The Writers of Star Stories

Some Star Stories are true, some are inspired by truth, and some have emerged from the truth in imagination…all thanks to our wonderful contributing writers.

Star Stories are written by distinguished members of the Hollins Playwright’s Lab, with special guest writers including Roanokers Nancy Ruth Patterson and Tony-nominated lyricist Hunter Bell, along with best selling authors and Hollins alumni Lee Smith, Jill McCorkle, and Beth Macy, Roanoke Times Editor Dwayne Yancey, and international bestselling author Robert Fulghum.

Starcropolis Guest Authors

Robert Fulghum

Robert Fulghum is an international bestselling author who has the distinction of having books in the #1 and #2 slots on the New York Times bestseller list at the same time. He has over fourteen million copies of 12 books in 23 languages in print. His most popular book, All I Really Need To Know I Learned in Kindergarten was adapted for the stage by Ernie Zulia and premiered at Mill Mountain Theatre in 1992. It has had more than 3,000 productions and tens of thousands of performances around the world.

Lee Smith

Hollins Alumna (class of 1967), Lee Smith is a New York Times bestselling author and the recipient of multiple awards including the Academy Award in Fiction from the American Academy of Arts and Letters. Growing up in the Appalachian mountains of southwestern Virginia, nine-year-old Lee Smith was already writing–and selling, for a nickel apiece–stories about her neighbors in the coal boomtown of Grundy and the nearby isolated “hollers.” Since graduating from Hollins, she has published eleven novels, as well as three collections of short stories. Along with her friend Jill McCorkle, Lee’s writing was featured in the hit Off Broadway musical Good Ol’ Girls, which played to sold out audiences at Hollins Theatre in 2011.

Beth Macy

Hollins Alumna (M.A., class of 1993), Beth Macy is a journalist who writes about outsiders and underdogs. She is the author of the New York Times Bestseller Factory Man. Her writing has won more than a dozen national journalism awards, including a Nieman Fellowship for Journalism at Harvard and the 2013 J. Anthony Lukas Word-in-Progress. Her new book, Truevine a riveting American story about race, greed, and the human condition. The full story of what happened in Truevine, Virginia is unforgettable, a book that will shock readers even as it warms their hearts. She lives in Roanoke, with her husband, videographer and journalist Tom Landon, who co-authored her Star Story- “Street Sweeper.”

Tom Landon

Tom Landon is a teacher and television producer who lives in Roanoke. He holds a Masters Degree in Instructional Technology from Virginia Tech and teaches AP Human Geography for Virtual Virginia, a program of the Virginia Department of Education. In 2007 he was the principal videographer and co-producer of the award-winning film shot in Nepal titled A Gift for the Village. He had a brief stint as the “What’s On Your Mind” columnist for the Roanoke Times. Tom lives in Roanoke with his wife, writer Beth Macy. They have two sons, 22 and 18, and two rescue dogs, Mavis and Charley, who can regularly be seen pulling Tom up Mill Mountain on the Star Trail.

Jill McCorkle

Hollins Alumna (M.A., class of 1991) Jill McCorkle has the distinction of having her first two novels published on the same day in 1984. Of these novels, The New York Times Book Review said, “One suspects the author of The Cheer Leader is a born novelist, with July 7th, she is also a full grown one.” Since then she has published three other novels—her latest, Life After Life coming March 2013—and four collections of short stories. Five of her books have been named New York Times notable books. McCorkle has received the New England Booksellers Award, the John Dos Passos Prize for Excellence in Literature and the North Carolina Award for Literature. She is a member of the Fellowship of Southern Writers. Along with her friend Lee Smith, Jill’s writing was featured in the hit Off Broadway musical Good Ol’ Girls, which played to sold out audiences at Hollins Theatre in 2011.

Elizabeth Forsythe Hailey

Elizabeth “Betsy” Forsythe Hailey (class of 1960) is a critically acclaimed playwright and author of best-selling novels, including A Woman of Independent Means, which examine the changing roles of women in society. The novel was made into a popular HBO mini series starring Sally Field. With her late husband, she collaborated on several television series, including McMillan and Wife, Love of Life, and Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman. She served as writer-in-residence at Hollins in 1998, and she has twice spoken at Founder’s Day and commencement.



Dwayne Yancey

Dwayne Yancey is a journalist by profession and a playwright by avocation. Most of his time is spent writing and working as editorial page editor of The Roanoke Times. He took up playwriting several years ago to amuse himself and has been pleasantly surprised to find that others have enjoyed his work, as well. He lives in Fincastle, Virginia with his wife and two children, all of whom are veterans of the local community theatre stage.  His plays were produced at Studio Roanoke by the Hollins Playwright’s Lab, and frequently performed at No Shame Theatre.



John Patrick Bray

John Patrick Bray’s plays have been produced with various festivals and theatres in NYC and are published with Original Works Publishing, Next Stage Press, Indie Theatre Now, JACPublishing, Heartland Plays and in anthologies published by Applause and Smith and Kraus. John has a Ph.D. in theatre from Louisiana State University and an M.F.A. in playwriting from The Actors Studio Drama School/The New School for Drama. John is an assistant professor at the University of Georgia and a member of The Dramatists Guild of America.


Paul Sambol

Paul Sambol is thrilled to be produced again in Roanoke. Sixteen of his one-acts were presented as Centerpieces at Mill Mountain Theatre. His full-length play The Straight Man, winner of the Norfolk Southern New Play Competition, was also produced at Mill Mountain. He has had plays produced and developed in New York, London, Los Angeles, and Washington. He is a member of the Dramatists Guild.


Joy Sylvester-Johnson

Joy Sylvester-Johnson is delighted to be part of Starcropolis. She is the author of two musicals: Soup, Soap and Salvation (produced at Mill Mountain in 1998 and 2002) and Christmas Cookies (produced at Roanoke Children’s Theater in 2011). Her “twitter prayers” can be found at JoyPreets. Retiring from her real job as CEO of the Rescue Mission in 2017, Joy plans to read more plays, see more plays, and write more plays.

Hollins Playwrights

Maura Campbell

Maura Campbell is a playwright, director and screenwriter whose plays have been produced on the west coast (Flower Duet, Road Theatre), New York (NYIFF, Rosalee Was Here and Manhattan Rep, Wild Geese), and Virginia (Mill Mountain Theatre, Dreamtime, Studio Roanoke, Rosalee Was Here). Recent productions include Memory Palace, (Good Theatre Company, CT and Vermont Actor’s Rep) and Fantasia De Colores (Theatre Mosaic Mond, Vermont). Campbell has a B.A. in liberal studies from Norwich University and an M.F.A. in playwriting from Hollins University.


Eric Eidson

Eric Eidson is an M.F.A. playwriting candidate at Hollins University. Eric is currently the theatre director at Overland High School in Aurora, Colorado. In addition to playwriting and teaching, Eric also develops new plays, and acts and directs in various theatre companies in Colorado. Eric fostered his love of playwriting in Roanoke and the Roanoke Star cheered him on the whole way! He is honored and thankful to be a part of such a commemorative event.


Elizabeth Heffron

Elizabeth Heffron is a Seattle-based playwright. She currently teaches at Cornish College of the Arts, ACT Young Playwrights Program, and at Freehold Theatre/Lab where she has spent six seasons working with the women of the Washington Correctional Center for Women on inmate-generated performance pieces.  She is an alumna of the Seattle Rep Writers Group, a member of the Sandbox Artists Collective and the Dramatists Guild. She holds an M.F.A. in playwriting from the Hollins Playwrights Lab.


Ben Jolivet

Ben Jolivet’s work has been developed and produced on the East, West, and Gulf Coasts. Ben is a two-time semi-finalist for the Eugene O’Neill Conference, a finalist for Sanguine Theatre Co.’s Project Playwright and the 2016 SETC Getchell Award; he was winner of a 2013 Massachusetts Cultural Council Dramatic Writing Fellowship and the 2014 Silver Spring Stage one-act festival judge’s award for best script. He currently serves as playwright-in-residence at The Wilbury Theatre Group. B.A: SNHU. M.F.A (in progress): Hollins Playwrights Lab.


Laura King

Laura King is an award-winning playwright who resides south of Atlanta. She holds an M.F.A. in playwriting from Hollins University and is an instructor of theatre at Gordon State College.  Laura’s plays are available at StageRights, YouthPLAYS, Polychoron Press, and the New Play Exchange.


Meredith Dana Levy

Meredith Dayna Levy’s historical drama Decision Height has been published by Samuel French, Inc., and produced by theatres across the country. Levy is a founding member of dwellings dancetheatre, a collaborative partnership between herself and dance maker Patricia Brooks Cope. With the support of Roanoke Ballet Theatre, they have created The Tinker, a monthly works-in-progress performance series for local and affiliated performance artists to engage audiences through unfinished works. Levy is pursuing her M.F.A. in playwriting at Hollins University. She is a member of the Dramatists Guild.


Wendy-Marie Martin

Wendy-Marie Martin earned an M.F.A. in playwriting from the Playwright’s Lab at Hollins University and holds a B.F.A. in acting as well. She has written, directed, and produced intimate theater projects in the U.S. and Europe. Her short plays have been produced in Germany, The Netherlands, Australia, and the U.S. She is also creator and executive producer of the Red Eye 10s Play Festival, a nationwide festival of original shorts. Martin is a member of the Dramatists Guild, Theatre Communications Group, and Playwrights’ Center.


Caitlin McCommis

Caitlin McCommis is a playwright out of St. Louis, MO. Her one-act play Vinyl Doctors was produced as part of the FAST New Play Festival in Iowa City, IA in April 2008. Her full length play You Won’t See Me received a workshop production at Tesseract Theatre in St. Louis in May 2013 and her full length play This Is Nowhere was given a pre-premier production at Tesseract Theatre in May 2013. She is the ensemble playwright-in-residence with the Tesseract Theatre. She is currently pursuing her M.F.A. in playwriting as a member of the Playwright’s Lab at Hollins University.


David Schwingle

David Schwingle is a playwright, an assistant professor, and an actor living, teaching, and performing “acts of theatre” in South Carolina. He has a passion for creating new stories and sharing them with an audience, and he loves helping others do the same. Schwingle has just completed his M.F.A. in playwriting as a member of the Playwright’s Lab at Hollins University.


Todd Ristau

Todd Ristau designed the Playwright’s Lab at Hollins University and has served as program director since its 2007 launch. He is a distinguished graduate of the Iowa Playwright’s Workshop and his plays have been performed in theatres across the U.S. and England, including London’s West End. Ristau founded No Shame Theatre in 1986 and oversaw its evolution into a national network of venues for new work. Todd worked with Mill Mountain Theatre’s literary associate overseeing new works programming, and was Studio Roanoke’s first artistic director. He is a member of the Dramatists Guild and Literary Managers and Dramaturgs of America, and currently serves KCACTF Region IV as chair of the national playwriting program and SETC as playwriting chair. Ristau wrote the Star Trail Stories for Starcropolis.