Before Dr. Ashley Wurzbacher was a writer, she was a reader. While delving into the worlds of Latin American magical realism, literary fiction centered on complicated women and short story collections, the Titusville, Pennsylvania, native discovered an eagerness to tell her own stories.
Wurzbacher, associate professor of English, published her debut novel in August. “How to Care for a Human Girl,” published by Atria Books, a division of Simon & Schuster, centers on two estranged sisters and the crossroads they face after becoming unexpectedly pregnant at the same time. Wurzbacher earned a Bachelor of Arts in English Literature from Allegheny College in 2008 and Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing from Eastern Washington University in 2010. As an MFA student, she enjoyed working as a teaching assistant so much that she went back for her Ph.D. in order to secure a full-time teaching job. She earned her doctorate in literature and creative writing from the University of Houston in 2016.
“It’s very nerdy, but I just love school,” she said. “I love being on university campuses and that there are these spaces where we can prioritize learning, growing, thinking and taking care of each other in a way that you don’t always see in the corporate world.”
That same year, Wurzbacher became a member of UM’s English department, teaching creative writing, fiction workshops, composition and literature. Working with UM students has been a positive experience for her because they are “resilient, creative and uniquely themselves.” Their eagerness to learn helps her remember why she loves writing and why she wanted to do it in the first place.
“There’s such a special energy in the classroom because they want to tell their stories,” she said. “They want to find their voices and they’re so excited. Their energy is infectious to me, and hopefully my enthusiasm about what I’m doing ignites something in them as well.”
Wurzbacher appreciates that the students have a resource like the Walden Studio by University Lake, where they can enjoy a space dedicated to quiet reflection, creativity and communion with nature. She cites the day of the opening ceremony as a time when she truly felt she belonged at Montevallo, along with the support she has received for her writing from the campus community.
“I’ve put two books out since I’ve been here [the first was a short story collection titled “Happy Like This” in 2019], and the outpouring of love and support that I’ve gotten from students, my fellow faculty members and the community has really made me feel valued, cared about and celebrated.”
To aspiring writers, Wurzbacher’s biggest piece of advice is to have patience and find the courage to share your work with others.
“It’s scary for a lot of students when they come into a workshop for the first time,” she said. “But once you get some practice, you realize that critiquing each other’s work is about helping it become the best possible version of itself, not about tearing people down. Sharing your work is what makes it real.”