Written by Courtney Couch
Photographed by Julia Madden Sears
Ashley looks completely at home with a cup of coffee in one hand and a pen tucked behind her ear, so it comes as no surprise when she admits to enjoying academic writing. “That was all I was comfortable with in high school,” she says, laughing. “But before that, I was the kid who wrote little poems on almost any surface.”
In her fourth grade poetry contest, her poem was chosen for publication. “My parents were so excited! Once we bought the book, we saw the other poems in the collection were awful, but I didn't care. I was published!” Ashley's poetry hasn't seen the light of day since then, but her nonfiction writing came to the forefront when she took a workshop last year.
“I grew up in upstate South Carolina in a small town called Lyman," she says, and the biggest influence on her writing was, "growing up in the Southern church culture.” Her family went to church every Sunday morning and evening, as well as each Wednesday night. Now, Ashley enjoys writing about—and analyzing—that Christian experience.
One of her favorite novels, Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird, exemplifies for Ashley the kind of metaphor and analogy she wishes to accomplish in her writing. “I read it for the first time in seventh grade and really fell in love with it because the story is simple and easy to understand, but each time I have read it since, it goes deeper and deeper.”
Although Lee's work is fiction, Ashley wants her nonfiction to reach her readers in the same way—taking them back to their own small town churches and seating them behind an old woman with a gigantic hat.