Hollins Professor Receives NEH Summer Stipend to Underwrite Book Project

Ruth Alden Doan Assistant Professor of History Christopher Florio has received a National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) Summer Stipend award of $6,000 to support his project, “The Problem of Poverty in the Anglo-American Age of Slave Emancipation, 1780-1865.”

Florio, a member of the Hollins faculty since 2019, is writing a book on responses to poverty across the Anglo-American world in the wake of slave emancipation. The book traces the historical relationship between slavery’s abolition and the emergent forms of racialized and global inequality that began to coalesce in slavery’s wake.

The NEH Summer Stipends program aims to stimulate new research in the humanities and its publication. The program works to accomplish this goal by:

  • Providing small awards to individuals pursuing advanced research that is of value to humanities scholars, general audiences, or both.
  • Supporting projects at any stage of development, but especially early-stage research and late-stage writing in which small awards are most effective.
  • Funding a wide range of individuals, including independent scholars, community college faculty, and non-teaching staff at universities.

Summer Stipends support continuous full-time work on a humanities project for a period of two consecutive months. NEH funds may support recipients’ compensation, travel, and other costs related to the proposed scholarly research. In the last five cycles, this nationally competitive program received an average of 812 applications per year. It has only an 11% funding ratio with the NEH making an average of 90 awards per year. The maximum individual award amount is $6,000.

Overall, the NEH announced more than $35 million in grants this month for humanities projects throughout the country. “These 258 newly funded projects demonstrate the vitality of the humanities across our nation,” said NEH Chair Shelly C. Lowe (Navajo). “NEH is proud to support exemplary education, preservation, media, research, and infrastructure projects that expand resources for Americans, support humanities programs and opportunities for underserved students and communities, and deepen our understanding of our history, culture, and society.”

Created in 1965 as an independent federal agency, the NEH supports research and learning in history, literature, philosophy, and other areas of the humanities by funding selected, peer-reviewed proposals from around the nation.


Amanda Cockrell ’69, M.A. ’88 Explores Turmoil of the 1960s in New Historical Novel

As a historical novelist, Amanda Cockrell ’69, M.A. ’88 has employed backdrops ranging from the Hollywood blacklist to Roman myth and history. This spring, Cockrell, who retired in 2018 as director of Hollins’ graduate programs in children’s literature and currently is managing editor of Hollins University’s literary journal, The Hollins Critic, is immersing readers in the Vietnam War era with Coyote Weather, published by Northampton House Press.

Covering the years 1967 to 1972, Coyote Weather “is set partly in Virginia and partly in California in the town where I grew up,” Cockrell explains in an interview with author Brook Allen. “I have written a lot of other historical fiction from pre-Columbian to Victorian and Edwardian, but this one was the hardest, mainly because to me it is not historical fiction at all but fiction set in the years of my early twenties.” She adds, “It’s not autobiographical, although a few of the experiences are mine, as is the era.”

In its synopsis of the novel, Northampton House Press describes “coyote weather” as “the feral, hungry season in California, when everything is drought-stricken and ready to catch fire. It’s 1967 and the American culture is violently remaking itself while the country is forcing its young men to fight in a deeply unpopular war.”

Among the book’s main characters, “Jerry has stubbornly made no plans for the future because he believes that, in the shadow of Vietnam, the Cold War, and atomic bomb drills, there won’t be one. Ellen’s determined to have a plan, because nothing else can keep the world from tilting. And the Ghost just wants to go home to a place that won’t let him in: the small California town where they all grew up.”

Bestselling author and Hollins alumna Lee Smith ’67 praises Coyote Weather as “a spectacular re-creation of a lost but essential time in our history—California, the ’60s, Vietnam—nobody has ever captured it more accurately or written it with more understanding—from several different perspectives. A must read. Bravo!” John Ketwig, author of …and a hard rain fell: A G.I.’s True Story of the War in Vietnam, says,This splendid novel describes the Vietnam generation’s feelings about the war in Southeast Asia, the draft, relationships, the counterculture, psychedelia, women’s issues, commitments, sexual tensions, and the looming uncertainty of where we were headed as individuals and a country. It’s a trip, with all that and more combined in an artful, beautifully written journey.” Historia, the magazine of the Historical Writers’ Association, cites Coyote Weather as one of the “Historical Books to Look Out for in 2023.”

The daughter of a screenwriter and a novelist, Cockrell holds a master’s degree in English and creative writing from Hollins. She has received fellowships in fiction from the National Endowment for the Arts and the Virginia Commission for the Arts. Under the pseudonym Damion Hunter, she wrote Shadow of the Eagle, a novel of Roman Britain and the first in The Borderlands series; The Legions of the Mist; The Wall at the Edge of the World; and the Centurion series. The young adult novel What We Keep Is Not Always What Will Stay; Pomegranate Seed, which spans the eras of silent film and Joseph McCarthy; the trilogies The Deer Dancers and The Horse Catchers; mythological novels of the American Southwest; and The Moonshine Blade, a comic thriller set in her current home of Southwest Virginia, are her books writing as Amanda Cockrell.




Professor Emerita’s New Book Centers on “What’s Remembered, What’s Observed, and What’s Imagined”

Award-winning poet and novelist Pablo Medina promises that “you’ll be heartened by the wisdom, clarity, and honesty” of the new poetry collection by Professor of English Emerita Cathryn Hankla ’80, M.A. ’82.

Immortal Stuff, released this month by Mercer University Press, is Hankla’s 11th volume of poetry and second full-length collection of prose poems. It offers what the publisher describes as “an intimate catalog of what’s remembered, what’s observed, and what’s imagined. Lyrical or narrative by turns, nuanced and deft, Hankla’s prose poems range through the realms of reflection and imagination, finding them not so different….Significance pours in equal measures from relationships, objects, and situations meant to mark us, confound us, and change us continually from contact with the wonderous and the ordinary – and the insights we take away.”

Medina calls the book “a collection of moments, stories, and encounters that form a labyrinth we could otherwise call the human condition. [Hankla] speaks to us as an old friend we must listen to. If you haven’ t read Hankla before you’ll be surprised at her range – Gershwin, Mozart, tree frogs, Gettysburg – and her music, evident here in prose poems that sing as few can.”

Pulitzer Prize winner Henry Taylor M.A. ’66 praises Immortal Stuff‘s prose poems for how they “move with assurance even when the topic may be lack of assurance, drifting from recognizable, concrete surroundings in which comfort is possible, through something like a bead curtain, into realms more privately Cathryn Hankla’s, and now thanks to her multifarious gifts, ours as well. Reading this book has improved my life.”

Born in the Appalachian mountain town of Richlands, Virginia, Hankla spent most of her academic career at Hollins. She directed the Jackson Center for Creative Writing, twice chaired the Department of English and Creative Writing, and has served as poetry editor of The Hollins Critic since 1996. She was Hollins’ Jackson Professor of Creative Writing from 2012 to 2014.

Hankla has published 16 books in multiple genres and her writing has been awarded the James Boatwright III Poetry Prize, a PEN Syndicated Fiction Prize, and a Virginia Commission for the Arts grant in poetry. Her poetry is anthologized in The Southern Poetry Anthology, IX: Virginia; A Literary Field Guide to Southern Appalachia; World English Poetry; The Southern Poetry Anthology; Shenandoah: 20 Years of Poetry; and Mississippi Review Anthology, among others. Her poems, stories, and essays appear regularly in journals such as New World Writing, Arts & Letters, Jubilat, Appalachian Heritage, Denver Quarterly, North American Review, and Alaska Quarterly. Her artwork is exhibited at Roanoke’s Market Gallery, and she has received artist fellowships in the U.S. as well as abroad in Malta, Spain, and France.

President Hinton Coauthors Chapter for New Book on the Future of Higher Ed.

Hollins University President Mary Dana Hinton and Debra Humphreys of the Lumina Foundation have made a compelling contribution to a new higher education reference work for policymakers, administrators, university presidents, academicians, practitioners, scholars, researchers, instructors, and students.

Hinton and Humphreys cowrote the chapter “Seeking Equity, Quality, and Purpose as Higher Education Transforms: Liberal Arts Colleges Respond” for New Models of Higher Education: Unbundled, Rebundled, Customized, and DIY, edited by Aaron M. Brower and Ryan J. Specht-Boardman of the University of Wisconsin and published by IGI Global as an open access book.

“Students already ‘DIY’ and build an unbundled education and training path for themselves, demonstrating a clever and productive approach to lifelong learning,” the publisher explains. “New Models of Higher Education…views this as the future of higher education: students mixing and matching education and training throughout their careers to reach personal and professional goals.”

IGI Global continues, “Covering a wide range of topics such as assessment, personal success, and education paradigms, the book considers the practical ways in which institutions of higher education, education technology companies, and workplaces can better respond to, and enable, this new way in which education and training are engaged and consumed.”

In their chapter, Hinton and Humphreys discuss methods to further goals associated with equity and educational quality. They analyze key developments in who today’s students are, what is known about teaching and learning that promotes equitable student success, and the changing global economy and workplace. With that assessment as their foundation, they suggest a possible new path for reform in liberal arts colleges that makes use of both “unbundling traditional models of teaching and learning” and “rebundling student supports and educational pathway guidance to facilitate student success,” fostering experiences shown to enhance quality and equity.

“Higher education has become more aware of entrenched inequities and pedagogical shortcomings,” they note. “What we have called for in this chapter [is] reimagining how we offer programs and how we can better prioritize expanded outreach to students and communities. We have attempted to illustrate how colleges and universities can pursue both excellence and equity in these efforts.”

The authors express confidence that “higher education institutions have the capacity to change. They must rethink their models and offerings so they can meet all students where they are in their learning and so they can help meet the needs of the workplace. At the same time, higher education has the responsibility to provide high-quality educational programs to those who have historically been excluded from higher education.”

Hinton and Humphreys conclude, “This is a critical moment for higher education to be responsive. The sustainability of our missions, our institutions, our students, and our democracy hang in the balance.”


“A Poet at the Top of His Form”: Hollins Professor’s Newest Collection Is Published

The often lost and surprising senses of the world and of words are exhumed in According to Sand, the new volume of poems by Thorpe Moeckel, associate professor of English and director of the Jackson Center for Creative Writing at Hollins University.

Mercer University Press, the book’s publisher, calls According to Sand “an aching, wryly joyous collection that embodies the erosive and porous qualities of sand and invites us to recognize how we might remain among the remains, settling, shifting, filtering, and surviving. While ranging from creekbanks to hummocks, from barrier islands to ridges and hollers (from the Kansas River to West Penobscot Bay, to the Edisto, to various tributaries of the New and the James, the Neuse and the Savannah), these creaturely poems track the abundant and the minimal, singing (in praise and loss) the uncanniness of existence.”

Chris Dombrowski, acclaimed author of The River You Touch, praises Moeckel and According to Sand. “I have been an admirer of Thorpe Moeckel’s poems for many years, searching them out as one looks forAccording to Sand Book Cover morels or thimbleberries in the woods, but here, in the brilliant According to Sand, is a book to subsist on. Line by supremely original line, it illuminates – and is illuminated by – ‘the fleeting infinities’ of the natural world, of which we are a minuscule (see: sand grain) but luminous part. Moeckel is an utterly necessary poet at the top of his form, as fully manifested as a trillium in full bloom.”

Raised in Atlanta, Moeckel has taught in the writing program at Hollins since 2005. His first book of poems, Odd Botany, won the Gerald Cable Book Award in 2000, as well as the George Garrett Award for New Writing from the Fellowship of Southern Writers. In subsequent poetry books, Making a Map of the River, Venison, and Arcadia Road, as well as two nonfiction books, Watershed Days and Down by the Eno, Down by the Haw, Moeckel has stayed close to the woods and rivers of the Appalachians while exploring a variety of themes.

Moeckel’s work has been widely anthologized and has appeared in many journals and magazines, among them Field, Open City, The Antioch Review, Poetry Daily, Taproot, Orion, Poetry, The Southern Review, and Virginia Quarterly Review.




English Professor Julie Pfeiffer Publishes Book Examining Nineteenth-Century Girls’ Fiction

Some people never want to think about their teenage years again; others find that those years are worth revisiting.

Julie Pfeiffer, professor of English and chair of the Department of English and Creative Writing at Hollins, certainly believes the latter. Her first book, Transforming Girls: The Work of Nineteenth-Century Adolescence, keeps literary representations of adolescent girlhood at its center. Set to be released October 15 by University Press of Mississippi, Transforming Girls analyzes a variety of since-forgotten mid-nineteenth-century bestsellers that were aimed at adolescent girls in the United States and Germany.

“There’s a critical assumption in the United States that adolescent fiction didn’t develop until the 1970s. Yet, there are all these books written in the mid-1800s that are explicitly about adolescent girls and that talk about adolescence as a time of difficult transition,” Pfeiffer said of the historical context surrounding her book. “I realized that, in fact, there were nineteenth-century American girls’ books about adolescence and we had just forgotten about them.”

Pfeiffer’s discovery of these popular American girls’ novels was preceded by an interest in nineteenth-century German girls’ literature that developed during her sabbatical as a Fulbright Senior Scholar at Johann-Wolfgang University in Frankfurt, Germany. “I initially thought that German girls’ books were different from American ones because American girls’ books are family stories or they’re about younger girls, while these German books were about adolescents. I thought I might write a book about the contrast between American and German girls’ books until I actually started reading best-selling American girls’ books from the 1800s and noticed their similarities.

“The German tradition of adolescent fiction for girls — called the Backfisch novel — helps us frame our understanding of the earliest novels for girls in English,” Pfeiffer explained. “People forget what a strong German presence there was in the U.S. in the nineteenth century. There were German printing presses, and German books were translated into English and vice-versa. A cross-cultural exchange happened that was oriented around the idea that there is such a thing as adolescent girlhood, and these books treated female adolescence as a creative, transformative space, whereas we currently view adolescence as a time of alienation and angst.”Transforming Girls

“The teenage girls in these nineteenth-century books tend to be awkward. They’re kind of a mess, and they’re loved despite that. The girls feel embarrassed, but the adult women around them acknowledge that becoming a woman is not an inevitable, natural process, but a construction that’s hard work. These female role models provide girls with a supportive environment where it’s okay to make mistakes. Today we expect the ideal teenage girl to be charming, and if she’s not, that’s a problem that needs to be solved.”

Female community is particularly important to the books Pfeiffer writes about in Transforming Girls. “One of my chapters is called ‘The Romance of Othermothering’ and it talks about how mothering happens outside of heterosexual marriage in these books. The characters are often mothered by single aunts or teachers, and the girls are mothering each other as peers who take care of each other. There’s a sense of completion that happens in these novels when a girl learns how to nurture other girls and women.”

Though there are positive messages about adolescence in nineteenth-century girls’ literature, Pfeiffer acknowledges that these books still have a complicated relationship with contemporary audiences, especially considering that their young protagonists are expected to focus on finding husbands as soon as possible.

Transforming Girls really developed from a question I started asking maybe twenty years ago, which was: Why do I read, teach, and study these classic girls’ books that are so clearly sexist and also reinforce white privilege?” she said. “I say in my book that I don’t necessarily recommend giving these books to teenagers. I write instead about using the positive aspects of these novels to imagine a different vision of adolescence and reframe our ideas about how to support teenagers.”

Pfeiffer ultimately hopes that her scholarship encourages people to think about how they were shaped by the books they read when they were young. “I do believe that the things we read when we’re young, before we have structures for intellectual critique in place, can become deeply internalized. We absorb certain ideologies and maybe spend the rest of our lives sorting out which of those ideologies we actually wanted to absorb and which we didn’t,” she said. “I think part of the importance of studying children’s literature is thinking about the kind of conversations we want to have with children who are reading.”

One possible conversation strikes Pfeiffer in particular: “Taking on the womanly identity your culture expects of you is a kind of invisible labor, and these girls’ books make that labor visible. Now we have the opportunity to think about what we’re choosing to do and what we’re not — and maybe redefine the grumpy adolescent girl as someone who’s actually working really hard to make herself into a new person.”

Pfeiffer will give an in-person lecture (open to the campus community) based on her book on Thursday, October 21, at 7:30 p.m. EST in the Green Drawing Room, Main Building. Titled “Transforming Girls: How We Make Girls into Women,” the lecture will be open to the public via Zoom. The passcode is 403576.


Marin Harrington is a graduate assistant in Hollins’ marketing and communications department. She is pursuing her M.F.A. in creative writing at the university.



Hollins Professor Examines Arab Spring, Qatar Boycott in New Books

Two new books written by Edward A. Lynch, John P. Wheeler Professor of Political Science at Hollins University, offer analysis of two of the Middle East’s most significant political crises in recent years.

The Arab Spring: The Failure of the Obama Doctrine, published by Praeger Security International, looks at the wave of revolutions that shook the Middle East ten years ago and the challenges those events posed to the Obama administration. Isolating Qatar: The Gulf Rift Crisis 2017-2021 (tentative title), forthcoming from Lynne Rienner Publishers (LRP), focuses on the events of June 2017, when Bahrain, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates announced a comprehensive boycott of Qatar.

Praeger describes The Arab Spring as “a succinct, readable, and comprehensive treatment of how the Obama administration reacted to what was arguably the most difficult foreign policy challenge of its eight years in office.”

“That reaction included confusing mixed signals, inconsistent application of principles, and a repeated tendency to draw the wrong lessons from each succeeding upheaval,” Lynch says. “As a result, U.S. influence in the region diminished.”

When Qatar was blockaded, Lynch notes, “it seemed that disaster loomed for this small Gulf nation. But not so. Instead, in an unexpected turn of events, the Qatari government deftly used its enormous wealth and extensive reserves of soft power to nullify most of the effects of what came to be known as the ‘Rift.’”

“Exploring the historical and contemporary causes of the dispute, the reactions to it both regionally and globally, and the surprising end to the crisis, Isolating Qatar serves also to highlight the often unrecognized role of small states in international relations,” says LRP.

A member of the Hollins faculty since 1991, Lynch was a foreign policy consultant to the Reagan administration and is a frequent commentator on political events. He has made several trips to the Middle East for research. He is the author of six books and numerous articles.

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.



Hollins Alumna’s Debut Book Gives Hope, Resources for Children with Hearing Loss

Valerie James Abbott ’93 panicked when she learned that her two-year-old daughter Bridget mysteriously lost her hearing. More than ten years later, she is out with a new book about her experience with the aim of supporting families on a similar journey.

Published by KWE Publishing on May 4, Padapillo is an illustrated children’s storybook, offering hope and information to families experiencing early childhood hearing loss. “I understand first-hand what happens to children if their hearing loss goes unidentified,” Abbott said. “We didn’t notice the signs and now I am passionate about helping other parents in a similar situation. As a parent-champion for early hearing detection and intervention, I have talked to many families who are desperate for answers, advice, information, and emotional support just like I was.”

Children who acquire hearing loss after birth are at risk of developmental delays. As most parents, Abbott wanted to do everything she could for her child, but found it very difficult to navigate the situation and locate the right information and resources. As her daughter grew up, her needs also changed. Abbott continuously learned about hearing loss, language acquisition and choices, and disability rights, and connected with other families.

“I wrote the book with all these things in mind. I want parents to have a relatable story to help them see that their questions, doubts, and worries are normal, including feelings of guilt, grieving, acceptance, and joy. I also wanted to create a starting place of practical resources, so there’s an index of organizations and agencies at the back of the book.”

Padapillo is named after one of the many words Abbott’s daughter invented before her hearing loss was identified and before she received hearing aids. It was a speech delay that prompted their daughter’sPadapillo Book Cover preschool teacher to suspect something was going on.

“I wrote Padapillo hoping that audiologists could have a stack in their drawers and hand it out to families along with the final audiogram results,” Abbott explained. “This would open up communication and at the same time provide a story of hope and a resource tool.”

Bridget is now 15 and thriving. The two years following her identification were challenging, as she worked hard to catch up developmentally to her peers, but having received a correct diagnosis, early intervention support, and focused support from her family, she’s done well in a mainstream classroom setting and in daily life.

“My message to everyone who is going through the same experience as I did is that there is hope. Your child is capable of amazing things. Whatever your feelings are, they are valid and it’s okay to be pushy to get the information and support you need,” Abbott said.

Padapillo is written through the lens of Valerie’s oldest child Mary Clare, who was in kindergarten when her little sister received her first pair of hearing aids. In the book, the older sibling sees and hears everything that is going on with Bridget – much more so than the parents.

“The book is fictional, but based on our true story of how we discovered and came to terms with Bridget’s situation and our feelings about it,” Abbott stated. “Every single nugget and situation in there is true, from how I started ‘testing’ Bridget’s hearing after the hearing test to see if this was really true, to watching her reactions as she started hearing the new sounds around her for the first time.”

Abbott has served on the board of Virginia Hands & Voices, is the first parent co-chair of the Virginia EHDI Advisory Committee, and has received the Governor’s Award for Civilian Excellence for Virginia Fire Safety, spearheading special programming for families of children who are deaf and hard of hearing. She is a guest blogger for the Center for Family Involvement and has published several articles online and in print about raising a child with a disability that have gained nationwide attention. Padapillo is her first book.

On Thursday, May 20, Hollins’ alumnae chapter in Richmond, Virginia, will present a virtual reading and conversation with Abbott at 7 p.m. EDT. Register for this event.