The Columns

Ph.D. Student Writes Novels for Varied Audiences

— by on April 2nd, 2012

By day, Sybil Nelson, of Washington and Lee’s Class of 2001, is a Ph.D. student in biostatistics at the Medical University of South Carolina, in Charleston. She’s got another identity, too: as the creator of Priscilla the Great, “an ordinary seventh grader with extraordinary gifts” and the heroine of her novels for middle schoolers. If that weren’t enough, she’s also the author of nine more novels for adults and young adults under the name Leslie Dubois.

Last week, the Charleston (S.C.) Post and Courier published an excellent feature story about Sybil and her writing. After graduating from W&L, Sybil worked as a math teacher at Georgetown Day School, in Washington. It was there, she says, that she began to get back to her writing and started making notes about stories.

Then she moved to Charleston and taught math at Ashley Hall School while getting her master’s in math at the College of Charleston. That was when she wrote her first book, “Ain’t No Sunshine,” under the Dubois pen name.

While Sybil was teaching at Ashley Hall and writing several other books as Leslie Dubois, she found inspiration for the character of Priscilla the Great from two of her students. She’s now written four books in the series, plus a collection of short stories, and has a fifth Priscilla book due out later this year.

As the Post and Courier reports, Sybil gives a talk called “Poverty to Ph.D.” at schools in the Charleston area, relating her story of being raised in Florida and then Washington by a single mother who urged her to read. As she said in the interview:

I think the system is broken. But until it gets fixed, I’m the one who has to take the steps and get to where I want to be. When I give talks, I say there’s no excuse. You know where a library is. You go, you read, you figure out how to get from A to B, because someone else might not do it for you.

You can learn more about Sybil’s writing at her website, SybilNelson.com, which includes a blog that provides tips for other authors on how to publish and market their books.