Student from Leslie County Earns Prestigious Grisham Fellowship for Fiction

Mullins photo

Ashley Mullins is now one step closer to her career goals as a writer.

Mullins, of Hyden, has received the prestigious 2014 John and Renée Grisham Fellowship for fiction and will pursue her master’s degree at the University of Mississippi. The Leslie County High School alumna will graduate from Eastern Kentucky University this year with a degree in English, concentrating in creative writing.

A Grisham Fellowship offers a $60,000 package that includes full tuition, health care and an annual stipend of $14,000, renewable for all three years of the master’s program. During this time, Grisham fellows have no teaching responsibilities.

“Everyone who applies to the MFA program is considered for the Fellowship,” Mullins said. “However, there are only two given every year: one in poetry and one in fiction. At best, it was a long shot, but Ole Miss was one of my favorite schools from the beginning, and I had to apply. The curriculum, the open-minded approach, the faculty, the variety of courses and experiences I'd be offered in Oxford – everything about Ole Miss seemed right to me. To be offered the Fellowship on top of this is more than I could have ever expected.” 

Applications for the Ole Miss MFA English program include a writing sample of 10 pages of poems or no more than 30 pages of fiction, as well as a statement of purpose/letter of intent about entering the program that includes the student’s background, experience and goals. Applicants selected move into the second stage of the application process, which requires an application and letters of recommendation.

Derek Nikitas, director of EKU’s MFA in Creative Writing program, and Robert Dean (Bob) Johnson, who teaches in the program, both played major roles in Mullins’ acceptance.

“They've really made my experience at Eastern, and I can't imagine having gotten this far without their influence,” Mullins said. “Writing is such a subjective process and so much of it is done alone. To find people like Bob and Derek who were willing to share their experience and insight and time: it’s invaluable. They were always willing not only to listen to me but to challenge me to work harder. They took my work seriously and, in doing so, taught me how to do the same. They inspired me to put the very best of myself on the page.”

Nikitas said he was “immensely proud of Ashley and of us. This will be our third major MFA fellowship in the last few years, but this is also the biggest one to date.”

The writing sample Mullins used for her application to the MFA program came from material from her EKU creative writing classes.

“The stories that I workshopped at Eastern were the stories I submitted to Ole Miss and other graduate programs,” Mullins said. “They’re the stories that got me accepted in the first place. In a broader sense, the program helped me grow as a writer and gain the confidence I needed to take this step. Two years ago I wasn't sure that I had made the right decision in switching my major from Psychology to Creative Writing. Then I took an Intro to Creative Writing class with Bob Johnson, and it really changed things for me. I was able to get critical feedback on my work and interact with other writers and share my concerns. I felt at home in that classroom and my writing flourished. Since then, I've been able to take chances with my work and branch out into new genres. I learned how to finish the stories that I started, how to establish a writing routine, and how, really, to be a writer.”

Published on April 15, 2014