Two years ago, University of Arkansas – Fort Smith student Lynette Thrower wrote her first short story that she thought was good enough to be published, uncovering a passion for writing she didn’t know she had.
This fall, after four years of study in the university’s English program, she’s received a prestigious grant from Artists 360, a program of Mid-America Arts Alliance made possible through the support of the Walton Family Foundation. The opportunity will help her unlock the passion for writing in others while also telling stories of underserved populations in the area.
Thrower plans to use the funds to teach writing workshops to women in drug rehabilitation programs and host a podcast called River Valley Speaks, featuring diverse voices in the River Valley.
Thrower, an English with teacher licensure major, was one of 20 residents in Benton, Carroll, Sebastian and Washington counties to receive the grant. Artists 360 is a three-year pilot program providing individual artists of all disciplines with grant funding and professional development opportunities in Northwest Arkansas.
Through the grant, Thrower also plans to create a curriculum to teach writing to women in rehabilitation facilities and shelters, hoping it will offer a creative outlet for those in need.
“Since I’ve been writing, there have been many unresolved emotional issues that have come to the fore for me,” she said. “When we repress our emotions, we look to other means of expression, and sometimes they’re self-destructive means. If I can help them tap into healthy ways of expression, maybe they won’t resort to drugs or alcohol as a means of expression. Maybe they’ll turn to writing instead.”
“There’s a saturation of people who want to assist with at-risk young adults, but I found that adult women specifically aren’t getting much of the care they need,” she added.
An internship Thrower served at UAFS in spring 2018 in which she archived artifacts of Indo-Chinese evacuees and their time at Fort Chaffee fed her passion for the River Valley Speaks podcast, which she hopes will provide a platform for underrepresented voices of this area to be heard.
It was a writing prompt in an imaginative writing class taught by former adjunct English professor Rodney Wilhite that made Thrower realize she wanted to be a writer. Students were to write from the perspective of a drone overlooking an important event in their lives – in Thrower’s case, a house fire that nearly killed her.
“I chose to write as God overseeing the fire,” she said. “The fire was what caused me to relocate to Arkansas, where I met my husband and resumed my education, so I turned the drone into a divine entity. I called it ‘All-Seeing Eye.’”
She continued writing, honing her craft with the help of Dr. Christian Gerard, Dr. Laura Witherington and Dr. Cammie Sublette. The latter, with the consent of the English faculty, nominated her to receive the grant.
“I’m immensely grateful that Dr. Sublette and the English Department would nominate me,” she said. “My classmates are dynamic writers. To have been nominated for this grant and to ultimately receive it was a huge honor. I was kind of catapulted into writing, and I’m excited about the future.”