Mary Volmer '02

Writer & SMC faculty

I came to Saint Mary’s College to study biology and the life sciences, but after two years changed majors to English.

To study the heart in biology we’d cut it up, learn names for the parts, their functions, and maladies. The heart was reduced to a mechanism, which impressed but did not inspire me.

The novels, plays and stories I read in my English classes inspired me.

If life makes sense at all, it is only through the stories we tell and the words we use to tell them. Once upon a time dinosaurs walked the earth.  Once upon a time amphibians grew legs and climbed to dry land. Once upon a time a sperm met egg and made you.

The English major at Saint Mary’s taught me to read and listen closely, to form arguments and express my ideas clearly and carefully.  I grew to appreciate the importance of both the stories we hold dear, and the stories we take for granted. I gained analytic and expressive skills valuable in any field. I attended readings of renowned authors the department brought to campus and cautiously began to consider the writing life.

After college I received a Rotary Scholarship to pursue a Masters in writing at the University of Wales, Aberystwyth. Saint Mary’s had prepared me well for graduate level work. While many of my fellow grad students had read books about authors, and theoretical tomes about novels, at Saint Mary’s I had read the novels themselves. Through seminar-style discussion and daily writing I had learned to incorporate other people’s insights into my own understanding.

The English Major at Saint Mary’s had taught me to think for myself and to express myself, and it was these skills that enabled me to begin my first novel.

I returned to Saint Mary’s for an MFA in creative writing and in my second year sold my first novel, Crown of Dust. My second novel is in progress. I attribute this success largely to the education I received as an undergraduate.

Now, as a teacher at Saint Mary’s I hope to contribute to the creative awakening of another crop of Gaels. I have never regretted my decision to change from science to English. I am suited to stories and the study of life through words.