Student Spotlight On: Allison Hemphill

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The past four years as a Creative Writing major have taken Senior Allie Hemphill across the county and around the globe, both literally and imaginatively. Torn between majoring in either English or International Studies, Allie ended up in Professor Schottenfeld’s Screenwriting class as a “total fluke.” Though she wasn’t supposed to be in the class as a freshman, Schottenfeld let her stay, and this led to Allie’s decision to become an English major on the creative writing track and opened the door to a number of writing opportunities and honors down the road.

Prof. Schottenfeld played an instrumental role in jumpstarting Allie’s creative writing career as an undergraduate.  Allie remarks, “I’d never had a professor believe in me the way that he did.”  He encouraged Allie to submit something to the Southern Literary Festival.  Her piece “Places,” loosely inspired by three boys whose deaths sparked the 2005 riots in Paris, portrayed the aspirations and hardships that shaped the lives of two French-born Algerian brothers living in Paris.  Allie took first place in the competition and ventured to Hammond, Louisiana for the conference.

Again encouraged by Prof. Schottenfeld, Allie submitted a revised version to the New York State Summer Writer’s Institute; she was accepted and received a scholarship as an added bonus.  During the two week Institute, she studied with Neil Gordon, former editor of the New York Times Book Review, among other accomplished writers.  Allie describes her experience at the Institute as “the first time [she] was ever in such a community-based academic atmosphere.”  While there, Allie received “a lot of constructive feedback about trying to remove sentimentality and emotion from her writing, showing everything on its own and letting the reader judge from there.”

As far as Allie’s own writing goes, she usually begins by jotting down words or phrases that pop into her head, starting sometimes with an event and other times with only a person’s name.  She finds material “pretty much everywhere [she goes], like mannerisms, people’s attitudes, appearances, etc.”  Even her parent’s mannerisms find their way into her early fiction.  For example, her dad’s characteristic way of answering the phone, “Yello,” is replicated in one of her characters.  Though Allie has lived in Memphis the past four years, she confesses to not having written anything about the city: “It’s not that Memphis doesn’t inspire me,” she clarifies.  “It’s just that my mind tends to wander away from where I am.”

No matter how the process starts, it usually involves some research.  Even though English trumped International Studies as her chosen major, Allie still manages to incorporate her interest in IS into her writing.  “I’ve written a lot about Paris, Brazil, Canada, the Arctic, even though I’ve only been to Paris.  Part of the thing that I love about writing is the research: really getting to know a subject and becoming an expert on something random.”  Allie adds, “I think that research really grounds [a story] in something real, but then you can also take the liberty to create a family within this and let it have its own dynamics.”

Allie traces her desire to wander imaginatively in her writing to a 2005 trip to Paris, a city Allie would love to live in before pursuing an MFA.  Her “very eye-opening” visit created the desire “to reach places in [her] writing that are far away in order to bring them closer.”  She jokes, “I don’t know if that’s escapism or what.”  Though she might explore the option of a job in publishing, Allie would love to work at a magazine (perhaps, literary) at some point.  Or, the current Writing Fellow may choose to teach Creative Writing one day, preferably at the college level, maybe even at Rhodes.  And if a freshman accidentally ends up in her Screenwriting class, perhaps she’ll set another story like hers in motion.