library of Congress’ ”Books That Shaped America” exhibition will be on view through September 29 in the Southwest Gallery, located on the second floor of the Thomas Jefferson Building, 10 First St. S.E., Washington, D.C., from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday through Saturday. This exhibition is made possible through the support of the National Book Festival Fund.

Playwright’s Lab Grad is Kendeda Award Finalist

gossettNeeley Gossett, a graduate of the Playwright’s Lab at Hollins University, has been named a finalist in the Kendeda National Graduate Playwriting Competition.

The competition solicits plays from the leading MFA/graduate programs in the country and this year received approximately 90 submissions. Following a rigorous selection process, Gossett was among the four finalists chosen. Her play, Roman Candle Summer, will receive readings at New York’s Lark Play Development Center  in October and Atlanta’s Alliance Theatre in February 2013. An article on her Kendeda experience will be featured in the November/December issue of The Dramatist.

Gossett received her MFA in playwriting from Hollins this spring. Her works have been produced or read at the Manhattan Repertory Theatre, the Coastal Empire New Play Festival, the Great Plains Theatre Conference, Mill Mountain Theater, Studio Roanoke, and Atlanta’s One Minute Play Festival. She currently is a teaching artist at the Alliance Theatre, an English instructor at Georgia Perimeter College, and a contributing editor for The Chattahoochee Review.

Hollins Honors Riding Program Benefactor Mary K. Shaughnessy ’72

shaughnessyHollins University has presented its Distinguished Alumnae Award to Mary K. Shaughnessy, a 1972 graduate and accomplished equestrian who has made important and lasting contributions to Hollins’ nationally recognized riding program.

The award was established in 2006 to honor individual alumnae who have brought distinction to themselves and to Hollins through broad and inspiring personal or career achievements; local, national or international volunteer service; or playing a significant role in society.

Shaughnessy graduated first in her class and a member of Phi Beta Kappa. She earned a law degree from Yale University Law School in 1975, clerked for two years for a U.S. District Court judge in Maryland, and then practiced law for five years in Baltimore. She stopped practicing law in 1982 and taught part time at the University of Maryland Law School.

Shaughnessy’s daughter, Mary Helen, was born in 1984 and went on to become one of the top amateur equestrians in the country. Her daughter’s success inspired Shaughnessy to begin riding again. In just a few short years, Mary K. Shaughnessy was a championship rider, winning many ribbons, trophies, and prizes, including the 2012 Reserve Championship of the Winter Equestrian Festival circuit in Adult Hunter over 51. In addition, she is a member of the board of directors of the Hampton Classic Foundation, supporting one of the largest outdoor horse shows in the United States, and is a volunteer with the FTI Great Charity Challenge.

Shaughnessy has also generously given monetary gifts and seven outstanding horses to the Hollins riding program. One of the favorites is Oyster Pond, the first horse she gave to Hollins in 2003. According to Nancy Peterson, director of the riding program, Oyster Pond was a legendary show horse. As age crept up on him, he was put into the novice classes and now is assigned to the beginners. He is “absolutely the best all-around horse we’ve had in years,” said Peterson.

In conjunction with the Distinguished Alumnae Award presentation, Hollins announced it is renaming the campus pond “Oyster Pond” to further honor Shaughnessy and this beloved horse.

“What Mary K. has done for this school through her equine gifts is amazing,” Peterson said.

Hollins Alumnae Share Experience, Advice with Hundreds of Students

career“To a great extent, our lives are being directed by far-reaching, twenty-something moments we may not realize are happening at all. Some of those far-reaching moments can happen for you here today.”

With those words, clinical psychologist and keynote speaker Meg Jay welcomed between 450 and 500 students to Hollins University’s first-ever Career Connection Conference (C3), held on Thursday, October 4. C3 brought 51 Hollins alumnae back to campus to spend the afternoon and evening telling students how they translated a liberal arts education into a satisfying career, and sharing their tips and tools for landing that first job.

“It’s a great way for students to interact with alumnae and get good advice,” said Savon Shelton Sampson ’04 during a break in one of the “Speed Connection” sessions that enabled students to network with alumnae in a fast-paced, fun, and informal setting. “I’m talking to them about real-life experiences, what they need to know before they enter the workforce.”

Jay, author of The Defining Decade: Why Your Twenties Matter – and How to Make the Most of Them Now, opened C3 by sharing “six simple things you can do now, even today, to make sure your career takes off and you get to where you want to go”:

  • Know the strength of weak ties. Jay cited research showing “the value of people we do not know well” over close friends and family in launching a career. “Weak ties give us access to something fresh, because they are not just figures in an already in-grown crowd. They know things and people we don’t know. New information and new opportunities almost always come from outside the inner circle.”
  • Start with one good piece of identity capital. Jay defined identity capital as “our collection of personal assets”  ranging from items on a resume (degrees, internships, jobs) to more personal attributes such as how we present ourselves, either personally or through email or social media.”It is what we bring to the marketplace, the currency we use to metaphorically purchase the jobs and other things we want.”
  • Train your brain. “Never again in our lifetime will we be so quick to learn new things. Never again will it be so easy to become the people we want to be,” Jay explained, adding that “the skills we practice, the jobs we have, and the company we keep are wiring our frontal lobes for adulthood.”
  • Whatever it is you want to change about yourself, now is the time to change it. “We now know that college in our twenties is our best chance for change. These are the years when people and personalities are poised for transformation,” Jay said. “We become more emotionally stable and less tossed around by life’s ups and downs. We become more conscientious and responsible. We become happier and more confident and less anxious and angry.”
  • Remember the 10,000-hour rule. “Knowing what you want to do isn’t the same as knowing how to do it, and knowing how to do something isn’t the same as actually doing it well,” Jay said, noting studies have found that working five years on a full-time, focused level or spending ten years on less-targeted work – about 10,000 hours – is the time it takes to become exceptionally good at a vocation.
  • Pick your family and not just your friends. Jay emphasized the need to “partner well” and “recognize that it takes as many hours to build a good family as it does to build a good career. It is never too early to be as ambitious about love as you are about work and school.”

Following the keynote address, students immersed themselves in sessions ranging from the previously mentioned Speed Connection to presentations on building effective resumes; using technology and networking to search for a job; interviewing dos and don’ts; achieving work-life balance; internships; graduate school; and workplace etiquette. Alumnae also led panel discussions on translating the liberal arts into a variety of careers, including the arts; media, marketing, and public relations; business; law; entrepreneurship; and service.

Julie Westhafer Basic ’96, who helped lead the panel session on working in the non-profit sector, said to students, “I was never told at Hollins, ‘You can’t do that,’ and that serves you well. The skills I learned from different disciplines also helped me. I’ve learned to do what makes you happy and what you are passionate about.”

After the afternoon sessions ended, students mingled with alumnae at a reception and attended information sessions on internships available at UBS Financial Services and Estée Lauder. C3 concluded with students participating in one-on-one meetings with alumnae.

“I never felt so energized, happy, hopeful,” said Sha-Keara Pinkney ’15 at the end of the conference. “Things after Hollins will go well for me.”

Horizon student Bertha Craggett praised the “real-life honesty” of the alumnae who took part in C3. “The information they presented was extremely helpful.”

In her discussion of the college years and their consequences, keynote speaker Jay may have summed up best what those who participated in C3 may have gained: “It is a pivotal time when the things you do and the things you don’t do will have enormous effect across years and even generations to come. Even a small shift can radically change where you end up…. If you can figure out how to navigate, even a little bit, you can get farther, faster, than in any other stage in life.”

Hollins Honors Catherine Moore Wannamaker ’96 with Distinguished Young Alumna Award

wannamakerHollins University has presented Catherine Moore Wannamaker ‘96 with its Distinguished Young Alumna Award, recognizing her extraordinary accomplishments since graduation in the fields of law and environmental advocacy.

Wannamaker majored in biology at Hollins and studied under Professors Renee Godard and F. Harriet Gray. She went on to earn her master’s degree in biology from North Carolina State University and in 2003 received her law degree from Stanford University. After clerking for the U.S. District Court for the District of South Carolina, she drew upon her background in biology and served three years as an attorney for the U.S. Department of Justice’s Environment and Natural Resources Division, where she was a member of the professional staff of the U.S. Senate Subcommittee on Oceans and Fisheries.

Since 2008, Wannamaker has been a senior attorney and lead litigator at the Southern Environmental Law Center in Atlanta. She has been a principal spokesperson on behalf of environmental groups seeking to sue the energy company BP under the Endangered Species Act for the unlawful harm or killing of endangered and threatened wildlife caused by the Deepwater Horizon incident in 2010. In addition, she has led litigation on a number of nationally prominent cases, including challenging the U.S. Navy’s creation of a training range in right whale breeding grounds, saving wetlands along Georgia’s fragile coastal region, and leading efforts to end unfettered industry control of offshore drilling.

Wannamaker’s award citation calls her “a force of and for nature” and describes her legal expertise and commitment to the environment as “a perfect combination.”

The citation concludes, “You have devoted your professional life to fiercely protecting and preserving the ‘rich web of life upon which so many depend.’”

Wannamaker was honored during Hollins’ annual 1842 Society Weekend, which this year was held November 9-11 in Atlanta.

Living What She Believes

duboseHilary DuBose ’05 will never forget the sight that greeted her when she walked outside the airport in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, in August 2011.

“There was this giant tent camp of people,” she recalls, who had been displaced following the 7.0 magnitude earthquake that devastated the Caribbean nation on January 12, 2010. “Thousands and thousands of tents were set up in an open public space. To see so many people still living in camps, a year and a half after the earthquake, was really shocking.”

DuBose came to Haiti to help direct post-earthquake relief projects for Catholic Relief Services (CRS), the latest chapter in a career distinguished by humanitarian and social justice initiatives, both domestically and abroad. After graduating with a degree in gender and women’s studies at Hollins, DuBose worked with refugee families and started a farmer’s market in Portland, Oregon, and provided nutrition and food literacy education to low-income youth in Philadelphia. Helping people from all over the world sparked an interest in serving overseas, and after completing her master’s degree in international development and food security in Italy, she joined the United Nations World Food Program in Rome, where she worked with HIV and tuberculosis programs.

Managing CRS’s camp closure project in Haiti was DuBose’s first job “in the field” where she could directly impact and observe the recovery process. “At the peak after the earthquake, there were 1.5 million people living in these camps, an almost incomprehensible figure,” she says. “That number has steadily gone down in the last two years. Right now we’re still at about 369,000 displaced people. It’s a great improvement but we want to do better.”

DuBose says camp residents face an almost unbearable existence every day. “Can you imagine living in a tent for two and a half years? The conditions are horrible. The tents are pieced together with these scraps of tarp, metal and wood, whatever people can find. The floor is just dirt. The rains come right through. When it’s hot – and it’s hot every day – the sun just burns. It’s so hot in the tents that a baby’s skin will actually blister. There are security issues, too. You can’t keep predators out of the tents. Women especially are facing a lot of sexual violence.”

The program DuBose managed has closed four camps and moved over 5,000 residents into significantly better housing through one of three options: a one-year rental subsidy, repair of a damaged home, or building a temporary house that will last between three and five years. Camp residents choose the option that is the best fit for their family’s situation.

DuBose is quick to emphasize, however, that overcoming the ordeal of a catastrophic event requires more than just a roof over one’s head. She has been actively involved with CRS in its efforts to provide life skills training to those who are preparing to leave the camps.

“You just can’t go into a camp and say, ‘Hey guys, it’s time for you to leave,’ because change is scary, even if it’s good change and even if you’ve been living in this high-stress situation for two and a half years. There’s a lot of psychological trauma and they’ve lost some of the living and coping skills they had before the earthquake. So, we work with them on improving communication with family members, conflict resolution, personal and financial responsibility, and planning for the future.”

DuBose remembers one woman in particular who was transformed by the education she received.

“She was initially very angry with CRS because she felt we should have come sooner. She didn’t trust us to help her and her family and was very vocal against the program. We got her to start attending these classes and she became our most enthusiastic participant. It’s been incredible to watch her go through this journey. I visit her now in this safe home that she’s so proud of – she’s operating a coffee business out of it and has started a little garden. She told me that because of the training, ‘I feel more love for my family, we’ve reduced our conflicts, and now I know how to save money so we’re planning ahead.’

“When we go back and ask people what’s the number one thing they liked about our program, they don’t just mention the house they got. They say, ‘My life is better now with my family. My husband and I have reconciled. My sisters and I have stopped fighting.’ We’re really proud of that work.”

Recently, DuBose returned to Hollins to deliver a presentation entitled “Living What You Believe,” where she shared her experience and advice with students who want to pursue jobs in the NGO or multilateral sectors.

“I want students to know, if they have an interest in social justice and working to alleviate poverty and hunger, this could be a career for them. They can create positive social change and still support themselves doing it. They can lead a good life that way. I really wasn’t aware of that myself until I got on this path, so I want to make sure people are thinking about it as an option. It’s rewarding personally and ethically.”

(Photo Credit: Nate Jayne)

Dance Magazine Honors Iconic Dancer and Hollins Alumna Renee Robinson

reneerobinsonRenee Robinson, a principal dancer with New York’s renowned Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater (AAADT) who earned her master of fine arts degree in dance this fall from Hollins University, is one of four artists to receive the 2012 Dance Magazine Award.

Robinson was honored at a ceremony December 3 in New York City along with Julie Kent, senior ballerina with the American Ballet Theatre; New York Times dance critic Anna Kisselgoff (who was a guest lecturer in Hollins’ master of fine arts program in dance from 2006 to 2008); and tap dancer Dianne Walker.

Each year, Dance Magazine recognizes leading members of the professional dance field who have made extraordinary contributions to the art form. Robinson joined the AAADT in 1981 and holds the longest tenure of any female member. In addition to Ailey, she has worked with such acclaimed choreographers as Lar Lubovitch, Jerome Robbins, Bill T. Jones, and Judith Jamison, who presented the award to Robinson at the event. Her televised performances include President Bill Clinton’s first inauguration, the Kennedy Center Awards, and the PBS special, “A Hymn for Alvin Ailey.” In 2003 she performed at a White House State Dinner honoring President Mwai Kibaki of Kenya, and in 2008 she appeared in the first dance event hosted in the White House by First Lady Michelle Obama.

Robinson is perhaps best known as “the woman with the umbrella” in “Revelations,” considered Ailey’s “signature work” by The Washington Post in a February 2012 article.

“It is among the most popular and most performed works of modern dance,” the Post explains, “and millions of ballet fans around the world regard the woman with the umbrella with particular reverence.

“Renee Robinson.”

Originally from Washington, D.C., Robinson trained at the Jones-Haywood School of Ballet, attended the School of American Ballet, the Dance Theatre of Harlem, and The Ailey School, and majored in dance at New York University.

Will Shutt MFA ’09 Receives Starred Review in Publisher’s Weekly

schuttPoet Will Schutt, who earned his MFA in creative writing from Hollins University in 2009 and went on to win the prestigious Yale Series of Younger Poets competition last year, has received a starred review in Publisher’s Weekly for his first collection of poetry, Westerly, published by Yale University Press.

Publisher’s Weekly is widely considered to be “the bible of the book business” and publishes approximately 8,000 pre-publication book reviews each year.

The review of Westerly notes, “The latest winner of the venerable Yale Younger Poets Prize turns out to be terse, well-traveled, resolutely unfashionable, and, finally, wise,” and concludes, “everything in [Westerly] heralds a seriously important career.”

Schutt’s poems and translations appear in Agni, FIELD, Harvard Review, The Southern Review, and elsewhere. He has also received awards from the Academy of American Poets, the Stadler Center for Poetry, and the James Merrill House.

November 22, 1963: Hollins Remembers

kennedyThe start of any given weekend usually brings joy to a college campus, but the fourth Friday in November 1963 began with particular excitement at Hollins College. Cotillion, one of Fall Term’s most eagerly anticipated events, was scheduled to take place that weekend, and many students were busy getting ready to welcome their dates from other area colleges and universities, and even from outside Virginia, for the special occasion.

That exhilaration was shattered in the early afternoon hours of November 22 when President John F. Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas. Now, as the nation observes the fiftieth anniversary of the president’s death, Hollins alumnae who were students at the time have shared their recollections of where they were when they heard the heartbreaking news and how they dealt with something so inconceivable.

Preparing for Cotillion, Marya Goldman Repko ’64 recalled, “I was in Roanoke buying nail polish when I noticed all the sales staff in the department store were in tears. They explained that President Kennedy had been shot.

“I took the bus back to Hollins and joined the rest of the dorm in front of the television.”

Carolyn Engel Amiot ’64 was living in Barbee House that year. “I remember it like it was yesterday. I was lying on my bed reading Time magazine. Suddenly, I heard someone yell, ‘Kennedy’s been shot.’ I raced downstairs to the living room and we turned on the black-and-white TV. It was just all so unbelievable. You can imagine the impact this had…the Kennedy assassination was probably the most shocking news event to shake our country in modern times – at least it was for my generation.”

Though she has never considered herself a religious person, Alison Ames ’66 remembered after the news broke that she suddenly felt “the unlikely urge to go to the chapel. By the time several of us had rounded the corner between Main and East, many others had joined in the stream, even before the chapel bells began to ring. Many were in tears, and everyone was talking at once.”

Cotillion was cancelled (it would later be rescheduled for February 1964). While many of the students’ dates had already embarked on their journey to Hollins for the weekend festivities, Anne Wetzell Williams ’64 recounted she was able to reach her boyfriend, who was flying down from Ohio State, to alert him about the cancellation before he left: “That ‘boyfriend’ has been my husband for 46 years and he remembers that day as well.”

For the dates who arrived from Washington and Lee, the University of Virginia, and other schools, students made plans to gather as the campus and the nation began to grieve.

“Several classmates called a nearby restaurant and arranged for a sizable number of dates and Hollins girls to have dinner,” explained Amiot. “It was very solemn.”

The following day, Amiot’s date, a UVa Law School student, suggested taking a drive into the rural areas outside of Roanoke.

“We drove through many communities, some without electricity,” she said. “We wondered whether the people living in those homes had even heard about Kennedy’s death.

“I will always remember that drive. It struck me then and it strikes me now as being a very appropriate thing to do. It was a chance to be quiet, think about the tragedy, and come to grips with its enormity.”

Even though they cannot forget the sorrow they experienced the day of the assassination, some Hollins alumnae have continued through the years to cherish happier memories of Kennedy’s life. Virginia Cone ’62 looked back fondly on his visit to Roanoke during the 1960 presidential election campaign.

“A sizable group of students went to greet JFK at the airport. Some of us managed to get to the front of the large crowd, and I remember at lot of pushing – not unruly or mean, just people wanting to see. In those days, crowds could get very close to the political candidates! I recall reaching up to steady myself on some sort of a railing. Before I realized how close I was to the people on the platform, someone grabbed my hand – I looked up into the face of JFK, and said, ‘I sure hope you win!’ And, of course, he did!”

Cone was pursuing a master’s degree and working as a graduate assistant at Mt. Holyoke College when Kennedy was assassinated. “I had a small radio in my lab and recall sitting at my desk listening to it, remembering the surprise ‘handshake’ in Roanoke and the dreams and accomplishments of JFK…and weeping.”

At its December 1963 meeting, the Student Government Association approved a resolution establishing the John F. Kennedy Memorial Fund. According to the December 12 issue of the Hollins Columns that year, the fund was “to be used by Hollins for special books on all phases of American culture” and welcomed pledges for donations through the following March.

The same issue of the Columns also featured a letter from a Hollins student who paid tribute to First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy. She wrote, “Having just witnessed four grim days that now belong to history, I wish to express my extreme admiration for the new widow of the late President of the United States, John Kennedy. Her behavior was indeed magnificent. Now, even more, she is truly our First Lady.”

As the nation revisits its collective astonishment and anguish over the Kennedy assassination, still terrible and vivid fifty years later, Amiot reflected on the continuing struggle to make sense of it:

“History is magic. Sometimes it is triumphant. Unfortunately, other times it is very tragic.”

Photo: Student supporters of  John F. Kennedy and Richard Nixon rally on campus during the presidential campaign of 1960.