VFIC Honors Hollins Professor with “Rising Star” Award

For her dedication to higher education and student success, Assistant Professor of Biology and Environmental Sciences Mary Jane Carmichael has received the 2022 H. Hiter Harris III Rising Star Award from the Virginia Foundation for Independent Colleges (VFIC).

After teaching high school science for six years at the beginning of her career, Carmichael decided to pursue an advanced degree with a goal of becoming a faculty member at a small, liberal arts institution. She completed her M.S. in biology from Appalachian State University and then returned to her alma mater, Wake Forest University, where she earned her Ph.D. in biology.

Nora Kizer Bell Provost Laura McLary noted that Carmichael, who joined the Hollins faculty in 2017, sees higher education “as a true and clear calling. Students are attracted to her radiant confidence and natural care for their growth and development, as well as her humble kindness and generous spirit. As developing scientists in a field still largely dominated by men, her students draw strength from the example she sets: a scientist with deep disciplinary knowledge and an inquisitive mind, an emerging leading researcher, and a practiced, inclusive teacher.”

McLary praised Carmichael’s “incredible range, offering courses from ecology to microbiology to general education science breadth courses. She is the very best kind of teacher who is also a consummate learner, continuously seeking to expand her teaching skills and tools and even the content of her courses, so that she can best meet the needs of her students.”

Carmichael’s research has taken her from the mountains to the sea, from belly crawling in caves in eastern Tennessee to mucking through wetlands in coastal North Carolina. At Hollins, she has supported student research on a variety of topics, from the human microbiome to cave ecology to the physiological ecology of high-elevation spruce fir forests in the Appalachian Mountains.

“Two of her publications were coauthored with Hollins undergraduate students, and in the last five years, she has mentored and trained over a dozen student researchers,” McLary stated. “She has also received a prestigious National Science Foundation/Robert Noyce Capacity Building Grant. By developing a stronger pipeline of STEM educators from Hollins and into high-need, rural school districts, she is leading the way to change the face and nature of STEM education at Hollins and in the region of behalf of young women pursuing careers in STEM.”

This year, Carmichael was presented Hollins’ Herta Freitag Legacy Award, which recognizes a full-time teaching faculty member who has received external recognition for professional excellence in research and scholarship. “It is remarkable that Dr. Carmichael, as an early-career assistant professor, is the recipient of the Freitag Award,” McLary said. “It is even more remarkable that her contributions to teaching and service are equal to her outstanding record of research and discovery in her field.”

Carmichael was honored at the VFIC Annual Fall Luncheon and Harris Family Awards Presentation, held November 3 in Richmond.


Hollins, Roanoke College Present 2022 Kendig Awards 

The Perry F. Kendig Awards, which celebrate the people and organizations that support excellence in the arts in Virginia’s Blue Ridge, were presented during a ceremony at Hollins University on October 11. 

The awards are co-sponsored by Hollins University and Roanoke College, and they are awarded annually in three categories: Individual Artist, Arts and Cultural Organization, and Individual or Business Arts supporter. Recipients are selected from a group of nominees who live or work in the counties of Roanoke, Botetourt, and Franklin, the cities of Roanoke and Salem, or the town of Vinton. The awards are named for the late Perry F. Kendig, who served as president of Roanoke College and was an avid supporter and patron of the arts. 

“Roanoke College is happy to again join with Hollins University to present these Kendig Awards, and it is our privilege to carry on the tradition of this event in President Kendig’s name,” said Roanoke College President Frank Shushok Jr., who joined Hollins President Mary Dana Hinton to present the awards. 

This year’s nominees were Seth Davis, resident musical director at Mill Mountain Theatre; Michael Hemphill, founder and host of the inspirational Blue Ridge PBS and YouTube show “Buzz4Good”; Michael Mansfield, an actor and director who has worked with multiple local arts organizations; Douglas Jackson, arts and culture coordinator for the city of Roanoke; Sandra Meythaler, executive director of Roanoke Ballet Theatre; and the Roanoke Valley Children’s Choir. 

The 2022 Kendig Award winners are: 

Individual Artist Award 

The recipient of the Individual Artist Award for 2022 was Seth Davis, Mill Mountain Theatre’s resident music director. For nearly a decade, Davis has inspired more than 4,000 children and teenagers by helping them find joy and fulfillment through music. His students develop leadership and talents they can apply to their studies and future careers. “Teaching is Seth Davis’ passion; music is his language,” said one of the nominators. 

Through his work at Mill Mountain, Davis has challenged and encouraged children through conservatory classes and stage productions. “I really love what music can do to increase a child’s confidence,” Davis has said. “Students come to us not sure where they even fit in life. Teaching is an opportunity to provide that sense of belonging through music.”  

At the ceremony on Tuesday, Davis said he was pleasantly surprised by the recognition. 

“I’m grateful for the chance to work with kids and folks of all ages on something that brings them so much joy,” he said, “and it is mutual, because it also brings me joy.” 

Arts and Cultural Organization Award 

The Arts and Cultural Organization Award was presented to The Roanoke Valley Children’s Choir (RVCC). For 35 years, RVCC has met the needs of young people across the Roanoke Valley, providing an artistic and in-depth study of voice in a choral setting. The choir currently has 130 singers aged seven to 18. It is divided into a “Little Singers” group for children ages 4-6, three training choirs, and a concert choir. Children move up through the groups as their development and aptitude deepens.  

Weekly rehearsals culminate in community performances that help students develop vocal techniques, confidence, leadership and teamwork. Each choir participates in an annual regional, state, national or international honor performance, giving the students an opportunity to travel. The choir also collaborates on performances with professional organizations such as the Roanoke Symphony Orchestra and Opera Roanoke. Susan Smith, chairwoman of the RVCC Board of Directors, accepted the award on behalf of the choir. 

“We are proud to have served the Roanoke Valley as a world-class choral program for 36 years,” Smith said. “If you know, you know: There is no sound quite like the choral sound of children’s voices.” 

Individual or Business Arts Supporter Award 

The Individual or Business Arts Supporter Award was presented to Douglas Jackson, arts and culture coordinator for the city of Roanoke and capacity development specialist for the Virginia Department of Housing and Community Development. Jackson is a long-serving and faithful ally of the arts in Virginia’s Blue Ridge who is invested in finding ways to make the arts compelling and accessible to all. He has done that through community initiatives such as BOOK CITY and Roanoke’s Year of the Artist.  

“Doug’s belief in the power of the arts to strengthen community in all its diversity, and to build trusting relationships, is contagious,” a nominator said.  

Roanoke’s Year of the Artist, Jackson’s recent effort to secure and distribute funding for the arts, has empowered and validated the existing creative community and has helped to bridge the gap between working artists, arts organizations, and city government. Beginning in 2013, Jackson helped create the Parks and the Arts program, which brought the best of Roanoke’s arts and culture experiences to neighborhood parks and community centers.  

“The arts are how I was able to get involved in Roanoke and feel a part of the community,” Jackson said. “The arts can give us agency.”  

Named for the late Perry F. Kendig, who served as president of Roanoke College and was an avid supporter and patron of the arts, the Kendig Awards program was established in 1985 and presented annually by the Arts Council of the Blue Ridge through 2012. Hollins and Roanoke College have now partnered for 10 years to bestow the honors. Kendig’s sons, Bill Kendig, a 1980 graduate of Roanoke College, and John Kendig, attended Tuesday’s event to represent their family. 

“We so appreciate the fact that Roanoke College and Hollins University honor Dad with that award,” John Kendig said. “He would love to be here. He would be in his element.”  


Photo caption (from left to right): Roanoke College President Frank Shushok Jr.; Michael Mansfield, actor/director; Sandra Meythaler, executive director of Roanoke Ballet Theatre; Seth Davis, resident music director at Mill Mountain Theatre; Susan Smith, executive director of the Roanoke Valley Children’s Choir Board of Directors; Douglas Jackson, arts and culture coordinator for the city of Roanoke and capacity development specialist for the Virginia Department of Housing and Community Development; Michael Hemphill, founder and host of the Blue Ridge PBS and YouTube show “Buzz4Good”; and Hollins University President Mary Dana Hinton.


Recognizing Her Leadership, Virginia Business Names President Hinton to the Virginia 500

Hollins University President Mary Dana Hinton is cited as one of the commonwealth’s top leaders in the third annual edition of the Virginia 500, published by Virginia Business magazine.

“We strive to inventory the most powerful and influential leaders and executives in Virginia across 20 major sectors, ranging from real estate and manufacturing to higher education and government,” said Virginia Business editor Richard Foster. Among the factors considered, he explained, are “the scope of their responsibilities, how newsworthy the executive is, and how prominent they are within their industry and/or community. We accept suggestions for the Virginia 500, but it is compiled based on research by our editorial staff, not through nominations.”

Virginia Business President and Publisher Bernard A. Niemeier added, “…you will find these are leaders who have done it right.”

In her Virginia 500 profile, Hinton noted what makes her passionate about her work: “Serving others to promote educational equity is my mission in life.  I am privileged to get to live that mission every day.”



Hollins Professor’s Latest Film Earns Prestigious Sponsorship from Women Make Movies

The new production from a Hollins University film professor is receiving major support from the world’s leading distributor of independent films by and about women.

Associate Professor of Film Amy Gerber-Stroh’s Hope of Escape has earned official sponsorship from Women Make Movies (WMM), a nonprofit media arts organization based in New York City. For 50 years, WMM has backed women directors and producers in an effort to promote a diverse and inclusive filmmaking landscape.

“Hundreds of films by women have been made with the help of WMM’s Production Assistance Program,” Gerber-Stroh explained. Along with fiscal sponsorship, the program “offers professional development, nonprofit tax-exempt status, consultations, and workshops. Films and filmmakers supported by the organization have won Academy Awards, Emmys, and prizes at major film festivals worldwide.”

Currently in post-production, Hope of Escape is based on the true story of the journey of an enslaved mother and daughter who must escape before they are sold and separated forever. Their only hope is to connect with their free relatives in the North and convince the most powerful abolitionists of their time to help them.

Hope of Escape champions the enslaved American heroes and abolitionist allies who, leading up to the Civil War, were willing to take on immense risk in order to combat the wretchedness of slavery,” Gerber-Hope of Escape PosterStroh said. “As a descendant of slaves, I wish to add a different perspective to the lesser-known story of our collective historical memory by shining light onto the ‘above-ground railroad’ where slave masters were paid ‘ransoms’ (much like how Frederick Douglass gained his freedom) by families, mostly in the North, in order to free their enslaved relatives.”

Gerber-Stroh noted that “it ‘took a village’ to fundraise and emancipate a slave. Hope of Escape shows how my own family depended on a complex network of abolitionists, both inside and outside the United States. We see how, even though separated for many years and by thousands of miles, families (both free and enslaved) managed to keep their connections, holding onto hope that their circumstances would change for the better.”

Researching and making Hope of Escape has been a profoundly moving experience for Gerber-Stroh. “It has taught me that the women in my family, as well as women in scores of other families, did indeed resist with fierce hope in their hearts during slavery times. They courageously persevered so that their descendants (like me) can keep fighting and hopefully someday escape the national nightmare of institutional slavery and its lasting consequences. In a small way, my film is part of that fight.”

Gerber-Stroh has written and directed independent films, which focus on the intersection of memory, culture, and history, for over 30 years. Her films have won honors at numerous national and international film festivals. She chairs the film department at Hollins, where she teaches production, animation, and film studies.



Suzy Mink ’74 Wins at World Triathlon Long Distance Championships

Suzy Mink ’74 was the only woman to medal for Team USA during the 2022 World Triathlon Long Distance Championships, part of the 2022 World Triathlon Multisport Championships held August 18-21 at the Olympic Training Center in Samorin, Slovakia.

Athletes from 50 countries competed, with the largest teams coming from the United States and United Kingdom.


Suzy Mink '74 Flora Duffy
Mink in Samorin with Bermudian triathlete Flora Duffy, who won a gold medal at the 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo.

Mink, who serves as senior philanthropic advisor at Hollins. won the long distance triathlon in the 70-74 Female Age Group, which included a 2K swim in the Danube River (1.2 miles), a 79.8K biking trek through the Slovakian countryside (49.5 miles), and a 17.9K run (11.1 miles) through four loops on the Olympic Training Center grounds. She noted that the conditions she and other triathlon competitors encountered at the championships were formidable. “The Danube was exceedingly choppy, so much so that only small boats were allowed on the water instead of kayaks, and the current was really strong. Some folks were pulled out of the water early in the swim.” The bike course “was flat and beautiful, but the headwinds on the return trip were unrelenting for 25 miles, and even the best of the best felt it. The run was also tough with the wind.”


The victory at the championships is the latest achievement for Mink in her remarkable career competing as a triathlete around the world. Notably in 2018, she won her age group’s gold medal in the Long Distance Triathlon at the International Triathlon Union/Fynske Bank Multisport World Championships in Denmark. She was also part of the relay team that carried the Olympic Torch 900 miles to Lake Placid, New York, for the 1980 Olympic Games.



Hollins Receives State Department IDEAS Grant to Fund Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Initiatives in Study Abroad

Hollins University is one of 44 colleges and universities across the United States selected to receive funding from the U.S. Department of State’s Increase and Diversify Education Abroad for U.S. Students (IDEAS) Program.

The schools will use the IDEAS grants to create, expand, and/or diversify American student mobility overseas in support of U.S. foreign policy goals. The program is funded by the U.S. Department of State and supported in its implementation by World Learning.

“We are thrilled that Hollins is a 2022 IDEAS grantee, and this was a true team effort between faculty and staff,” said Ramona Kirsch, Hollins University’s director of international programs. “The grant will fund a new program, “Building Capacity in Kenya and Expanding Student Access to Global Experiences,” which will focus on democracy, human rights, and global health from an interdisciplinary and intercultural perspective with our new international partner, Kenyatta University in Nairobi. The grant will also enable us to move strategic diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives forward in our study abroad programming.”

Each IDEAS grant carries a maximum allotment of $35,000 and Hollins was awarded approximately $34,800.

“The U.S. Department of State is committed to supporting U.S. colleges and universities as they continue to rebuild study abroad capacity impacted by the global pandemic,” said Heidi Manley, USA study abroad chief for the department’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs (ECA). “That is why ECA is proud to be awarding double the number of IDEAS grants this year so that we can support more institutions as they work to provide important international educational opportunities to their students.”

Manley added that this year’s IDEAS grant recipients “reflect the full diversity of the U.S. higher education system – including community colleges, Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs), rural institutions, and more – and we are committed to working with them to build study abroad programs that are accessible for Americans of all backgrounds and that provide more opportunities for American students to engage with people in more diverse destinations around the world.”

Since 2016, the IDEAS Program has awarded 145 grants to 139 institutions in 48 states and territories to create, expand, and diversify their U.S. study abroad programs in 71 countries across all world regions. In addition to the IDEAS grant competition, the program also offers opportunities for faculty, staff, and administrators at U.S. colleges and universities to participate in a series of free virtual and in-person study abroad capacity building activities.

For more information about other study abroad resources and exchange programs offered by ECA, visit https://studyabroad.state.gov/.

Photo (from left to right): Assistant Professor of Sociology Jennifer Turner, Assistant Professor of Public Health Abubakarr Jalloh, Fulbright Scholar-in-Residence Isabell Kingori, and Director of International Programs Ramona Kirsch comprised the faculty/staff team at Hollins that successfully brought the IDEAS grant application to fruition.

“Academics Are The Priority”: “Fiske Guide to Colleges” Praises Hollins In 2023 Edition

Hollins University is one of the more than 300 “best and most interesting” colleges in the United States, Canada, and the United Kingdom, according to the Fiske Guide to Colleges 2023, published July 19.

The Fiske Guide selects colleges and universities for inclusion “with several broad principles in mind, beginning with academic quality. In addition, an effort was made to achieve geography diversity and a balance of public and private schools. Finally, we exercised the journalist’s prerogative of writing about schools that are simply interesting.”

Hollins is featured by the Fiske Guide among the nation’s small colleges and universities that are “Strong in Film/Television,” “Strong in Dance,” and “Strong in Performing Arts/Drama,” and considers the university “one of the South’s leading women’s colleges.” The guide notes that “academics are the priority at Hollins,” and students quoted in the university’s profile praise the professors (“We get lots of individual attention and extra help.”), residence halls (“Most of the dorms are beautiful historic buildings full of character and comfort.”), and the overall campus environment (“A student should only attend Hollins if they want to be part of a close-knit community that fosters creative minds and ambitious spirits.”).

The guide concludes, “Students leave [Hollins] with confidence, critical-thinking skills, and intellectual depth, thanks to a solid grounding in the liberal arts.”

Now in its 39th edition, the Fiske Guide is updated and expanded each year. It is co-written by former New York Times education editor Edward B. Fiske.


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.

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