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AU News

Creative Writing Graduate Receives SC Novel Prize

January 19, 2021
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Maris Lawyer, a graduate of the Anderson University College of Arts and Sciences, says the creative writing program taught her critical thinking skills.

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An Anderson University Creative Writing graduate’s manuscript recently won statewide recognition and landed her a publishing deal. 

The South Carolina Arts Commission, Hub City Press, the College of Charleston, the South Carolina State Library and South Carolina Humanities awarded Maris Lawyer the 2020 S.C. Novel Prize for The Blue Line Down. Her written work, two years in the making, is now a published novel. 

In addition to a publication contract from Hub City Press, 2,000 copies of Lawyer’s book are to be distributed to every public library branch in South Carolina. Lawyer also gets invited to personally do book signings across the state. 

Of her honor, Lawyer said, “Some days it feels real, and on other days it feels like I imagined it. I’m trying to just give God praise for this unbelievable opportunity. I am incredibly humbled that anyone would want to read something I’ve written, let alone having my work recognized in this way.” 

The Blue Line Down book cover

The Blue Line Down follows its central character from a harsh upbringing in West Virginia, telling a story of personal tragedy and conflict. The story’s idea was born as Lawyer was taking an Appalachian Literature course in the College of Arts and Sciences at Anderson University. While researching information about Baldwin-Felts agents, detectives hired by mine owners to control miners and fight unionization efforts, Lawyer saw possibilities for writing the compelling story set in coal country.

“I knew I wanted to do a novel, and I decided I wanted to write a story set in Appalachia, featuring a Baldwin-Felts agent as the protagonist. Dr. (Teresa) Jones, my professor for senior seminar, played a huge role in shaping not just the rough draft of the novel, but really building my confidence in the project. Dr. (Randall) Wilhelm was also very supportive and lent me several books from his personal library to help me with the research,” Lawyer said. 

Lawyer, who grew up listening to members of her family sharing stories, feels that writing is simply a way of storytelling for shy people.

“As a kid, I would only share my written stories with my sister or occasionally one of my parents. It was mostly something I did for myself. I enjoyed cooking up different stories and disappearing into them for an hour or two,” Lawyer said. 

When she was looking for a college, Lawyer wanted to stay local and figured that AU was a natural choice. She looked no further. In the Creative Writing program at AU, she also learned how to share her writing to a wider audience.

“It definitely pushed me way outside my comfort zone when I went to college and had to share my writing in a workshop class,” Lawyer said. She adds that AU’s Creative Writing program took her beyond the process of simple storytelling and gave her opportunities to publish several poems and nonfiction pieces to Ivy Leaves, the university’s literary magazine. Lawyer was also poetry editor for Ivy Leaves as well as president of Writer’s Block, AU’s writing club during her sophomore and junior years. She also recalls when author Ron Rash, one of her writing heroes, spoke to her class. 

“The creative writing program did far more than teach me how to formulate stories—it taught me how to think critically, how to thoughtfully discuss a perspective or opinion, how to self-motivate, and how to write and communicate well. These kinds of soft skills translate in a big way in the workforce, and they’re strengths that come up repeatedly in my performance reviews,” Lawyer said. “It’s hard to overemphasize how impactful AU’s writing program has been on my writing career. If I hadn’t gone to AU, The Blue Line Down wouldn’t have been written. My professors and peers played a huge role in developing my abilities as a writer.”

Lawyer works as an HR generalist/recruiter for SynTerra Corp., a Greenville-based environmental consulting firm. She feels that her AU connections have helped her professionally, including the AU Young HR Professionals Conference, which she attended this past year. She and her husband Benjamin live in Easley, S.C.

The Blue Line Down is available for purchase at the Hub City Writers Project website.

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