UM professor set to publish debut novel

Published 4:15 pm Wednesday, August 2, 2023

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By BARTON PERKINS | Staff Writer

MONTEVALLO – Dr. Ashley Wurzbacher has taught creative writing at the University of Montevallo for the past seven years, and her debut novel will arrive at bookstores all over the country on Tuesday, Aug. 8.

 “It’s exciting,” Wurzbacher said. “And nerve-wracking, that’s for sure.”

Wurzbacher is originally from Pennsylvania and grew up in a small town near the woods. She attended the nearby Allegheny College for her undergrad and was an English major.

“I enjoyed literature, but I wasn’t really sure what I wanted to do with that passion,” Wurzbacher said. “But then I wound up taking some creative writing classes and ended up loving it.”

After her time at Allegheny, Wurzbacher would finally wind up leaving Pennsylvania. She moved across the country to Spokane, Washington, where Warzbacher pursued an MFA in Creative Writing at Eastern Washington University.

“I was a TA at Eastern Washington and discovered that I also really loved teaching,” Wurzbacher said. “And then after my MFA, I’d been writing a bunch of stories, but I didn’t really have a book and wasn’t really sure about any book-length projects.”

This would lead Wurzbacher to tighten her focus on education, and she would move across the country once again to become an adjunct professor at the University of Montana. While she was there, Wurzbacher scraped by living off an adjunct salary and without any health benefits. 

“I decided to go back for my Ph.D.,” Wurzbacher said.  “Both as a way of taking my writing more seriously and hopefully putting together a book project. But also as a way of continuing to professionalize as a teacher so that I could hopefully get a full-time teaching job.”

Once again, moving across multiple states, this time to Texas, Wurzbacher returned to school to pursue a Ph.D. in Creative Writing and Literature.

“It was intense,” Wurzbacher said. “But fun.”

Shortly after receiving her doctorate in 2016, Wurzbacher got a job at the University of Montevallo, and she’s been there ever since.  During her time at Montevallo, Wurzbacher has both taught creative writing and continued to work on her career as a writer. In 2019 she published her first collection of short stories Happy Like This, which won the Iowa Short Fiction Award. 

“I identify firmly as a literary fiction person,” Wurzbacher said. “I like language and sentences. So I like that literary fiction is more like; there’s room for cultivating a unique style there. Because you’re thinking about your work as art, not just a propulsive narrative. It prioritizes character development and complexity and dwells in these messy spaces of human relationships and the human psyche.”

Wurzbacher seeks to explore these messy spaces in her forthcoming debut novel How to Care for a Human Girl, which tells the story of a pair of sisters in Pennsylvania and the nuances of their relationship.

“I would definitely emphasize that it is literary fiction,” Wurzbacher said. “It’s interested in psychology, complex thoughts and feelings. It’s not just things happening; it’s about people. It’s about choice and decision-making. So, I think readers have to be up for reading about reproductive choice as something complicated, private, intense and urgent.”

How to Care for a Human Girl will be released on Tuesday, Aug. 8, and is available wherever books are sold.