Olivia Thomes Sees Writing as a Tool for Social Action and Connection

Olivia Thomes

Ever since I can remember literature has been at the forefront of my mind; whether it be spending my time reading rather than playing house as a child or writing short stories and poems sprawled out on my floor in an old notebook with crinkled pages. At a young age I was always enthralled by books, but I didn’t start writing until I was eight years old. My mother was an exceptional poet and after her passing I turned to her old journals to gain a better understanding of who she was as a person. As I flipped through pages filled with blue and black scribbles—pages yellowing from the amount of wear her fingers spent contemplating the white space—I fell in love with the craft. Seeing how my mother used writing to handle her every day gave me the insight that I, too, could start using creative writing to help my every day.

In essence, the potency of literature has always kept me grounded. That is why, when senior year of high school rolled around, I ditched the lifelong idea of studying Equine Studies for my undergraduate career—even though working with and riding horses was (and is) something I have always been passionate about. Instead, I chose to attend Wheelock College for a passion I needed to explore more in depth.

I graduated Wheelock College in 2016 with a BA in Humanities/Literature and minors in Music, Writing, and Communications and Media Literacy. I am currently an executive function and english/writing tutor, as well as a project coordinator for the Aspire Institute at Wheelock College, which provides support to Boston Public School teachers in competency-based professional development.

In the course of my time at Wheelock College, I had the privilege of serving as a teacher’s assistant in a first-year seminar class that explored social change through music. Considering being a TA as an undergraduate in a pre-existing course was not allowed at Wheelock, it came as a shock and an honor when the independent study was approved! My role was to incorporate literature theory in making the argument that music is literature, as well as teach writing for social action. Additionally, I was employed as a student advisor with the advising office at Wheelock and was not only a teacher figure for these young adults, as well as a fellow student, but was also their first-year guide in getting adjusted to Wheelock. As their teacher, I had full control of preparing lesson plans that taught the importance of creative writing and how it can be used for the change one would like to see in the world. Using music lyrics as my base, this opened up many discussions of the different uses of language.

I carried the tools I utilized to teach these students with me to my other roles on campus. One of those roles was being asked to be a leader on a service learning trip, specifically in leading a group of students to New Orleans to teach them about literary citizenship. While we were in New Orleans, my role was to teach self-expression with writing poetry to an afterschool program. It was reverential to see how those students worked closely with the younger students to make sure they were thinking critically as they put pen to paper. With a sense of gratitude, I observed how these young children tackled the assignments.

Wheelock had yet again opened my eyes to something I had never imagined I could do—travel, teach, provide service, and work specifically in something I cared so much about. Through all these roles I came into contact with a diverse population, each moment teaching me something different when it came to literature.

My position as an authority figure, both in the classroom and working with students outside of the classroom, has awakened a desire to embrace teaching—specifically in the field of literature and writing. I enjoy sharing the excitement of education with my peers, as well as helping them achieve their own academic success. I share an admiration and respect for literature, much like professors at Wheelock that opened the doors for me to fall in love with literature all over again.

As a literature scholar, I have found that readers and writers find meaning through the medium of language and that for several years now I knew I wanted my graduate work to be in the field of literature and writing. It’s exciting to stay at Wheelock for work, to keep in touch with the wonderful staff and faculty, and I will cherish the friendships and experiences I continue to build here as I embark on a new journey of graduate school in Lesley University’s low-residency MFA program!