Maybe she was inspired by Rudyard Kipling’s Just So Stories. Maybe she was incensed by South Carolina’s “Corridor of Shame.” Maybe she was enlightened by her College of Charleston English professors. But when CofC English major Stella Rounsefell was chosen by the USC Press to be included in its second volume of Writing South Carolina (2017): That was what motivated her to keep putting pen to paper.
“It’s life changing for someone to say, ‘What you’re doing is actually good,’” says Rounsefell, who, as a senior at Aiken High School, became a finalist in the 2014–15 South Carolina High School Writing Contest and has two pieces published in the resulting Writing South Carolina, Volume 2. “It is surreal to hold the physical book and see my pieces with my name under them. Being published has given me the confidence to continue writing. It is hopefully only the beginning for me, but it is such a wonderful and humbling beginning.”
Rounsefell’s two pieces include a short story, My ‘Elephant’s Child, and a poem, Education on the Half Shell. The former was inspired by Kipling’s The Elephant’s Child, which Rounsefell’s father read to her when she was growing up.
“The main message of that story is to let your curiosity flow – don’t let anyone stomp out that innate curiosity we’re all born with,” says Rounsefell, a rising junior. “I think that curiosity is something that was really cultivated and nurtured in me by my dad reading me that story. He had a lot to do with me learning to love art and culture. And my mom is an artist, too. They both encouraged me to be a lifelong learner and to appreciate the arts. But reading that story with my dad was the very beginning of my love for fables and folk tales, I think.”
In spite of – or perhaps because of – her love of learning and appreciation for education, by the time she was in high school Rounsefell couldn’t help but notice the disparity between the level of education she was provided at her S.C. public school and the level provided at other S.C. schools. Thus, the subject of her poem, which calls attention to the gap between S.C. schools with resources and those without.
“Education is the base of everything,” says Rounsefell, who was a teacher cadet her senior year of high school and started out as an education major at the College before switching over to English. “When you have high school students noticing the holes in their education and problems in their state, it is probably time to do something. I saw this problem and thought, ‘It’s time to turn things around. We can do better than this.’”
Of course, that was four years ago – and, as we all know, with time comes wisdom, and with wisdom comes clarity. Especially when you’ve been taking creative writing classes at the College in the interim.
“Looking back at what I wrote back then, I realize how much I’ve learned over the years about tone and voice and just delivery in general since I’ve been at the College,” says Rounsefell, who concentrates in creative writing and minors in religious studies. “When you’re in high school you have a lot of pent-up teenagey feelings, so it comes off a little whiny – a little preachy maybe. Since then, I’ve learned so much about structure and voice. I definitely would have written it differently, but I think it’s true to myself as a writer at the time.”
And as a writer today, Rounsefell is eager to continue learning, to continue polishing and refining her skills.
“Academically, I am so impressed with the College and the English department, and I just want to keep on learning,” she says, noting that, after graduating, she wants to continue on to graduate school before eventually returning to the high school classroom. “I really think that high school is the last real chance to inspire students to keep learning. I want to be making that difference. But I want to live a little bit of life so I can come back to teaching with lots of fuel.”
And regardless of where that fuel comes from, Rounsefell knows just how important it is in moving forward.
“For me, I got that boost early on – from being validated by the writing contest and then getting published,” she says. “But that boost of confidence is important when it comes to propelling you forward, no matter what your passion or goal is. We all need to hear that what we’re doing is worth the effort – that’s the spark that keeps us going.”