I’ve been writing poetry since I was six years old and not much has changed since then except that I know more words and rhyme less. I still tingle with excitement upon entering that private place of the mind where I can study at length whatever shining object I’ve plucked from the world and allow the words to come to represent the thing and its meaning.
I was born in Nyack, New York, as the daughter of Roger and Mary Lee Underwood. They divorced, and I grew up in Arlington, Virginia, with my sisters, Robyn and Leslie, and our step-father, Don Hester. Our mother could often be heard clacking out stories on her old Royal typewriter instead of fixing breakfast. This dereliction of duty modeled for me the priority of words over food. “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.” Amen.
She was the best of all mothers, reading to us many books, praying for us before school–and, she encouraged me in my fledgling efforts at writing by typing up my poems and stories and sending them off to no less distinguished a magazine than the Atlantic Monthly. Several teachers also mentored me, and I won a National Scholastic Award in the sixth grade for a group of poems. Later, in high school and college, I published work in school literary magazines and won first prize for a poem in the Virginia Commonwealth University creative writing contest.
Since then, I’ve published two poetry collections, What a Light Thing, This Stone and Weather of the House (both Sow’s Ear Press releases), and two volumes of prose poems/meditations, A Welcome Shore (nominated for a Library of Virginia prize) and Sketches of Home (Canon Press). Other books include a poetry textbook,The Roar on the Other Side, and several nonfiction books: Sacred Glances, Angel Flight Mid-Atlantic, and Blackboard Blackmail.
My poems appear regularly in literary journals, such as the Anglican Theological Review, the Spoon River Poetry Review, the Alaska Quarterly Review, and Sow’s Ear Poetry Review, Image, Southern Poetry Review, Shenandoah, and others. My essays have appeared in 64, Focus on the Family, the Sow’s Ear Poetry Review, and the Writing Room. I’ve published critical reviews in the Literary Magazine Review and the Anglican Theological Review. Currently, I’m working on a new collection of poems.
For about three years I was a weekly columnist for the Kingsport Times-News. I co-founded the Appalachian Center for Poets and writers while living in Tennessee and serve as an associate editor of the Sow’s Ear Poetry Review. I recently served a term on the executive committee of the Poetry Society of Virginia.
As for my education, I received an M.A. from the Johns Hopkins University Writing Seminars where I was a teaching fellow, and earned a bachelor’s degree in English from James Madison University, where I graduated magna cum laude. I was a resident fellow at the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts, a nominee for a Pushcart Prize, a first-place winner in poetry at the Virginia Highlands Festival Creative Writing Contest, and a winner of other prizes and awards as well.
I’ve taught writing and literature for many years, as well, with hopes of guiding others to discover “the light in ordinary things,” to quote from the title of a poetry anthology. Currently, I’m teaching a writing class at the Art Institute of Virginia Beach. I have taught at King College, East Tennessee State University, Old Dominion University, St. Leo University, and other schools. I’ve taught older adults (Learning in Retirement) and young children (public, private and homeschool groups). I’ve given readings/lectures at Christopher Newport University, the University of Virginia-Wise, Emory and Henry College, Virginia Highlands Community College, and elsewhere.
I live in Virginia Beach, Virginia, with my husband, Wayne Rhodes, a talented photographer (Visit GWayneRhodes.com), For eight years, I’ve worked for Mercy Medical Airlift as the director of public affairs involved with several partner charities that provide free medical transportation. Our children are grown but not as close by as we would like. They are Katy Atkinson and Stephen and Emily Clark; Wayne Rhodes II and Dawn Madrid. We have three grandchildren and hope for more.
Our pleasures are simple: riding bikes, walking by the shore, collecting sea glass, watching dolphins. We like good movies and the fellowship of friends. Besides writing, my other loves are birding, cooking, and reading.
“O give thanks to the Lord, for He is good,
For His mercy endures forever” (Psalm 136.1).