By Collin Wilson, C‘13, with Shelby Longland, ‘13

Why pursue a master’s degree when you are already successful in your field? Today many professionals are going back to school in order to advance their education for monetary gains or to switch careers.

For award-winning author, columnist, speaker and writing coach Stacy Hawkins Adams, it’s not about the money. Instead, she chose to go back to school to follow her passion for lifelong learning. This passion brought Adams back into the classroom in the fall of 2010 to pursue a Master of Liberal Arts (MLA) degree at the University of Richmond School of Professional and Continuing Studies. She plans to graduate in May 2013.

What have you enjoyed most about the MLA program?

I have enjoyed having the flexibility of evening classes. I’ve also really enjoyed being with other MLA students from different backgrounds. Not everyone is a novelist like me. This diversity creates an environment for fascinating discussions. I learn something new every time I go to class.

What classes have you most recently taken?

Women and War Time with Professor Elisabeth Wray and John Alley (her son-in-law) and Social Psychology with Marcus Forbes.

What is one thing you have learned from your professors that has stuck with you?

First and foremost, I have learned the power of being a lifelong learner, no matter what path your life takes. Many of my professors have other jobs during the day, but they all come to class at night eager to teach. They have also forced me to dig more deeply into my focus area, how women in society impact Western culture. I’ve been studying female leaders for several years and am constantly intrigued by how many women have made a difference in America, even as early as the 18th century.

Since you are an author yourself, what are two of your favorite books written by other authors?

J. California-Cooper’s Homemade Love is definitely one of my favorites. It’s a book of fables about African-American women and men. Set in the 18th and early 19th century, it portrays the challenges they faced in America at that time. In this book, California-Cooper focuses on the wisdom and personal growth that the characters experience, which is something I try to portray in my novels as well.

Another one of my favorite books, which you might find interesting because of his background in mystery, is John Grisham’s The Testament. I remember reading this in the early 1990s and immediately after I closed the book, I thought to myself that this was the type of book I wanted to write. This book has the underlying theme of spiritual growth in a way that isn’t preachy, and I remember wanting to replicate that in my own books.

Is there a common theme among all of your books?

I tend to focus on spirituality, especially shown in the main character’s own personal growth. I normally have a character or two who wrestle with matters of faith. I also try to portray characters at different stages of their own spiritual quests. No one has cookie-cutter faith; rather, faith is a spiritual journey. My characters often ask questions such as “Is God real?” or “Does this ‘Being’ exist?” Some of my characters, just like people in real life, mature quickly. Others, however, stay stuck for a longer time grappling with these spiritual questions.

How do you get ideas about the books that you write?

Often, my books come from a common theme or trend I notice in the world around me. Many times I will begin to hear the same theme emerge from talking to close female friends or strangers at book signings or through emails. My inspiration for Coming Home emerged this way. I had been hearing stories about many of my single African-American female friends and actually watched a show on Nightline about these women’s lives. A few days later, I began to write my story on this very idea.

How has the University’s MLA program influenced your writing?

This program has encouraged me to dig more deeply into the history of women. It has strengthened my writing, as I am now more thoughtful and articulate about my structure. I’ve been able to bring those analytical practices to my fiction. It’s also given me an opportunity to explore other writers and consider their craft and specialty and try to emulate them in my own writing.

Even though you are a successful writer, why did you decide to go back to school for your master’s degree?

I am a lifelong learner. I don’t think you can ever reach a place where you "know it all." In a sense, I see myself as a sociologist, as I like to write stories about people. I have wanted to get a master’s degree for years and to challenge myself to grow as a writer and use the degree to become a content expert. This program has allowed me to study women’s leadership and how women have empowered themselves. I’m able to infuse this into my fiction now.

Can you share a preview of your latest book that was released this month?

Coming Home is a story about forgiveness, guilt, personal growth and the role faith plays in healing long-standing and fresh wounds. A man’s former wife and his current wife walk through these emotions on a spiritual journey.

What do you like to do in your spare time?

Sleep. A good nap every now and then is crucial. I love music, gospel and jazz. I have a husband and two children and enjoy spending time with my family and friends. I also like to play tennis when I have time. When I graduate, I will hopefully reward myself by playing tennis again.

Stacy Hawkins Adams’ novel Coming Home is now available in stores.