Alumni spotlight: Kathy Swoyer

Kathy Swoyer (formerly Kathy Honsel), BA French ‘77, has always been fascinated with the command of language. As a French major, she nurtured that passion and broadened her perspective through studies in French 18th century history and literature in the setting of small group seminars. Kathy enrolled at Virginia Commonwealth University because she was drawn in by Richmond’s urban environment where she had spent part of her childhood. “I just love the whole feel of the city—people doing things, people being active.” Though her parents encouraged her to study business, she first explored courses in journalism to immerse herself in writing. Unexpectedly, her courses in French were those that challenged her to think of communication in a new way. “I felt a certain kind of tension in the subject and took it as my chance to be tested and really learn something unique—a skill that would stay with me for life.” Her studies were nurtured by a dedicated faculty including Dr. William Beck, who was the founding chair of the French department, and Dr. Picherit.

Since leaving VCU, Kathy’s studies in French have inspired other pursuits with language. Beginning with journal entries and small essays, her enthusiasm for creative writing grew as she tackled a longer project and her first novel Spirit of the Mercury Dime. Working over the course of several years, Kathy diligently wrote, sought peer and professional readers, edited, finally self-publishing the work in 2014. The imaginative tale follows a history-loving heroine who attempts to save the hospital where she works from demolition because of its historical importance as a site of the Underground Railroad. The protagonist’s efforts to uncover the history of the fictional hospital were inspired by several of Kathy’s own vivid encounters with slavery heritage sites. Childhood visits to Dobbin House Tavern, a restaurant located in a Gettysburg, Pennsylvania that was once a stop on the Underground Railroad, and a slave market platform in Waycross, Georgia, provided lasting impressions that she explores through the eyes and heart of her novel’s heroine. She acknowledges that the book acted as a space to reconcile her own thoughts about some of those experiences. “There is a lot of me in the story.”

Kathy continues to write in her free time and stays active in the creative community through participation in a writers’ group in Washington where she now lives. She treasures the time spent on her creative pursuits and sees those foundations rooted in her studies in French at VCU. “Being so immersed in the world of grammar of another language broadens your view of so many different things.” Her writing acts as a respite from the more hectic pace of daily life filled with flashing digital texts and advertisements. “I just have a love of words. It provides you the means of beautiful expression. In the world of abbreviated communications, the beauty of expression and expressing feelings in imaginative ways has gotten lost.”

To learn more about Kathy’s novel, click here.

Written by Caitlin Hanbury

(photo by Judy Corcoran)