Two Major Film Festivals Honor Web Series by Screenwriting M.F.A. Students

A digital video production by students in Hollins University’s Master of Fine Arts (M.F.A.) program in screenwriting and film studies has been cited by two renowned film festivals.

Bless Your Heart, written by Bri Kaisen, Michael Greenwald, and Ian Deleon, was named Best Web Series in the November 2022 monthly competition sponsored by Top Shorts, a leading online film festival that was selected by Motion Array as one of the best short film festivals for up-and-coming filmmakers. Top Shorts is one of the best-reviewed festivals on the website FilmFreeway, with over 200 five-star reviews.

The production also earned Honorable Mention in the Best Original Story category in the New York International Film Awards’ (NYIFA) monthly film and script competition for November. NYIFA’s goal is to acclaim films and filmmakers from around the world and to serve as the next stage in their careers.

Bless Your Heart is a four-episode comedic web series that Kaisen, Greenwald, and Deleon originally developed for a screenwriting class taught by Chuck Kim, who boasts credits in prime- time television, comic books, and animation, including multiple seasons working on the NBC series Heroes.

“The series’ main character is Annabelle, a snob mayor of a local country town trying to get reelected,” Kaisen explained. “She sees the local hotdog eating competition held by wacky ketchup enthusiast Bill Kleinz as the perfect press event where she can win over more residents and convince Mr. Kleinz to donate much-needed money to her campaign. Unfortunately, Brenda, the local town drunk, stands in her way. But, when Mayor Annabelle tries to convince Brenda to leave, she may or may not accidently kill her. Now, Annabelle has to figure out how to hide the body while winning over her town and the hotdog eating contest.”

Jax Martin, Matthew Humphrey, and Mary McKeon partnered with Kaisen in filming the series during writer and filmmaker Lincoln Reed’s Summer Term 2022 production class (Reed’s short film Drop Dead Gorgeous was named winner of Best Screenplay, Audience Choice, and Best Cinematography at the 2018 Envision Film Festival).

“We had a lot of hardships and troubles but we pushed through and were super-proud of what we created, so I decided to submit it to some film festivals,” Kaisen recalled. In addition to the recognition from Top Shorts and NYIFA, Kaisen and her collaborators just learned that Bless Your Heart has been selected for the Festigious Los Angeles – Monthly Film Competition. “We’ve submitted it to bigger annual festivals taking place next year and have our fingers crossed,” she added.

Kaisen hopes to someday write comedy for television. “I’m currently working on a 30-minute comedy TV pilot episode about a bright-eyed nurse trying to improve a nursing home that is in danger of being shut down. I’m also in the process of rewriting a feature-length dark comedy screenplay entitled Horoscope Hell about a horoscope writer for a dying local paper who dreams of becoming a real journalist. She angrily writes murderous horoscopes that are accidentally published and then become real murders.”

Kaisen believes that “none of this would be possible” without the guidance and support she has received as she pursues her M.F.A. in screenwriting at Hollins. “I’ve completely evolved throughout the program. I’ve gained confidence in my writing and learned so much from the amazing teachers we have. Hollins’ screenwriting program has given me a real chance to succeed in the industry.”

Hollins Is Among Virginia’s Top 10 Schools for Praxis Elementary Education Pass Rates

Hollins University is number eight on’s list of the Best Praxis Elementary Education Pass Rates in Virginia.

The rankings recognize the commonwealth’s public and private colleges and universities with the highest first-time pass rates for the Praxis Elementary Education Multiple Subjects Test, a computer-based exam that quantifies a teacher’s subjective knowledge before a teaching license is obtained.

Praxis exams are one of the most widely accepted licensing exams available to teachers, and most states, including Virginia, accept Praxis exams to meet their licensing requirements. Prospective teachers can have their exam results considered for job opportunities not only in Virginia but across the United States.

Nationally, the Praxis exam first-time pass rate is 45%, while in Virginia, the first-time pass rate is 57%. Hollins exceeds both the national and state averages with a 72% first-time pass rate.

“The education department at Hollins is proud that we have so many successful students who get jobs as meaningful teachers throughout Virginia,” said Director of Graduate Education Programs Lorraine Lange.

In addition to undergraduate programming that enables students to earn teacher licensure alongside a degree in their chosen major, Hollins provides students with a bachelor’s degree from any accredited institution the opportunity to earn teaching licensure and a Master of Arts in Teaching at the same time. Geared toward college graduates in an array of fields who believe teaching is their calling, the program features small, interactive classes as well as hybrid instructional options, along with career assistance with job connections in the Roanoke region.

Hollins also offers a Master of Arts in Teaching and Learning, an online graduate program for licensed teachers who want to learn more about the practice of teaching and acquire and develop new knowledge.

For more details on these programs, complete and submit the Request Information about Our Graduate Programs online form.

Hollins Partners with Local School Divisions to Help Close the Teacher Shortage Gap

“The teacher shortage in America has hit crisis levels – and school officials everywhere are scrambling to ensure that, as students return to classrooms, someone will be there to educate them.”

That’s the alarming assessment from an August 3 story in The Washington Post detailing the deficit of educators in classrooms across the country. “I have never seen it this bad,” Dan Domenech, executive director of the School Superintendents Association, said in the article. “Right now it’s number one on the list of issues that are concerning school districts…necessity is the mother of invention, and hard-pressed districts are going to have to come up with some solutions.”

Virginia is not immune to the critical teacher shortage and its profound impact. “Last October, the Virginia Department of Education’s staffing and vacancy report listed more than 2,500 unfilled teaching positions across the state, and some divisions also reported a spike in departures at the end of the most current school year,” the Virginia Mercury reported last month.

In response to the crisis, “Hollins University is working with local school divisions to close the teacher shortage gap in the Roanoke region,” said Lorraine Lange, director of the Master of Arts in Teaching, Master of Arts in Teaching and Learning (MATL), and Master of Arts in Liberal Studies programs at Hollins.

Roanoke City Public Schools (RCPS) has joined with the Hollins Education Program to help teachers who hold a nonrenewable, three-year provisional license fulfill the requirements for full teaching licensure. Fall Term 2022 represents the second semester of the initiative.

“Hollins has been an invaluable partner to RCPS, tailoring instruction to our teachers’ needs so they in turn have the skills and knowledge to meet the needs of our students,” noted RCPS Superintendent Verletta White. “Coursework is completed in a cohort with other RCPS teachers, which allows them to build a community of support while learning and on the job. This is invaluable as we work to attract and retain highly qualified educators in our school division.”

White said that the initiative is grant funded to ensure “there are no economic barriers to receiving teacher certification.”

Hollins is also collaborating with North Cross School in Roanoke to help a cohort of their teachers earn a graduate degree as part of their professional development. The teachers are working toward completing the MATL; the North Cross program will see its first graduate this fall (third grade teacher Amy Hanson) with more teachers expected to earn their MATL degrees in May 2023.

“Students in the program have the opportunity to work with accomplished faculty in the areas essential in today’s continually changing landscape of PreK-12 education: writing, inquiry, instructional design, assessment, leadership, technology, and contemporary issues in education,” Lange said.

Victor Lamas, assistant head of academics at North Cross, explained that the school’s partnership with Hollins “has allowed us to offer a rigorous MATL program and degree at a very affordable price for many of our teachers. It is one of the best professional development opportunities we have for our faculty.”

In 2021, Virginia Western Community College notified Lange that no instructors were available to teach mathematics in the dual enrollment (DE) program at Daleville’s Lord Botetourt High School (LBHS). (DE enables LBHS students to earn credits at Virginia Western while completing their high school graduation requirements.) In response, Hollins began offering online graduate classes to help teachers at LBHS and throughout Virginia qualify to teach DE classes. To date, five mathematics teachers in the commonwealth have earned eligibility.

LBHS teacher Jimmy Yager completed his certification to teach DE last year and recalled, “Hollins was overwhelmingly helpful as I sought this additional certification. I found the flexibility to be a great plus. The self-paced learning and instructor availability were extremely beneficial, and I valued the focused approach of a stand-alone path for DE certification.”

He added, “There has been a great need for dual enrollment teachers in our district and I am extremely grateful for the efforts of Hollins to help.”

“We are proud to help teachers,” Lange said, “but the real winners are the students.”

Lorraine Lange talks with WSLS 10, WDBJ 7 about Hollins’ collaborations with local school divisions.



Children’s Literature and Children’s Book Illustration Faculty and Alumni Authors Celebrate Banner Year for Publishing

Hollins University’s graduate programs in children’s literature and children’s book illustration are applauding what director Lisa Rowe Fraustino called “a true bounty of books published this year by our faculty and program graduates.”

Thirteen faculty and/or alumni authors enjoyed book launches or the issuing of new versions of their books. “It’s inspiring,” Fraustino noted. “There are close to 30 books to celebrate from Hollins folks in 2022.”

Here’s a list of the books published this year by the authors who have taught and/or graduated from the children’s literature and children’s book illustration programs at Hollins, as researched and compiled by  Visiting Associate Professor Hillary Homzie:

Brian AtteberyBrian Attebery Book Cover

The author of four books and numerous articles on fantasy and science fiction, Attebery has penned what has been described as “an exciting and accessible study of the genre of fantasy.” Fantasy: How It Works “addresses two central questions about fantastic storytelling: first, how can it be meaningful if it doesn’t claim to represent things as they are, and second, what kind of change can it make in the world?” The author explores facets of fantastic world-building and story creation in classic and contemporary fantasy, and looks at how prominent fantasy writers test new ways of understanding and interaction to reexamine political institutions, social practices, and models of reality.


Dhonielle Clayton Book CoverDhonielle Clayton

Clayton, the New York Times bestselling author of The Belles series and co-author of the Tiny Pretty Things duology, a Netflix original series, has written her middle grade fantasy debut, The Marvellers. Eleven-year-old conjuror Ella Durand enrolls at the Arcanum Training Institute, a magic school in the clouds where Marvellers from around the world practice their cultural arts, like brewing Indian spice elixirs and bartering with Irish pixies. “The Marvellers deserves the highest compliment I can give a book: I want to live in this world,” said Rick Riordan, author of the Percy Jackson series, while Angie Thomas, whose books include The Hate U Give and Concrete Rose, called The Marvellers “a marvelous gift of a novel.”


Michelle Jabes CorporaMichelle Jabes Corpora Book Cover

The new book by Corpora is The Fog of War: Martha Gellhorn at the D-Day Landings, an installment in the True Adventures series that publishes in the U.S. in September. She also wrote The Dust Bowl (2021), the first book in the American Horse Tales series, and is the ghostwriter of five novels in the Nancy Drew Diaries and Hardy Boys Adventures series. She is currently writing the first book in a new series with Penguin Workshop, Holly Horror, which is scheduled for publication in the fall of 2023. After five years as an assistant editor with Greenwillow Books (HarperCollins), she became an editor with book packager Working Partners, Ltd., where she has been producing concepts for middle grade series fiction for more than a decade.


Christopher Denise Book CoverChristopher Denise

The illustrator of many critically acclaimed books for young readers, including Alison McGhee’s Firefly Hollow, Rosemary Wells’ Following Grandfather, and Brian Jacques’ Redwall series, Denise has been recognized by the Bank Street College of Education, Parents’ Choice Foundation, and the Society of Illustrators. This year, he produced the medieval picture book Knight Owl, in which a determined owl builds strength and confidence. It’s the story about the real mettle of a hero: wits, humor, and heart. Full of wordplay and optimism, Knight Owl, a New York Times bestseller, shows that cleverness and friendship can rule over brawn.


Laurie J. EdwardsLaurie Edwards Book Cover

Edwards, a former teacher and librarian, is a USA Today bestselling author of more than 60 books in print or forthcoming under several pen names. Under her own name, her 2022 releases include four books in the middle grade Unicorns of the Secret Stable series, including Unicorns to the Rescue, Lucky and the Dragon, Magical Unicorn Horns, and Mermaid Magic. As Rachel J. Good, she writes Amish novels of faith, hope, and forgiveness. This year she has produced two novels (An Amish Marriage of Convenience: Surprised by Love and the forthcoming Amish Christmas Treasure), two anthology stories (for the Amish Spring Romance Collection), and will have four novel reprints in the Amish Sisters and Friends series (Change of Heart, Buried Secrets, Gift from Above, and Big-City Amish).


Carrie Gustafson Book CoverCassie Gustafson

Gustafson’s work has earned honors such as the PEN New England Susan P. Bloom Discovery Award, the Shirley Henn Creative Writing Award, and the Ruth Landers Glass Scholarship. Publisher’s Weekly said of her debut novel, After the Ink Dries, “This all-too-believable book will open eyes and start conversations about sexual assault, toxic masculinity, and victim shaming. Her new young adult novel, The Secrets We Keep, follows a girl’s struggle to reconcile friendship, sexual abuse, and the secrets one buries deep inside to survive. The book explores the complex, powerful bonds of friendship and family.


Hillary HomzieHillary Homzie Book Cover

Homzie is the author of many books for children, including the Ellie May chapter books, an SLJ Webcast featured selection, and Queen of Likes, which was optioned by Priority Pictures and is a PJOur Way selection. In her new inspiring and educational picture book about princesses past and present, If You Were a Princess, three girls wonder what it would be like to be princesses themselves. Through the facts and profiles of real-life princesses woven throughout, they become empowered to try and make a difference within their own communities, and discover that anyone can be a princess after all.


EB Lewis Book CoverE.B. Lewis

An award-winning illustrator of over 75 books for children, including Coming on Home Soon (a 2005 Caldecott medal winner), Lewis’ has illustrated the new book Seeking Freedom: The Untold Story of Fortress Monroe and the Ending of Slavery in America by Selene Castrovilla. In this dramatic Civil War Story, a courageous enslaved fugitive teams with a cunning Union general to save a Union fort from the Confederates – and triggers the end of slavery in the United States. This is the first children’s nonfiction book about a Black unsung hero who remains relevant today and to the Black Lives Matter movement.


Rebekah LowellRebekah Lowell Book Cover

Lowell is an author, illustrator, and surface designer with a passion for the natural world. As a survivor of domestic abuse, she has found the outdoors to be healing grounds. Her artwork has been featured on the Maine Duck Stamp five times. Her debut young adult novel in verse, The Road to After, was published this year by Nancy Paulsen Books. This poignant book is a portrait of healing, as a young girl rediscovers life and the soothing power of nature after being freed from her abusive father. Lowell’s debut picture book, Catching Flight, will be published by Doubleday Books for Young Readers in spring 2023.


Candice Ransom Book CoverCandice Ransom

The author of 165 published books, Ransom’s award-winning works include Apple Picking Day!, Amanda Panda Quits Kindergarten, and The Big Green Pocketbook. Her newest book, School Day!, is a Step 1 reader (big type and easy words) and features the family from Apple Picking Day! as well as Garden Day!, Snow Day!, and Beach Day! At the start of the new school year, a big sister on her first day of third grade takes time to show her little brother the ropes on his first day of kindergarten, proving it’s great to have a sibling to rely on when starting something new.



Amie Rose RotruckAmie Rose Rotruck Book Cover

Rotruck is featured in the new book, The Seeker’s Guide to Twisted Taverns, which is “A [Dungeons and Dragons] Fifth Edition supplement filled with fantastical premade taverns, inspiring story hooks, and lovable NPCs [Non-Player Characters].” Her contributions are the taverns “Spring of Peace” (a desert oasis), “The Drunken Treasure” (an underwater vessel), “Fungal Grotto” (a giant mushroom staff with sentient fungi), “The Dungeon of Darkness” (filled with all sorts of dark and scary creatures), and “By the Frost” (a Norse mythology inspired tavern).


Ali Standish Book CoverAli Standish

The critically acclaimed author of The Ethan I Was Before, August Isle, How to Disappear Completely, and The Mending Summer, Standish has now written Yonder, a historical fiction middle grade novel about a boy on the home front in World War II who must solve the mystery of the disappearance of his best friend, an adventure that explores what true heroism means. In its starred review, Kirkus Reviews described Yonder as “multilayered, moving, and tremendously powerful.” Booklist, also in a starred review, called the novel, “A heartfelt tale about what it means to be a hero and take a stand against injustice.”


Sharon Dennis WyethSharon Dennis Wyeth Book Cover

Wyeth has written over 50 books, including picture books, early readers, middle grade, and young adult novels, both contemporary and historical. Her new Step 3 Reader (engaging characters in easy-to-follow plots and popular topics for children who are ready to read on their own) is Juneteenth: Our Day of Freedom, which explores the important holiday that celebrates the end of chattel slavery in the United States. On June 19, 1865, two years after the Emancipation Proclamation, a group of enslaved men, women, and children gathered. Juneteenth marks the day when freedom truly rang for all.




Hollins Playwrights to Attend Kennedy Center Playwriting Intensive

Sean McCord, who is pursuing his M.F.A. in the Playwright’s Lab at Hollins University, and Sarah Cosgrove-Gaumond, who completed her graduate degree in playwriting at Hollins this year, have been honored with invitations this summer to the Kennedy Center Playwriting Intensive.

Presented by the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts and the Kennedy Center American College Theater Festival (KCACTF), the program welcomes university students, faculty, and emerging professionals from across the country. They engage in rigorous writing workshops and discussions of the art, craft, and business of playwriting led by Gary Garrison, an award-winning playwright, author, and educator who has served as executive director of creative affairs for the Dramatist Guild of America. A wide range of distinguished artists augment the program.

In addition, participants will be able to attend breakout sessions that address specific opportunities and challenges for affinity and identity groups, and playwrights of color, each led by a distinguished mentor.

Sean McCord
Sean McCord

McCord was drawn to playwriting after getting involved with local theatre in Charlottesville. “I discovered a writing group there, the LiveArts Playwrights Lab,” he recalled in a 2019 interview with WVTF Public Radio. “And, every summer they would put on a show of shorts that they had written. So, I went to that show and oh, wow, you mean you can just like write a play and get together with friends and they will put it on? So, I joined and started writing short plays and after that I was kind of hooked.”

McCord went on to enroll in the graduate program in playwriting at Hollins and has had plays produced in Virginia, Kentucky, Colorado, California, South Carolina, and Stuttgart, Germany. His first full-length play, Moving, won the 2019 Kennedy Center National Partners of the American Theatre Playwriting Award.

Sarah Cosgrove-Gaumond
Sarah Cosgrove-Gaumond

Cosgrove-Gaumond completed her M.F.A. this year and is enjoying her second invitation to the Kennedy Center Playwriting Intensive; she attended the program in 2018. Her plays Unspoken and North Wind were selected for the Hollins Playwrights’ Festival of New Works in 2018 and 2019, respectively. Another play, I Lived to Tell, was one of three Hollins student-written plays invited to the KCACTF regional festival last year and was nominated for the organization’s national festival. It will be produced as part of the Hollins-Mill Mountain Winter Festival of New Works this January.

Other career highlights include writing and performing It Would Have to be a Girl at the Future is Female Festival at Chicago Dramatists, and You’d be So Much Prettier If You as part of the Women’s Performance Workshop at the Strand Theater in Baltimore.

“My goal is to create a theatrical experience that raises questions, challenges the status quo, and amplifies the voices of the underserved,” she notes on her website.

The Kennedy Center Playwriting Intensive takes place virtually July 14-17 and 21-24.

Legendary Actor Robert Duvall Discusses Moving “From Ink to Behavior” with Hollins Screenwriters

Robert Duvall has appeared in some of the greatest movies ever made and played an array of iconic film and television roles. So, what has been the key to his success during a distinguished career spanning more than 60 years in which he has won an Academy Award, four Golden Globe Awards, a BAFTA Award, two Primetime Emmy Awards, and a Screen Actors Guild Award?

“Leave me alone,” the 91-year-old actor said bluntly but endearingly of what he has always sought from his directors. “See what I bring rather than superimposing your perceptions and concept. [Francis Ford] Coppola (who directed Duvall in 1972’s The Godfather, 1974’s The Conversation, and 1979’s Apocalypse Now) was very good at that. He wanted to see what you would bring to the table, which is a sign of a more than competent and outstanding director. I loved working with Coppola.”

Duvall recently shared his insights on acting, directing, and screenwriting during a conversation with students from Hollins University’s graduate programs in screenwriting and film studies. The event was made possible by writer/producer Colleen Hahn, a screenwriting student who first met Duvall on the set of Tender Mercies, the 1983 film that earned him a Best Actor Oscar.

“Colleen came to me and said, ‘Do you think we have any room in our schedule to talk to Robert Duvall?’” said Brian Price, director of the screenwriting and film studies programs. “I think my reaction was something like, ‘We’ll reschedule everything we have to bring Tom Hagen (Duvall’s unforgettable role in The Godfather) to talk to us in person.’”

In paying tribute to Coppola, Duvall recalled arriving in the Philippines to work on Apocalypse Now. “The name of the character was Colonel Carnage, and it was ridiculous the way it was written. So, I said to Coppola, ‘Let me do some research.’ I got with a guy who’d been a helicopter pilot in Vietnam and he told me about the air cavalry. That helped me craft a part that made sense. Colonel Carnage was a joke, really.” Influenced as well by his own time in the service and his father’s military career, Colonel Carnage became Lieutenant Colonel Bill Kilgore. The character would proclaim what Duvall said is one of his favorite lines of dialogue from his roles, and one of the most memorable from any film: “I love the smell of napalm in the morning. It smells like victory.”

Robert Duvall on Zoom
Robert Duvall, who has appeared in some of the greatest movies ever made and played some of the most memorable roles of all time, spoke with Hollins screenwriting students via Zoom on June 27.

Duvall used the anecdote in part to emphasize his firm belief that “research, research, research” is essential to crafting an impactful script. “Immerse yourself in the subject matter and then put forth something that you love. I haven’t written that many screenplays, but sometimes I just sit down and start writing and just see where it goes. I go from A to B to C to D and just follow the logic of the script.”

As an actor, Duvall noted that when he reads a script, “I look for whether I can take what’s in ink and turn it into organized behavior. ‘From ink to behavior’ is what I call it. You let your imagination take over and encompass you and propel your ideas into results.”

One of Duvall’s triumphs as an actor, director, producer, and screenwriter was 1997’s The Apostle, in which he played a Pentecostal preacher. “I was doing an off-Broadway play where I played a guy from Hughes, Arkansas. I was coming back from California and I got off the plane and thought maybe I’d like to go to Hughes to see what it’s really like there.”

While walking down the street he came upon a Pentecostal church and decided to go in. “A woman was preaching. It was the first time I had ever seen something like it. I never forgot it and that was my guide in writing The Apostle.”

Duvall said he chose to avoid going “the Hollywood route” to get The Apostle made because he feared “they wouldn’t have taken this real sense of the subject matter.” As a result, “it was quite a few years before I could actually get it done. I also put up my own money.”

The Apostle earned critical acclaim (Roger Ebert said it was “a lesson in how movies can escape from convention and penetrate the hearts of rare characters”), but the reaction from two people particularly resonated with Duvall.

“I understand that Billy Graham liked it and I know for a fact that Marlon Brando liked it. So, I got it from the religious and the secular. We tried to present this aspect of a truly American art form, the American preacher, and tried to show him without any ‘Hollywood’ around him. We made it a personal film about that clapboard church I’d seen maybe 18 or 20 years before.”

Brando’s approval was especially gratifying to Duvall. As young actors starting out years ago, “Dustin Hoffman, Gene Hackman, and I used to meet at Cromwell’s Drugstore in New York City once a week. If we mentioned Brando’s name once, we mentioned it 25 times. He was our guy, a hero to us.” Later when he first worked with him, Duvall said Brando told him, “Screw the director. Do what you want to do.”

When asked about the roles he’s enjoyed the most, Duvall cited Walter, the retired Cuban barber he played opposite Richard Harris’s Irish seaman in 1993’s Wrestling Ernest Hemingway and the title role in the 1992 HBO film Stalin. But his all-time favorite role is that of Augustus “Gus” McCrae, the former Texas Ranger turned cattle driver in the 1989 TV miniseries Lonesome Dove.

“When I was doing The Godfather, I knew we were doing something important,” Duvall said. “The only time I got that feeling again in a strong way was when I did Augustus McCrae. One day when I was playing Gus I walked into the dressing room and said, ‘We’re making The Godfather of Westerns.’”

In recent years, Duvall said he has focused mainly on small parts instead of lead roles. In terms of retirement, “There always comes a day where you say, ‘That’s it, no more.’ I haven’t quite come to that, but almost.” He believes that “there will always be good actors. But it’s all the same, it’s always ‘action’ and ‘cut.’ To live between an imaginary set of circumstances, between ‘action’ and ‘cut,’ is what you do. You try to be in touch with yourself and make that live from yourself.”



Hollins Playwrights Dominate Selections for KCACTF Region IV Festival

Works by three student playwrights from the Playwright’s Lab at Hollins University have been chosen for the Kennedy Center American College Theater Festival (KCACTF) Region IV Festival, which will be held online February 1 – 6.

Mothers and Terrorists by David Beach, which received the 2021 KCACTF Region IV John L. Cauble One-Act Play honor, will be staged this year with a full virtual production on Thursday, February 3, from 7 – 9 p.m. EST. Sarah Cosgrove’s I Lived to Tell, a Cauble recipient for 2022, will be performed on Friday, February 4, from 6 – 7 p.m. EST. Cherished by Rachel Graf Evans, winner of the KCACTF Region IV’s 2022 David Shelton Award (the region’s highest award for full-length, student-written plays) will be presented on Saturday, February 5, from 7 – 10 p.m. EST.

Playwright’s Lab Director Todd Ristau said the selection of the three plays for this year’s festival “continues Hollins’ unbroken string of successes with KCACTF Region IV. Over the years, our student playwrights have garnered awards in nearly every category of playwriting at KCACTF, up to and including the National Student Playwriting Award and the Kennedy Center Gold Medallion. Last year, all three regional John L. Cauble One-Act Plays were by Hollins playwrights, and though they normally only nominate two of those three to Nationals, they took the unprecedented step of nominating all three.”

In addition to a reading with a professional response session for the playwright at the regional festival, Ristau added that the Shelton Award comes with the expectation of a full production of the winning play the following year. “These plays are also automatically nominated to Nationals in the full-length play category. Hollins has had numerous Shelton-winning plays over the years, with most of them featured in our Hollins-Mill Mountain Winter Festival of New Works. These plays frequently receive higher national awards for both the text as well as the production value in design, directing, and performance.”

KCACTF is a national theater program involving 18,000 students annually from colleges and universities across the country. Since its inception, KCACTF has given more than 400,000 college theater students the opportunity to have their work critiqued, improve their dramatic skills, and receive national recognition for excellence. More than 16 million theatergoers have attended approximately 10,000 festival productions nationwide. KCACTF Region IV represents colleges and universities in Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Mississippi, North Carolina, Puerto Rico, South Carolina, Tennessee, U.S. Virgin Islands, and Virginia.

Hollins’ Dance M.F.A. Program Moves European Study to Bulgaria’s Cultural Capital

Hollins University’s M.F.A. in dance program is relocating its European Study component to a new home.

Beginning in the summer of 2022, students will travel to Plovdiv, Bulgaria, which is considered by many to be the nation’s cultural hub and in 2019 was named a European Capital of Culture.

“We will have the opportunity to access festivals and arts programming,” said Jeffery Bullock, professor and chair of Hollins’ dance program. “I am excited for our new journey.”

Boyan Manchev
Boyan Manchev

European Study will be organized and curated by Boyan Manchev and Ani Vaseva. Manchev has been a part of the European Study component since it began in Frankfurt, Germany, in 2014, teaching Dance History, Theory, and Criticism. He is a philosopher and professor at New Bulgarian University in Sofia and at Berlin’s HZT – UdK. He has lectured widely at European, North American, and Japanese universities and cultural institutions, and is the author of seven books, including The Body – Metamorphosis (2007), which deals extensively with contemporary art, performance, and dance.

Ani Vaseva
Ani Vaseva



Vaseva is a theatre director, a playwright, an author of critical and theoretical texts on dance and theatre, and holds a Ph.D. in performance studies from the Bulgarian Academy of Sciences. Her 2017 book, What Is Contemporary Dance, explores the complex processes and conflictual ideologies that stand behind the concept of contemporary dance. Between 2015 and 2018, she taught history and theory of theatre and literature at New Bulgarian University and the Luben Groys Theatre College.



“We will be in great hands with Boyan and Ani,” Bullock said. “They are both amazing artists and radical thinkers.”

Hollins’ M.F.A. in dance is an innovative program in which students immerse themselves for five weeks during the summer in the intimate learning atmosphere on the Hollins campus, followed by three weeks of international study and immersion in Plovdiv. The program provides students with a wide range of opportunities, mentorships, and exposure to others in the international dance field, and features three tracks: Year Residency, Low Residency – Two Summer, and Low Residency – Three Summer. M.F.A. students and faculty establish a unique community of committed artists/scholars who range in ages and experiences and are working to sustain their careers and deepen their relationship to dance.

Obamas to Produce New Netflix Project Based on Collection Co-Written by Dhonielle Clayton M.A. ’09

In 2020, Dhonielle Clayton M.A. ’09, an alumna of Hollins University’s graduate programs in children’s literature, joined with five other bestselling African American young adult authors to create Blackout, a collection of stories about Black teenagers navigating love during a power outage in New York City.

Now, Barack and Michelle Obama’s Higher Ground Productions is partnering with fellow production company Temple Hill (Twilight, The Fault in Our Stars, Fatherhood) to develop Blackout as what The Hollywood Reporter (THR) describes as “a film and TV ‘event'” for Netflix. “The project,” THR explains, “is being developed concurrently as a TV series and film adaptation. That means that some of the six stories could wind up in the film, while others are in the TV show.”

Netflix says of the project, “From the perspective of 12 teens with six shots at love, Blackout takes place as a heatwave blankets New York City in darkness and causes an electric chaos. When the lights go out and people reveal hidden truths, love blossoms, friendships transform, and all possibilities take flight.”

In addition to Clayton, Blackout features stories by Tiffany D. Jackson, Nic Stone, Angie Thomas, Ashley Woodfolk, and Nicola Yoon. Since its publication in June, the collection has earned wide acclaim. NPR’s review states, “In Blackout, young Black love with all its insecurities, mistakes, emotion, honesty, and humanity makes for a lush read. Even amidst their fears, these characters are wonderfully respectful of each other’s choices. You will root for them all to find their own right love at their own right time. And though it was written for young adults, Blackout is a must-read for all generations.” Publishers Weekly calls it a “joyful collaboration” that “brings a necessary elation to stories of Black love, queer love, and alternative forms of affection, all of which are all tenderly highlighted in these narratives.” And, the Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books remarks, “There’s plenty to smile, sigh, or swoon at here, and readers will happily keep the lights on to see these charming romances to the end.”

All six of Blackout‘s authors are on board as screenwriters for the Netflix adaptation. An air date has not been announced.

Blackout will be Clayton’s second association with Netflix. In 2019, the internet TV network ordered 10 episodes of Tiny Pretty Things, an hour-long series based on the novel co-written by Clayton and Sona Charaipotra. The first season of the series premiered in December 2020 and follows the triumphs and challenges of students at an elite dance academy where the competition to succeed is fierce.

Originally from the Maryland suburbs of Washington, D.C., Clayton holds a B.A. from Wake Forest University. After earning her M.A. in children’s literature at Hollins, she completed her M.F.A. in creative writing at The New School. A former secondary school teacher and elementary and middle school librarian, she is co-founder of CAKE Literary, which is described as “a creative kitchen whipping up decadent – and decidedly diverse – literary confections for middle grade, young adult, and women’s fiction readers,” and is also chief operating officer of the nonprofit We Need Diverse Books. Her other works include The Belles (her debut solo novel, released in 2018) and The Everlasting Rose (Book Two in The Belles series, published in 2019). She has also contributed to the story collections Black Enough: Stories of Being Young and Black in America; Meet Cute: Some People Are Destined to Meet; and Unbroken: 13 Stories Starring Disabled Teens. Her middle grade fantasy series, The Marvellers, is forthcoming. She joined the faculty of Hollins’ graduate programs in children’s literature in 2020.





M.A.T.L. Grad Makes Rewarding Career Switch from the Newsroom to the Classroom

When Erin Brookshier Edmonds worked as a morning reporter for Roanoke’s WSLS 10, there was one aspect of the job she enjoyed the most. “It was just great to go out and meet people in the community and share their stories,” she recalls.

Among her regular pieces were ones that originated from local schools. “We would do a high school football kickoff segment every Friday morning and go to different schools around the region. In addition to the players and the cheerleaders, we’d interview teachers and other students. Those were always just my favorite stories, and once I saw myself gravitating more and more toward that environment, I decided I needed to do something different.”

Erin Edmonds WSLS
After graduating from Virginia Tech, Edmonds worked at Roanoke’s WSLS 10, first as a producer, then as a traffic reporter, and finally as the local NBC affiliate’s morning reporter.

Edmonds loved broadcast journalism, “but waking up at 3 a.m. every morning to go to work was hard. It became even more difficult once I got married and started having a family.” At the same time, the idea of pursuing a career in education “was something that really began speaking to me – hanging out with the students and being in school every day, the place I loved doing stories.” Her mother, who teaches at Roanoke County’s Glenvar High School (which Edmonds attended), also had a profound influence on her. “That was the lifestyle we grew up with – my mom was off on the days we were off and she was home during the summer. That was something that was always in the back of my mind.”

For Edmonds, the tipping point came after she had to cover a particularly tough story about a house fire. “I called my mom and told her I didn’t want to do this anymore, and that I was interested in teaching.” A crucial potential stumbling block was whether Edmonds would have to go back to college and complete a significant number of undergraduate classes in order to make a career change a reality. Her mom knew of several people who had transitioned into teaching and suggested that she reach out to Lorraine Lange, director of the Master of Arts in Liberal StudiesMaster of Arts in Teaching, and Master of Arts in Teaching and Learning graduate programs at Hollins University, for advice. “I asked Dr. Lange, ‘How do I go about doing this? How does this work? Is there something that Hollins offers?’ I got a lot of information from her and from one of my former principals.”

With their encouragement, Edmonds successfully took her Praxis examinations (important components of Virginia’s licensure and certification process, these exams help demonstrate knowledge of content, pedagogy, and instructional abilities) and the Virginia Communication and Literary Assessment (VCLA) examination, a basic skills test. “And then, Roanoke County actually hired me,” she says. Edmonds spent her first year of teaching splitting her time between Northside High School and Glenvar. She also enrolled in the Master of Arts in Teaching and Learning (M.A.T.L.) program at Hollins.

“Teaching and completing my M.A.T.L. at the same time was great. The program is so flexible. Being able to take those classes in the evening and take them online fit perfectly with my teaching schedule.” Edmonds says she needed five classes to get her teaching licensure and four more to get her master’s degree “so I just went ahead and did the full thing. I was surprised at how quick it was, it only took about a year and a half.  And as I was teaching, I was learning a lot about the fundamentals of classroom management and other things you really need to know.”

Edmonds says she also benefited from the program’s intimate, close-knit environment. “The classroom settings were super-comfortable and relatively small-sized, so you could meet and get to know other students on an individual basis. We were working together and you knew what everyone else was teaching or wanting to teach. It was helpful to get ideas from people who were interested in the same things as you, or learn something completely different to get a new perspective as well.”

Edmonds is now beginning her fourth year as a teacher. After dividing her time between Northside and Glenvar during her first year, Edmonds moved solely to Glenvar, where she teaches 10th grade and 12th grade English.

Erin Edmonds Outdoors
Edmonds says, “Teaching and at the same time completing my M.A.T.L. at Hollins was great. The program is so flexible.”

“I’ve always been interested in literature and writing and my minor in college (she is a graduate of Virginia Tech) was actually in English, so it was kind of a perfect fit. A lot of the classes I took as an undergrad helped me with what I am doing now.”

Coming back to Glenvar has reunited Edmonds with many of the instructors who actually taught her when she was in high school. “It’s really cool to come back and be able to be friends with people who were my teachers,” and of course serve on the same faculty as her most important mentor, her mom.

But what has been especially gratifying to Edmonds has been the opportunity to form personal relationships with her students. “I had a lot of those relationships with the teachers who are now my coworkers. I love being able to help students decide what the next step is for them after high school, it’s a big time in their lives with a lot of choices they are making.” Her ability to get to know students on an individual basis is bolstered by the fact that Glenvar boasts small class sizes, and as Edmonds notes, “Teaching 10th graders and 12th graders means I get to have lot of those students twice. It’s neat to be able to look at my roster this year and see 15 to 20 students that I taught two years ago when they were sophomores and I’m getting to teach them again now that they are seniors.”

Not surprisingly, the biggest challenge Edmonds has faced during her teaching career in terms of developing those connections has been the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. “Some of it was really difficult. Having the hybrid classes, some students online and others in person, it’s not what any of us are used to. You have to make those connections in person, and the students who are online, you just see them through this screen image.”

Yet, Edmonds adds there were some silver linings to the pandemic experience, noting that the perspective everyone had gained when full in-person learning resumed last spring “made us all appreciate each other more. I think students and teachers alike were surprised we were able to do it, and I feel like everyone did a great job last year. Teachers and students both worked really hard to make sure nobody would fall behind.”

During her four years in education, Edmonds says she has discovered a good teacher must embody several characteristics to be successful. She explains that “caring, understanding, and finding a way to introduce material in a way that’s interesting to the students” are musts. “British literature isn’t always the most exciting thing for 12th graders, I think there are ways you can approach it that gets them excited in reading and learning more about it.”

And even though she has switched career paths, Edmonds has found the skills she acquired as a television reporter have come in handy. She admits, “I still get nervous those first few days of school talking in front of my students, and I think I probably always will. But, having the broadcast journalism background helps push those nerves down a bit.”