When she was still a student at Maryville College, Halle Hill ‘17 was starting the journey for her debut book, Good Women, published on Sept. 12. This collection of stories is a narrative of the experiences of 12 Black women in Appalachia.
Through her emotional storytelling, Hill gives voice to underrepresented stories of the region. Many of these were cautionary tales passed down through oral storytelling, which Hill had grown up with in her family. While some of these stories have been with her for her whole life, they didn’t take form on paper until much later, Hill explained.
“I wrote the first story in 2016 or 2017,” Hill said. “In some ways, I carried those stories forever, but I didn’t start these until maybe my last year of college [at Maryville] or my first year of grad school.”
The years prior to her graduation were pivotal in determining Hill’s path forward. As a Religion major, the discovery that she was a writer was a catalyst, setting her next steps in motion. Hill faced an important decision between seminary school and pursuing a career as an author.
“Toward her senior year, she was feeling pressured to go into seminary,” said Christina Seymour, a Maryville College assistant professor of Writing Communication, who had Hill as a student. “I said, ‘You don’t have to.’”
When reflecting on her time as Scot, Hill recognized the impact that her studies had on her. In the social sciences, Hill said, people are constantly challenged. That challenge can often lead to choices that change their way of thinking, she explained.
“I think I was one of the first people to tell her that she was a writer,” Seymour added. “It was almost like I had to.”
This influence, support and mentorship helped Hill take the next step in pursuing this career and seeing herself as a writer. Hill graduated from the M.F.A. Writing program at Savannah College of Art and Design and received the 2021 Crystal Wilkinson Creative Writing Prize.
Her hard work has culminated in the publication of her first novel, which has already seen success and is in its second printing with Hub City Press. Having her book published with Hub City is also an accomplishment, Hill said, as the publication strives to give voice to and represent diverse Southern literature.
“I think Hub City Press is appreciative of underrepresented voices, and they’ve been really supportive of her. [They did] great work with setting up her book tour and promoting her work,” Seymour said. “It felt like a good fit.”
Poetic inspiration helps Hill find her artistic style, which has remained prevalent in her writing since her time at MC. Seymour described Hill’s writing as thorough and sensitive, and stated that her gentle writing style helps to develop meaningful depth in her characters.
“I think the best novels are written by poets,” Hill said during the Good Women reading and open mic on Sept. 18 at Maryville College in the Center for Campus Ministry. “I depend a lot on poetry to help me train my ear. I needed it to teach me how to write a short story, to help me connect images, to help me make meaning from language.”
With this novel, Hill is able to tell stories that focus on the trials of morality and the average person’s journey to find joy in our world.
“I see [each story] as distinctly different, but I think they are all in conversation together,” Hill said. “I think it comes together as one big story of these Black women trying to overcome and rise above. It is about their fight for joy and wholeness through oppression, racism, class issues and violence.”
This beautiful compilation of stories is a reminder that we are all together in this world, and that our individual experiences and interpretations of the world around us are valid and beautiful. Hill captures universal elements of emotion and humanity on an unfiltered stage. The vulnerability and depth of her characters allow readers to see this, regardless of what is typically portrayed in popular literature.