Don’t shut down your own ideas. I never in a million years thought I’d get approved, but I did. It’s scary to think of someone else shutting down your ideas, but nine times out of 10 they don’t.
Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women was one of Jessica Rinker’s favorite books growing up, one she and her mother often read together. Last year when revisiting the classic, the recent Bridgewater State University graduate found new inspiration.
While taking Dr. Lee Torda’s Young Adult Literature class, Rinker re-read the pages of the coming-of-age novel and, while many themes still resonated, she felt the material itself to be unrelatable to today’s young readers.
“I realized this was written 200 years ago, and I suddenly was intrigued and inspired. I wanted to dig into it more and try to write a modern retelling,” she said.
Rinker, who earned degrees in English and secondary education, knew she needed guidance and found it through BSU’s Adrian Tinsley Program (ATP) for Undergraduate Research and Creative Work Summer Grant program.
The program provides grants for undergraduate research opportunities to help students conduct in-depth research or creative work for ten weeks in the summer. Students are also mentored one-on-one by a professor.
Rinker reached out to Torda to pitch her idea of researching and writing a modern re-telling of Little Women.
“I wanted to try and figure out what types of young adult experiences were present in the older text and how it still relates to young adults today and find and include things that might be lacking like mental illness, gender identity and sexual identity,” Rinker said. “These topics are not as represented in older texts and can be problematic for younger people who don’t see themselves represented.”
Torda said she was blown away with Rinker’s energy and enjoyed mentoring her.
“I was grateful to read her writing each week and I’m so impressed with her maturity around revision…Jess was so eager to do the work,” Torda said. “I always say that my best ATP experiences teach me how to be a better mentor and teacher and my time with Jess was absolutely an example of that.”
Overall, the project proved to be both rewarding and challenging for Rinker.
“Writing a fictional book is really hard, I don’t think I realized how much research goes into it” she said.
The best part of the project, Rinker said, was watching her characters develop.
“My favorite part was learning so much and watching the characters grow,” she said. “They became people I didn’t know yet. I was able to embark on trails I didn’t think I would and discovered things I wasn’t expecting.”
Participating in the ATP summer research grant program provided a boost in Rinker’s self-esteem as well, something she will carry over with her as she pursues a teaching career.
“I never had anyone’s full support for something before,” she said. “As a writer, I think we sometimes think no one will want to read or see it, but through the ATP I found people did want to hear what I was doing, that people actually cared about my work.”
For BSU students considering applying for the program, Rinker says go for it!
“Don’t shut down your own ideas. I never in a million years thought I’d get approved, but I did. It’s scary to think of someone else shutting down your ideas, but nine times out of 10 they don’t,” she said.
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