Courage To Find Her Voice
An Interview with Jane A. McNeil ‘15
In December of 2015, alumna of the MFA program, Jane McNeil made a very generous $30,000 gift to the MFA program through her family foundation, The Lily Foundation. RoCo sat down with Jane McNeil over the summer to learn more about her, her experiences at Rosemont, and her decision to make a donation to Rosemont College.
How did you discover Rosemont? How did you know if was the right place for you?
Just as I was beginning to express to others my desire to write a memoir, I learned about Rosemont from a friend of a mutual friend who had graduated years earlier with her MFA. Knowing my friend’s busy lifestyle as a wife and mother, I knew if she could manage the class load, so could I.
What does “the POWER of small” mean to you?
The “POWER of small” at Rosemont College means that I received individualized attention I may not have received in a larger academic environment. The accessibility of professors and the size of the classes was also important. Throughout my six years at Rosemont, I never felt I couldn’t reach out to the director of the program or the teachers for guidance or feedback. In this smaller surrounding, I felt safe to explore my creative writing without judgment or competitiveness coming “late to the game” of graduate school.
Who were the people in your program who influenced you the most? Describe their impact on your time at Rosemont.
The three people in the program who influenced me most were Carla Spataro, Janice Merendino, and B.J. Burton. These three beautiful, talented, and selfless women gave me the permission I sought to find my writing voice and wholly supported me so that I could challenge myself to write about the toughest part of my life.
Carla, one of my first professors, allowed for me to explore the idea of writing a novella. Because of her class, I attended the Tin House Writer’s Workshop in Oregon one summer and spent a week with some of the most acclaimed writers in the country (i.e. Benjamin Percy, Steve Almond, Dorothy Allison, and Maggie Nelson). In Janice Merendino’s class, I found that through her artistic direction that I could successfully write dramatically. With her inspiring art classes that dealt with the Alexander method and etching parts of nature and the human body, she gave everyone a boost of confidence that they could be an artist if they were willing to follow the rules. After spending my final year in two back-to-back playwriting courses with Professor Burton, I knew I had finally found my writing voice and began writing my first play. All three of these teachers were patient, kind, compassionate, and supportive throughout my time at Rosemont College, and I am deeply grateful and indebted to them for giving me the bravery I needed and the incentive to receive my master’s degree. Truthfully, they will never know how much their wisdom and guidance meant and still means to me to this day.
What was the most valuable thing you learned at Rosemont?
The most valuable thing I learned at Rosemont is that when you think you don’t have any cheerleaders rooting you on, look harder for the right ones! They’re there, but you only have to find them!
Why did you decide to make a gift to the MFA/MA programs through the Lily Foundation?
I decided to give a donation to Rosemont because of the dedication of the three professors listed above, especially Carla Spataro, who tirelessly works to make sure her students and program shine.
What are your hopes for the MFA/MA programs in the future?
My hope for the program is that more alumni choose to make financial contributions so that more creative writers of all ages can attend and that the faculty continues to grow with the program.
What would you say to someone considering making a gift to Rosemont?
If someone was considering making a gift, I’d have them attend a reading and meet the students and faculty first. Then, they could be inspired to give more and truly see and experience what writing means to every age.
Describe your current passions—projects, organizations, etc.
After spending a year at Villanova University’s theatre certification program and working with a successful playwright in residence, I have decided to leave to get more hands on experience working with a repertory theatre in Rose Valley, PA. Currently, I am at work on three full-length plays. One has received a stage reading, one is in its final rewrites, and the other is still a newborn. I am also acquainting myself within the regional theatre community and working to strengthen my knowledge of stage production.
Briefly detail your background (schools, family, work, etc.).
My background starts like a Greek tragedy, but ends in a Cinderella fairytale. I was born in southern Florida and at the tender age of 13 I was orphaned. After attending boarding school, I chose a small private, liberal arts college where I received my BA in Psychology. Twenty plus years later, after marrying a great guy, having two wonderful children, and owning a retail business, I decided to venture back to the classroom to find my writing voice and write about my interrupted adolescent life.
The night of my first reading at Rosemont, the room was full and the familiar faces from the classroom were all sitting in front of me. A courage that I had never known found its way to my voice while I read the typed pages in front of me. From start to finish, I spoke without shedding a tear or stopping to collect myself. In the end, I looked up and realized I had told my story in its entirety. This was my greatest achievement at Rosemont College, and one I will never forget.
Validation is what strengthens the powerless, and because of this I will continue to give to the MFA program at Rosemont College. Because every person deserves a chance to find their creative voice; whether it be dramatic, poetic, fictional, or nonfictional. It just takes a pen, blank paper, and the courage to do it!