An Eastern student recently won a prestigious award that will pay for her schooling while studying fiction writing at the University of Mississippi.

Ashley Mullins, a senior studying creative writing, was the winner of the 2014 John and Renée Grisham Fellowship Award. The fellowship is valued at $60,000 and will pay for her to continue her studies at Ole Miss, where she’ll pursue an MFA in fiction writing later this year.

Mullins, who came to Eastern after attending community college in Hazard for two years, said she originally was a psychology major before she found herself spending less time on her school work and more time on her writing. That’s when she began thinking about changing her major, which she did a year after transferring to Eastern.

Her writing career began when she was younger. She said she used to tell wild and crazy stories to anyone who would listen. When she was in grade school, she would write stories in class, drawing praise from her teaches. 

“From the time I was little, I was keeping journals and was always telling wild stories about me in the mountains,” Mullins said. “It was just second nature. It was always a part of my life I just never considered making it my life.”

Mullins said she knew from the start that she wanted to go to an MFA program to continue her education in creative writing.  At Ole Miss, which was one of the schools she applied to, anyone who submits an application is eligible for the fellowship, but the school awards only two of them: one for fiction and one for poetry. Mullins said she assumed it was going to be a long shot, but she didn’t let that bother her, since she was going to apply to the school anyway.

When she found out she won the fellowship, she said it was early in the morning. It was around 2 a.m. and her night was not going as well as she had planned. She was writing a story and it wasn’t coming together like she’d hoped. She then began questioning her writing abilities and was thinking about giving up on everything.

“It was one of those 2 a.m. moments where you’re sort of in a 2 a.m. existential crisis questioning everything—questioning my ability to write and thinking maybe I’m not cut out to do this,” Mullins said. “Maybe this isn’t really where I’m supposed to be. Maybe I’m not as talented. Maybe I’m not as good.”

Then she checked her email and there it was: she had won the fellowship. Silence came over her, and she was in a state of shock, she said.

“Someone says here’s the thing you want most in the world,” Mullins said. “How do you react?” 

Mullins plans to attend graduate school right away, adding that she’s eager to put more time into her writing and to be surrounded by people who share the same passion for writing as she does.

Mullins credited her instructors, specifically Derek Nikitas, director of Eastern’s MFA program in Creative Writing, and Bob Johnson, who teaches in the program. She said they gave her the encouragement she needed and taught her how to “pick apart a story and look at it on every level.”