Alumni spotlight: Steven Collis

By day, Steven Collis, MFA Creative Writing ’06, is an attorney, serving as chair of Holland & Hart LLP’s Religious Institutions and First Amendment practice group and representing clients across the nation (including in the United States Supreme Court) in complex litigation and labor and employment matters. But, in his free time, he experiments with more creative pursuits as a novelist. After receiving an undergraduate degree from Brigham Young University, Steven had a clear sense of what he wanted to undertake in his graduate education—degrees in both law and creative writing. Eager to realize his childhood dream of becoming a novelist, Steven was coaxed to Richmond by the impressive reputation of VCU’s three-year creative writing program. “A lot of creative writing programs can be rigid and VCU offered a lot of flexibility to write what I wanted to write.” For him, the program carried just the right balance of exploration and reflection through a combination of writing workshops and courses examining great works of literature.

In his first year, Steven took a novel workshop with guest lecturer David Robbins and anticipated that he would learn to polish his well-formed style. He quickly realized he needed to let go of his prepossessed notions about the writing process and open himself up to new possibilities in order to become a truly better writer. Several professors encouraged him in that undertaking, including Clint McCown and Tom De Haven. During his time in the program, Steven completed a number of short stories and two novels, a historical fiction set during the Korean War and another more modern work that explores the fallout from parent-child relationships, while also serving as the associate managing editor at Blackbird: an online journal of literature and the arts, published by the department and New Virginia Review. “Working on Blackbird was a highlight of my time in the program.”

For Steven, earning his MFA further cemented his commitment to write. Though he did immediately go on to earn a JD, magna cum laude, from the University Michigan Law School in 2008, he continued to make time to write, completing one novel and publishing shorter works during law school and finishing and publishing another novel immediately thereafter. Now living in Denver, Colorado, with his wife and four children, Steven still dedicates much of his free time to creative writing despite his busy schedule. “It’s almost an obsession or compulsion.” He acknowledges that his MFA has given him a valuable perspective that benefits his legal writing as well. “The ability to articulate a compelling story is important not only in writing fiction but also in representing clients.”

With a growing young family and a promising legal career, Steven’s devotion to writing is especially remarkable, making his advice for VCU’s next generation of budding young novelists particularly insightful. “Write, write, write as much as possible. If you have down time, write and explore as much as you possibly can.”

Read more about Steven here.

Written by Caitlin Hanbury