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 for 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.
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.”
“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 viaZoom. 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.
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.
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.
“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.
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.”
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 came 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.
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’s 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.
“I didn’t work on it eight years consistently,” laughed van Eerden. “There were a lot of other things in that time, but this book took a lot of reimagining.” Call It Horses revolves around three women—niece, aunt, and artist stowaway—and the 1990 road trip that this improbable trio embarks on from West Virginia to New Mexico. Spending a lot of time experimenting with the book’s structure, van Eerden first tried out a narrative poetry sequence, then a more traditional first-person plot, before finally settling on the current epistolary form (i.e. told through letters).
“I think the joy of publishing a book is seeing something that you’ve labored over come to fruition,” said van Eerden about the long process of writing Call It Horses. “To complete that circuit with readers, that circuit of something that’s lived in your head for so long, it’s pleasurable no matter what.”
In the end, all that hard work paid off for van Eerden. In 2019, she was named the winner of the coveted Dzanc Books Prize for Call It Horses—the manuscript was selected from a pool of hundreds—a win that resulted in Dzanc Books publishing Call It Horses. Flash-forward a year and a half, and now van Eerden’s looking at a spring and summer of events to promote her new novel. “It’s exciting because it’s a book that’s very close to me,” she said. “I’m always interested in letting my characters go out in the world and meet other people.”
Indeed, the novel does hit close to home for van Eerden. Call It Horses starts in Caudell, West Virginia, a small rural town reminiscent of van Eerden’s own upbringing in that same state. “It is interesting my relationship to place with respect to my fiction,” she said. “I feel that there’s the physical landscape of where I grew up, and also the spiritual landscape: of the community of people and the tiny church and the ways that people interacted and cared for each other.” In Call It Horses, those two landscapes inform both van Eerden’s fictional Appalachian world as well as the quasi-spiritual journal out West undertaken by the three central characters.
As for the future, van Eerden isn’t taking a breather. She’s already working on her fifth book, a return to nonfiction and essay portraiture, a form that won her the Foreword INDIES Book of the Year Award for her 2017 portrait essay collection, The Long Weeping. “I’m planning on peering into some portraits of biblical women,” she said. “[I’m] doing a lot of excavation of biblical myth alongside more memoiristic material of my own narrative life—looking into the philosophical realm of human responsibility and human freedom, and the relationship between those two poles of existence.”
The launch of Call It Horses is at 6 p.m. today and will also feature acclaimed writer Siamak Vossoughi, winner of the 2014 Flannery O’Connor Award for Short Fiction. To participate, please RSVP here.
Jeff Dingler is a graduate assistant in Hollins’ marketing and communications department. He is pursuing his M.F.A. in creative writing at the university.
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!”
Poliner’s novel As Close to Us as Breathing was an Amazon Best Book for March 2016. The story of a close-knit Jewish family that strives to cope following a tragedy is “vivid, complex, and beautifully written,” said Edward P. Jones, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of The Known World. “[It]brims with characters who leave an indelible impression on the mind and heart. Elizabeth Poliner is a wonderful talent and she should be read widely, and again and again.”
In Dimestore: A Writer’s Life, Smith recalls how she became a storyteller while growing up in the Appalachian South, and discusses what later convinced her to embrace her heritage. “Smith delivers a memoir that shines with a bright spirit, a generous heart and an entertaining knack for celebrating absurdity,” noted The New York Times Book Review. “Although Dimestore is constructed as a series of personal essays, it presents as full a sense of a life as any traditional narrative.”