This fall, Princeton Writes ceased to be an army of one, thanks to the appointment of its first assistant program director, Stephanie Whetstone from Durham, North Carolina. A talented writer and teacher, she has devoted more than a decade to helping high school, community college, and university students in her region communicate more effectively. She recently talked about her life with Princeton Writes’ undergraduate fellow, Emily Reardon ’16, who prepared this profile.
Stephanie Whetstone began her creative career as a sixth-grade poet in Kentucky. And even though she would marry a photographer, film documentaries, and fill her life with the arts, she would gravitate, in time, to fiction.
Throughout high school and her undergraduate years at Duke University, Stephanie took courses in creative writing. But despite the deep joy she found in creating characters that lived beyond the page and in crafting stories that drew emotional responses from her readers, touching the heart as only words can, Stephanie settled on Russian studies. Politics, at the time, seemed more practical, and she had yet to realize that a writer was something one could actually be. After Duke, Stephanie stayed in North Carolina and taught students who had fallen through the cracks of high school, raised her two sons, and filmed documentaries that focused on eastern Kentucky, a setting she would further explore in her fiction, all the while continuing to write in her spare moments.
It was in making documentaries that Stephanie discovered the method by which she preferred to tell stories – words – a revelation that brought her to the University of North Carolina at Greensboro to pursue a Master of Fine Arts in creative writing. Not only did this program give her time to write, it also provided her with a supportive community of writers and the opportunity to develop her skills and find her voice. In addition, she taught creative writing, literature, and composition to undergraduate students at UNC Greensboro.
Much as Faulkner claimed the American South and Joyce claimed Dublin, Stephanie claims Kentucky in her work. She looks through the industrial devastation that plagues the region and sees the beauty – the people, the sense of community, and the mountains. It is, she says, like no place she has ever lived, and she pays tribute to it in her fiction, including a novel that is currently in progress.
Stephanie is looking forward to sharing her love of creative writing and, more broadly, the English language with Princeton’s employees and students. Drawing on her gifts as a teacher, editor, and mentor, she is already helping to lay the groundwork for an employee writing group and a celebration of non-academic student writing; she is contributing to Princeton Writes’ blog; and she is developing workshops on storytelling, in which she advises participants to be specific – the more one focuses on the details of life, the easier it is to connect with others. She applies this advice to her own fiction and lives it, too, bringing a caring and discerning eye to her new role.