Rileigh Sullivan has been inspired by poetry for as long as she can remember.
“Like most kids, I grew up devouring Shel Silverstein,” she said. “That evolved into a love of T.S. Elliot and other poets as I became a teenager. Right now, I’m reading “Howl” by Allen Ginsberg and “The Trouble with Poetry” by Billy Collins.
Currently pursuing her Associate in Arts degree at MCC, Sullivan placed second in the Poetry category in the Illinois Skyway Collegiate Conference (ISCC) 2020 Writer’s Competition and Festival with her poem “Is Dead, Is Dead.”
“I found out I placed in the competition at the end of one of my Zoom classes,” she said. “A student from my creative writing class congratulated me and another student. We both had no idea that we had placed and were shocked by the news.”
More than 100 writers from all over the state submitted their work for the competition this Fall.
Sullivan was originally introduced to the competition through Professor Mark Waters’ creative writing class as an assignment and submitted two poems for consideration.
“I was elated to have placed in poetry,” Sullivan said. “I know it’s a very big dream—but I would love to be Poet Laureate one day.”
Sullivan first attended MCC from 2016-2017 but put her education on hold for a bit after experiencing a loss in the family. She decided to return to MCC in the fall of 2020 after being furloughed from her job as a Pilates instructor due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I realized I was choosing short-term income over investing in my future,” she said of her choice to return to school. “I hope to have a career as an English professor and writer. I plan on earning my bachelor’s degree in English with a focus in creative writing.”
Sullivan noted that she’s found inspiration for her writing in many of MCC’s courses over the years.
“In 2017, I took a class with Professor Waters and Professor Culp. The Journey Home was part ancient literature and part ancient history. The class centered around soldiers’ return to society and how ancient literature and history recorded that transition. During this four-hour class, MCC’s own student veterans recounted their experiences with emotional and vulnerable details. I was one of two civilians in the class,” she remembered. “Although I had never been to war, seeing my peers allow the literature to resonate and foster vulnerability awakened the need to be as authentic in my own writing. I am extremely grateful for the several classes I have taken with Professor Waters.”
As for what advice she’d give to future MCC students, Sullivan has a simple, poignant message: “Focus on what sparks your passion.”