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.

Hollins Welcomes Pulitzer Prize Winner Anne Boyer As This Year’s Writer-in-Residence

Poet and essayist Anne Boyer, winner of the 2020 Pulitzer Prize in General Nonfiction, is Hollins University’s Louis D. Rubin Jr. Writer-in-Residence for 2023.

Each spring, Hollins hosts a distinguished writer-in-residence who works with graduate and selected undergraduate students. The residency is named for the founder of the university’s renowned creative writing program.

Boyer was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for her memoir The Undying: Pain, Vulnerability, Mortality, Medicine, Art, Time, Dreams, Data, Exhaustion, Cancer, and Care. At age 41, she was diagnosed with highly aggressive triple-negative breast cancer. For a single mother living paycheck to paycheck who had always been the caregiver rather than the one needing care, the catastrophic illness was both a crisis and an initiation into new ideas about mortality and the gendered politics of illness.

Harper’s Magazine said The Undying “is honed to a precision that feels hard-won. The politics of illness – how the profit motive determines life and damage and death; how victim blaming is enshrined; how social norms can disable and kill – have rarely been limned with such clarity and grace,” while the Los Angeles Review of Books described Boyer’s writing as “precise and comprehensive, intimate and philosophical; its self-awareness is so rigorous it feels almost extravagant. It’s hard to imagine how she made this book, so near to the agony it documents.” Publisher’s Weekly noted that “Boyer’s gorgeous language elevates this artful, piercing narrative well above the average medical memoir.”

Boyer received Yale University’s Donald Windham-Sandy M. Campbell Literature Prize in 2020 and was the 2018-19 Judith Wilson Poetry Fellow at Cambridge University. She was the inaugural winner of the 2018 Cy Twombly Award for Poetry and that same year was presented the Whitting Award in nonfiction/poetry. Her other books include A Handbook of Disappointed Fate and Garments Against Women, which won the 2016 Community of Literary Magazine and Presses (CLMP) Firecracker Award.

In addition to serving as Hollins’ writer-in-residence this spring, Boyer is The New York Times Magazine‘s poetry editor for 2023.

Hollins’ writer-in-residence program began in 1961. To support the initiative, an endowed fund honoring Wyndham Robertson ’58 was established in 1994. The program was then named in tribute to Rubin in 2000. Previous writers-in-residence include William Golding (1962); Flannery O’Connor, Robert Penn Warren, and Eudora Welty (1964); Lee Smith ’67 (1976); Richard Adams (1977); Derek Walcott (1980); and Natasha Trethewey M.A. ’91 (2012).

“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.




Meghana Mysore M.F.A. ’22 Awarded Steinbeck Fellowship

When first asked about earning a prestigious Steinbeck Fellowship, Meghana Mysore M.F.A. ’22 is immediately self-effacing: “Of course I didn’t expect it to work out, but it felt worth a try.”

The attempt paid off. The Martha Heasley Cox Center for Steinbeck Studies at San José State University recently announced that Mysore is one of six Steinbeck Fellows for the 2022-23 academic year. Named in honor of American author John Steinbeck, the fellowship offers creative writers of any age and educational background a $15,000 grant to finish a major writing project. Fellows typically reside in the San José area to attend in-person workshops and campus community events, but participation will be virtual for 2022-23 due to ongoing COVID-19 complications.

As a Steinbeck Fellow, Mysore will continue work on her M.F.A. thesis, a novel-in-stories currently titled Delayed Connections. “The book follows an Indian-American family in the Pacific Northwest, and explores questions of loss, desire, and joy in this family, along with the ways in which the external world of the very white suburb where they live acts on the dynamics between the family members,” she said. “The stories deal mostly with three characters — Srinivas, Lakshmi, and their American-born daughter Surya — and the gap between the two generations of this family, and the ways in which they can’t communicate. It’s thinking a lot about communication and what we’re willing to confess to strangers, versus the people closest to us.”

Like any writing project, Delayed Connections has been evolving for a long time, starting when Mysore was studying English at Yale University. “My undergraduate thesis actually consisted of four of these stories. I considered those first four stories linked because they were all about the same family, but the stories moved into different periods of time and were more loosely linked,” she explained. “Coming into my M.F.A. at Hollins, I knew that I wanted to keep exploring these stories. I thought they would continue to be linked stories, but they eventually became so tightly wound-up that the project felt like a novel in some ways, while the stories themselves are like episodes.”

She continued, “At Hollins, I’ve been exploring a lot more of the supporting characters and the characters who could offer a different viewpoint into this family. It moves into the past of these characters, including the parents’ time growing up in south India in the 1980s and when they left for the United States. But I think the question for all these characters is whether or not the dream of belonging is enough, and the idea of the American dream and where does it succeed and where does it fail, on the micro-level of this family.”

Mysore also credits some of the bigger shifts in her manuscript to her time at Hollins. “My thesis advisor, Scott Blackwood, has been really helpful in seeing the expansiveness of the project and writing in the in-between moments. He gives so much importance to memory, nonlinearity, and the past and the present, and how they intertwine in fiction. Like I said, the project started as these four stories that were connected through these central characters, but I hadn’t thought about the interstitial moments. I hadn’t thought about the characters who are in the periphery of these stories, but who are still important and can offer a perspective on the central characters.”

For instance, Mysore noted that “the novel’s first story is about the mother character — Lakshmi — and her fraught relationship with her mother-in-law, and how the mother-in-law’s conceptions of beauty and light skin eroded the relationship between them. But later in the novel, there’s a story from the mother-in-law’s perspective, where we understand what formed her perspective of beauty and light skin, and the ways that other people shaped that. So the stories are constantly turning in on themselves. I wanted them to each feel like they could stand alone and float in space, but hopefully as you read them together each story is alive with more complexity.”

Mysore’s relationship with Hollins actually extends back to her high school years, when she received an honorable mention in the university’s annual Nancy Thorp Poetry Contest, which is open to young women who are sophomores or juniors in high school. “The contest made me realize that Hollins really values creativity, and that kind of valuation is still rare. But you come here, and English and creative writing are some of the most popular majors. When I taught undergrads this past year, I could tell there’s a care and respect for creative writing. It’s not treated as lesser,” she said.

“I was also drawn to Hollins’ multi-genre approach. I first wrote poetry and discovered fiction in college. I thought Hollins was a place where I wouldn’t have to suppress my more poetic sensibilities, and could instead bring them into my fiction. Returning to poetry helped me feel more experimental in my writing in general, and focus more on language and sound, and how character can come from that focus.”

As for her time as a Steinbeck Fellow, Mysore is ready to watch her characters expand even more. “I’m so excited to have another writing community and to get fresh eyes on the manuscript. There are still things I want to explore. Someone in my workshop at Hollins mentioned that a character featured in one of the stories could have an entire story from her perspective, and I agree. Now that I’ve felt how these stories can reach into other narratives, that just invites me to write more, and to write into those spaces even more,” she said. “It just means so much to me that this particular fellowship committee saw the potential of this manuscript, and now I’ll get a different perspective on it, all while continuing work on a project I really believe in.”

Continued work on Delayed Connections is not all that matters to Mysore; the changing world is just as important: “What we conceptualize as ‘classical literature’ often is the face of John Steinbeck and other white men, yet five out of the six people in my cohort are people of color. It just feels like a powerful statement — given the ways in which definitions of ‘literary excellence’ are tied to Steinbeck’s name — not against him, but in conversation with the ways that literature has grown and changed and started to include many more voices.”


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.

Photo credit: Gel Ramos M.F.A. ‘22


Nancy Thorp Poetry Contest Recognizes Six Young Writers

A Florida student has captured the top honor in Hollins University’s 58th Annual Nancy Thorp Poetry Contest.

The competition presents scholarships, prizes, and recognition for the best poems submitted by young women who are sophomores or juniors in high school or preparatory school, or are homeschooled. This year, 442 contestants from 43 states and six countries submitted works for consideration. Winners are chosen by students and faculty in Hollins’ creative writing program.

Sandra Lin, a student at Bell High School in Bell, Florida, won first place for her work, “this is what they did.” She will receive a $350 cash prize; publication in Cargoes, Hollins’ award-winning student literary magazine; ten copies of Cargoes; a renewable scholarship of up to $5,000 provided through the Creative Talent Award in Creative Writing for a total value of $20,000 in scholarship funds over four years (applicable if she enrolls at Hollins); and free tuition and housing for the university’s Hollinsummer creative writing program for rising ninth through 12th grade students.

Five students earned second place honors in this year’s contest. They will receive publication in Cargoes; two copies of Cargoes; a renewable scholarship of up to $1,000 provided through the Creative Talent Award in Creative Writing for a total value of $4,000 in scholarship funds over four years (applicable if the students enroll at Hollins); and a $500 scholarship to apply toward Hollinsummer.

Elane Kim
Stanford University Online High School, Stanford, California
“Sonnet as Open Sign”
(Cited for two of her poems, Kim is a Double Second Place Winner. Instead of the $500 scholarship, she will receive free tuition and housing for Hollinsummer in addition to the other second place prizes.)

Josephine Almond
Walton High School, Marietta, Georgia
“Strawberry Jam”

Nina Ballerstedt
Norcross High School, Norcross, Georgia
“Nani Tells the Story of My Great-Grandfather and the Tiger”

Beatrix Kim
The Pennington School, Pennington, New Jersey
“Farmhouse Feminism”

Jessica Kim
La Canada High School, La Canada, California
“Firework Girls”

Nancy Thorp, a member of the class of 1960 at Hollins, was a young poet who showed great promise when she was a student. Following her death in 1962, he family established the Nancy Thorp Poetry Contest to encourage and recognize the work of young poets.

Hollins Professor R. H. W. Dillard Revisits His Connection To Cult Classic Film “Frankenstein Meets the Space Monster”

When Hollins Professor of English R. H. W. Dillard was just a grad student at the University of Virginia, he never imagined an expensive bottle of whiskey and a $50 payment to write a screenplay with acclaimed writer George Garrett would result in one of the most (in)famous sci-fi/horror films in American cinema: the 1965 cult classic Frankenstein Meets the Space Monster (FMtSM). And yet that’s exactly what happened. Sort of.

“Given all the things going on both in class and out of class in the world, I don’t think much about FMtSM these days,” said Dillard about the sole film he co-wrote nearly six decades ago. “But I do think of it in class on certain occasions, such as my Kubrick class this last semester, since FMtSM‘s director, Robert Gaffney, was a close associate of Stanley K. and worked on several of the pictures we studied. Then, I put on my FMtSM t-shirt and puff with pride.”

If the title of the movie sounds ridiculous, well, that’s because it is. The flick’s about a modern-day Frankenstein’s monster (named appropriately enough Col. Frank Saunders) created by the U.S. military in order to combat an impending alien invasion aimed at kidnapping earth women to repropagate their race. The film premiered in the summer of  ’65 at the Trieste Science Fiction Film Festival in Italy and for a while was even paired as a double feature with Golden Globe-winning film Inside Daisy Clover, which starred Natalie Wood and Robert Redford.

The sci-fi picture about women-absconding extraterrestrials didn’t win any awards, but over the years, much to Dillard’s surprise, FMtSM became a cult classic, appraised by audiences and critics as either brilliantly funny or so outrageously bad as to be impossible to not (secretly) savor the train-wreck appeal of the film’s ludicrous plot, 60s-saturated soundtrack, and over-reliance on stock footage (that doesn’t always match). The film became so popular/notorious that Robin Williams even once used a scene from FMtSM on a cable TV show, and some clips were also included in a comedic documentary about B movies called It Came From Hollywood (even though FMtSM was neither produced by Hollywood nor shot there.)

Regardless of which end of the critical spectrum fans fall on, the film is now considered one of the first movies to have gathered a large cult following exactly because of its “campiness” or “camp,” a kind of aesthetic or style that’s so low budget and seemingly bad it actually boomerangs back to being really enjoyable. Think of Mel Brooks’ comedic masterpiece Young Frankenstein, a tongue-in-cheek homage to the age of black-and-white horror films, except FMtSM was ahead of its time, beating out Young Frankenstein by nearly a decade. And much like Young Frankenstein, FMtSM has maintained its camp-classic status for more than half a century now.

R.H.W. Dillard
Professor of English R.H.W. Dillard: “I do think of it in class on certain occasions. Then, I put on my ‘Frankenstein Meets the Space Monster’ t-shirt and puff with pride.”

However, most unbelievable about this little B-movie-that-could is the incredibly talented (perhaps overqualified) group of writers behind the screenplay. In addition to Dillard—who’s left his indelible mark in American literature, especially as a poet and editor of the Hollins Critic—the writing credits also include the aforementioned Poet Laureate of Virginia and Guggenheim Fellow George Garrett, and professor and publisher John Rodenbeck, who as the director of the American University in Cairo Press published an English translation of Naguib Mahfouz’s surrealist novel The Thief and the Dogs, which paved the way for Mahfouz’s Nobel Prize in Literature. (There’s even a rumor that Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Henry Taylor contributed some lines to FMtSM, but Dillard said that, although Taylor was a close friend of the group, he didn’t have a hand “or even a finger” in crafting the script.)

But how exactly did these three very different literary titans come together on such a Frankenstein’s creation as FMtSM? At the time, Dillard and Rodenbeck were both graduate students and part-time junior instructors at the University of Virginia, where Garrett, already an established poet and fictionist, was a professor in the English department. The three became fast friends, so close in fact that, according to Dillard, one night he and Rodenbeck “smuggled” their desks from the junior instructor room into the office of George and W. R. “Bill” Robinson, who would become a noted film scholar. Their shared space was marked by a slightly ironical sign that read, “Master Artists Corp.” Now the story goes that Garrett, who had some prior screenwriting experience, got a call one day from his old Princeton friend Richard Hilliard (who was fostering his own indie film aspirations) to write the story for a movie that had only a title. That title: Frankenstein Meets the Space Monster. Daunted by creating an entire script from such a ridiculous premise, Garrett reached out to Dillard and Rodenbeck for help. So the Master Artists Corp sat around Garrett’s kitchen table one night with a bottle of whiskey and began throwing out ideas for what would become the first draft for FMtSM.

For what it’s worth, the movie was originally intended to be a parody of the sci-fi/horror films that Dillard loved growing up. Of the three writers in the Master Artists Corp, he was the most versed in horror movies, and it’s actually a genre that fascinates and haunts him even today. “I am, of course, still trying to figure out the appeal of the horror film to my psyche, Frankenstein especially,” said Dillard. “Perhaps something dark in there beneath my cheerful demeanor.” The Hollins professor considers horror to be profound cinema that explores the dangers of technology, the inner darkness of humanity, and the compassion we can all have for our monsters. That first draft of FMtSM would’ve explored these themes, particularly through the manmade “monster” Col. Frank, with some comedic routines such as Frank’s legs, which were transplanted from a deceased tap dancer, breaking out into dance whenever the melody of “Sweet Georgia Brown” was played. Sound familiar to Mel Brooks’ monster from Young Frankenstein singing, or really groaning, “Puttin’ on the Ritz”? Except FMtSM would’ve done it first!

However, that’s not (necessarily) the film that got made. The producers of FMtSM, while amused by the original concept, wanted a serious horror film they could easily sell to the summer drive-in movie theater crowd. “I learned (and try to pass on to my students who don’t want to hear it) that the first version of a screenplay is far from the final version,” said Dillard, who’s also taught film and screenwriting courses at Hollins for years. “The final film may bear little resemblance to where the screenplay started out. That’s an important lesson and one that’s often overlooked in screenwriting classes.”

To that point, Dillard and the Corp did numerous rewrites on FMtSM, each straighter than the last, to appease an increasingly nervous pair of business-minded producers. And while the three writers had no hand (or even a finger) in the actual production of the movie, the end result does retain a lot of the initial script’s core ideas and even some scenes from the overtly comedic first draft, such as the gloriously cheesy and over-the-top performances of Princess Marcuzan and Dr. Nadir (the film’s two primary antagonists), and the impressive ineptitude of General Bowers, who chuckles over comics in the midst of an alien invasion.

It’s been more than half a century now since Dillard worked on FMtSM (and saw it at a Vinton drive-in where the reels were played out of order), but the campy classic that’s entertained multiple generations still occupies a special place in his heart. “Those days sharing an office with the other members of the Master Artists Corp were a joy and a delight, even though sadly enough I alone am left to tell thee,” said Dillard. “We had such a great time day-by-day, and FMtSM was a lasting (or so it seems) tribute to the good time we had.”

New Hollins Professor, Poet/Novelist Candice Wuehle, To Bring Focus On Genre-Blending And Magic In Writing

Candice Wuehle seems like the perfect fit to teach English and creative writing at Hollins. An emphasis on genre-blending? Check. An impressive academic and professional resume? Check. An interest in the occult and spooky things? Double-check.

“I’m fascinated with séance as a literary mode and mediumicity as a poetic strategy,” Wuehle said about her interest in what she calls “occult technologies” in creative writing. “There are a lot of writers working within that occult realm as a way into the craft of writing.”

The poet/novelist joined the Hollins faculty this fall as a visiting assistant professor, and the historic presence of the university isn’t lost on Wuehle. “It seems like a lot of the students at Hollins are interested in the ‘haunted’ history of the campus,” said Wuehle. “I’d love to teach a course about the craft of ghost stories that might merge with Hollins’ history and perhaps archival research at the university.”

Even though she’s been teaching at Hollins only since September, it’s already clear that Wuehle has lots of ideas about what to do with her time at one of the nation’s oldest higher-ed institutions for women. “Right now I’m really enjoying for the first time in my life doing what I always imagined a creative writing professor doing, which is mostly just workshopping all the time,” said Wuehle. She calls Hollins a “dream job” that allows her to craft her classes around her own interests: hybrid works and authors who write across genre and form. “I like to think about the slippage between genres,” said Wuehle. “What’s to be gained from this additional space that’s generated by crossing between those borders?”Monarch Book Cover

Wuehle has quite the resume, too. Born and raised in Iowa City, Iowa, she’s the author of three poetry collections including Death Industrial Complex, which was selected as a 2020 finalist for The Believer Magazine Book Award. Her debut novel, MONARCH, is due out in March of next year. Wuehle holds an M.A. in literature from the University of Minnesota, an M.F.A. in poetry from the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, and a doctorate in creative writing from the University of Kansas, where she was the recipient of a Chancellor’s Fellowship.

As for how this über-talented writer landed at Hollins, the credit partly goes to an old friend of Wuehle’s: Visiting Assistant Professor of English and Creative Writing Matthew Burnside. Both Burnside and Wuehle attended what many consider the most prestigious creative writing program in the country: the Iowa Writers Workshop in Wuehle’s hometown of Iowa City. “It was nice to know someone in the department before I came here,” said Wuehle, who studied poetry at the Iowa Workshop while Burnside was studying fiction. “I’d also heard of Hollins because there are so many very famous graduates and writers from the university.”

While earning her master’s degree at Iowa, Wuehle first became interested in memory studies, ghost stories, the occult, tarot, and more. She even had a class on magic and occult technologies taught by poet D. A. Powell. “We had a séance in the basement of the English department at Iowa,” recalled Wuehle. “There were maybe 40 people there, and it was really active. So I started working on projects in that magic course and just never stopped.”

Some writers struggle with the competitive environment of the Iowa Writers Workshop, but Wuehle felt differently about her experience at the nation’s oldest creative writing institute. “I’m from Iowa City where the culture of the writing program really spills over into the town,” she said. Wuehle even had high school teachers who were graduates of the workshop. “I know some people feel that Iowa City is a small town, but it was a return to where I was from, to people I’d known since high school,” said Wuehle. “It was just a really nice time there for me.”

Speaking of small towns, Wuehle seems already settled into her new life in Roanoke. “I’m really loving being at Hollins,” she said. “I’m fascinated with the general culture of this school, the mix of really contemporary—the curiosity and political passion of the undergraduates—with the older traditions like Tinker Day and the architecture of the campus itself. It feels like a really special, idyllic place to be.”

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.


Award-Winning Author Scott Blackwood Joins Hollins as Distinguished Professor of Creative Writing

For author Scott Blackwood, one word comes to mind when asked about Hollins’ Jackson Center for Creative Writing: commitment.

“I just wanted to teach at a program that was committed,” said the university’s new Distinguished Professor of Creative Writing. “Every person I’ve met so far — undergrads, graduate students, and faculty — is committed to the entire process of writing.”

Blackwood, who has a background in both fiction and nonfiction writing, is similarly committed to his craft, and it shows in his diverse body of work. He is the author of two novels, We Agreed to Meet Just Here and See How Small, both of which were released to critical acclaim. See How Small won a 2016 PEN USA Award for Fiction and was named an “Editor’s Choice” pick by The New York Times. His nonfiction credits include publications in Chicago Magazine and the narrative work The Rise and Fall of Paramount Records, Volumes I & II, which was nominated for the 2015 Grammy Award for Best Album Notes.

The relationship between teaching and writing is also powerful for Blackwood, whose teaching experience ranges from high school students to Ph.D. candidates. “Teaching has been a very positive thing forWe Agreed to Meet Just Here me,” he said. “When you start teaching other writers’ stories, you really think about the chances they took — and that inspires you to take risks in your own work that you might not have considered before.”

“I hope to help my students take risks, too. I’ve found that you will exponentially find your voice if you’re pushed in that direction. Students sometimes forget that they don’t have to focus on certain things in their writing or they feel like they have to be a certain type of writer. I want to be the ground beneath them that holds them up while they take risks of their own.”

Blackwood was particularly drawn to the openness of the M.F.A. curriculum. “I’m enamored with the cross-genre experimentation here. The way the graduate students come out with so many variations of the themes that interest them — it’s powerful. I’m eager to push them to play with form, structure, and point of view.”

See How Small“For example, I’m really interested in ideas like a collective point of view or an associative plot, where a story isn’t just driven by the cause and effect we typically see,” he said. “What happens when a writer explores the collective voice of a place like a neighborhood or makes it so that numerous characters are brought into a different landscape and unified through that? That excites people.”

In many ways, Hollins itself encapsulates what matters the most to Blackwood when it comes to writing. “What’s important to me is the co-mingling of all these worlds. I don’t believe that every academic discipline or writing genre should be separated from each other. There should be some version of cohesion.”

Recalling his first meetings with various members of the English faculty, he added: “I felt so very bound to them and like we were collectively on a mission to do something special.”

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 2021-22 Reading And Lecture Series To Feature Pulitzer-Winning Poet Forrest Gander And NYT Bestselling Author Imbolo Mbue

“In person” is back in session at Hollins, and not just for classes either. After more than a year of online reading events and lectures, Hollins University is proud to welcome back in-person events for its 2021-22 Reading and Lecture Series. This week, the university’s English and Creative Writing Department released the full schedule of special literary events, readings, Q&As, and lectures. This year’s reading series is roaring back in person with a bang, featuring big-name authors like Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Forrest Gander, Hollins alumnae Anna Caritj M.F.A. ’16 and Kristina Gorcheva-Newberry M.F.A. ’10, and New York Times bestselling author Imbolo Mbue, whose debut novel Behold The Dreamers won the 2017 PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction.

“I’m very proud of this lineup, which includes such a variety of writers in terms of genre, subject matter, and diversity,” said Liz Poliner, professor of English and creative writing and former director of  Hollins’ Jackson Center for Creative Writing. Poliner created the impressive program of authors for this year’s reading series before she stepped down as director last spring. “It took probably six weeks or so of fairly steady effort to line it all up,” said Poliner. “I’m looking forward to absolutely all of them! All are first-time readers at Hollins, as we like to have a fresh lineup each year, and all are truly accomplished writers with so much to offer.”

The series officially kicked off on September 2 and 3 with a dual reading and Q&A from two of Hollins’ newest English and creative writing professors: Candice Wuehle (author of the poetry collection Death Industrial Complex, which was selected as a 2020 finalist for The Believer Magazine Book Award) and Scott Blackwood (author of the novel See How Small, which won the 2016 PEN USA Award for Fiction). On September 23-24, award-winning Cameroonian-American novelist and short story writer Imbolo Mbue will offer a reading and Q&A about her most recent novel How Beautiful We Were.

In all, this year’s reading series will feature 14 authors and lecturers across 21 events (all readings and Q&As are held on separate days). That doesn’t include Hollins own talented faculty and student writers, who will also get opportunities to read in person this year.

Unfortunately, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, this year’s reading and lecture series is (for now) only open to current students, faculty and staff. However, all readings will be livestreamed via Zoom so the public can watch from the safety of their own homes. Q&As will remain open to only the campus community.

Get your calendars/smartphones ready and check out the full schedule below.


Thursday-Friday, September 23-24, 2021: Imbolo Mbue

Mbue, whose previous book Behold the Dreamers was an Oprah’s Book Club selection, will discuss and read from her latest novel, How Beautiful We Were.

Reading: Thursday at 7:30 p.m. in the Visual Arts Center Auditorium.

Public access via livestream only:

Passcode: 159935

Q&A: Friday at 11 a.m. in the Hollins Room, Wyndham Robertson Library (open to the campus community only)


Thursday, September 30, 2021: Alison Fraser

Alison Fraser is an associate curator at the University at Buffalo Libraries and will give a lecture entitled, “Sweet Company: Helen Adam and the Archives at the Poetry Collection.”

Lecture: Thursday at 7:30 p.m. in the Hollins Room, Wyndham Robertson Library.

Public access via livestream only:

Passcode: 714888


Thursday, October 7-8, 2021: Ada Limón

Limón won the National Book Critics Circle Award for Poetry for her 2015 collection Bright Dead Things and has also been a finalist for the National Book Award and the National Books Critics Circle Award.

Reading: Thursday at 7:30 p.m. in the Green Drawing Room, Main Building.

Public access via livestream only:

Passcode: 404655

Q&A: Friday at 11 a.m. in the Hollins Room, Wyndham Robertson Library (open to the campus community only)


Thursday, October 21, 2021: Julie Pfeiffer

Hollins Professor of English Julie Pfeiffer will give a lecture entitled, “Transforming Girls: How We Make Girls into Women.”

Lecture: Thursday at 7:30 p.m. in the Green Drawing Room, Main Building.

Public access via livestream only:

Passcode: 403576


Thursday-Friday, October 28-29, 2021: J. Drew Lanham

An award-winning poet and professor of wildlife ecology at Clemson University, Lanhams’ writing explores his experiences as a birder, hunter and “wild, wandering soul.”

Reading: Thursday at 7:30 p.m. in the Hollins Room, Wyndham Robertson Library

Public access via livestream only:

Passcode: 695218

Q&A: Friday at 11 a.m. in the Hollins Room, Wyndham Robertson Library (open to the campus community only)


Thursday-Friday, November 11-12, 2021: Dinaw Mengestu

Mengestu’s ambitious 2007 debut novel The beautiful things that heaven bears won him international recognition and the coveted Guardian first book award.

Reading: Thursday at 7:30 pm in the Green Drawing Room, Main Building

Public access via livestream only:

Passcode: 760233

Q&A: Friday at 11 a.m. in the Hollins Room, Wyndham Robertson Library (open to the campus community only)


Thursday, December 2, 2021: Writers’ Harvest Reading

Thursday at 7:30 p.m. in the Visual Arts Center Auditorium

Hear Hollins faculty writers read exciting new work to raise money for Feeding America Southwest Virginia, a nonprofit food bank that has been helping feed the hungry in Virginia for 40 years. 100 percent of the proceeds will be donated to this organization. General admission is $10 and $5 for students. Tickets will be available at the door or, to preorder, please contact Lisa Radcliff, administrative coordinator (phone: 540-362-6317; email:

Public access via livestream only:

Passcode: 933103




Thursday-Friday, February 10-11, 2022: Yiyun Li

A native of Beijing and a graduate of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, Li’s novels and short stories have won her many awards, including a PEN/Hemingway Award and a MacArthur Fellowship.

Reading: Thursday at 7:30 p.m. in the Green Drawing Room, Main Building

Public access via livestream only:

Passcode: 245726

Q&A: Friday at 11 a.m. in the Hollins Room, Wyndham Robertson Library (open to the campus community only)


Thursday-Friday, February 24-25, 2022: Nazera Sadiq Wright

An associate professor of English at the University of Kentucky, Wright’s book Black Girlhood in the Nineteenth Century earned the 2018 Children’s Literature Association’s Honor Book Award for Outstanding Book of Literary Criticism.

Lecture: Thursday at 7:30 p.m. in the Hollins Room, Wyndham Robertson Library

Public access via livestream only:

Passcode: 111008

Q&A: Friday at 11 a.m. in the Hollins Room, Wyndham Robertson Library (open to the campus community only)


Thursday-Friday, March 10-11, 2022: Forrest Gander

Raised in Virginia, Gander is a gifted poet, translator, essayist, and novelist whose 2019 poetry collection Be With fetched him a Pulitzer Prize.

Reading: Thursday at 7:30 p.m. in the Green Drawing Room, Main Building.

Public access by livestream only:

Passcode: 031890

Q&A: Friday at 11 a.m. in the Hollins Room, Wyndham Robertson Library (open to the campus community only)


Saturday, April 2, 2022: Hollins Annual Literary Festival

The Hollins Literary Festival is an all-day celebration of all things writing related. Readings and the poetry panel will be held in the Wetherill Visual Arts Center Auditorium (Room 200).

9:30 a.m. – check-in and refreshments, 2nd floor lobby

10:30 a.m. – reading by Akhil Sharma

11:30 a.m. – poetry panel discussion of student-submitted works

12:45 p.m. – luncheon, Moody Dining Hall (pay at the door)

2: p.m. – reading by Jenny Boully

3:15 p.m. – reading by A. Van Jordan

4 p.m. – reception, 2nd floor lobby

Public access to readings by livestream only:

Passcode 736983

Thursday-Friday, April 21-22, 2022: Anna Caritj and Kristina Gorcheva-Newberry

This is a rare double reading of two recent M.F.A. alums: Anna Caritj ’16 and Kristina Gorcheva-Newberry ’10. Both have new books out that they will be reading from and discussing.

Reading: Thursday at 7:30 p.m. in the Green Drawing Room, Main Building.

Public access by livestream only:

Passcode: 333043

Q&A: Friday at 11 a.m. in the Hollins Room, Wyndham Robertson Library (open to the campus community only)


Thursday, May 5, 2022: “The Last Twist”

Enjoy “The Last Twist,” a farewell reading by Hollins seniors and graduating Creative Writing M.F.A. students. This is the Hollins community’s last chance to hear the work of this talented young cohort of writers.

Thursday at 7:30 p.m. in the Green Drawing Room, Main Building

Public access by livestream only:

Passcode: 628838


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.”