The daily drive from Huntington to South Charleston was often traffic clogged and fraught with construction challenges, so a few years ago Maura Conway reluctantly left friends and coworkers behind on the South Charleston campus and returned to the Huntington campus.
Actually it was a homecoming that took her back to her own roots, a chance to work in the Department of Sociology and Anthropology as an Administrative Secretary Senior. With a B.A. and M.A from Marshall in Sociology and academic office experience, Conway was well suited for the job, and today she also teaches classes as an adjunct instructor.
As a Huntington native who graduated from Huntington High School, Marshall was always in her future. Originally a history major, she gravitated towards sociology after a class piqued her interest and left her wanting to know more about the field. “I’ve always been interested in the history of social movements and I love studying groups of people,” she explains.
Between degrees Conway put her education to work as a social worker at the Huntington City Mission for a year, primarily working to provide services for the area’s homeless population. It was taxing work that eventually led to her accepting a secretarial position in Marshall’s Psychology Department. Eventually, eager to spread her professional wings, she headed to Albany, N.Y., and a job working in New York’s State’s library system. The job was fulfilling and she liked the area, but eventually homesickness overtook her and she headed back to the Huntington area.
“I needed a job and just at that time a position came open on the South Charleston campus working as the reading secretary, and also with the special education advisory board and the West Virginia Writing Project in which I had a special interest. I loved my work there and the atmosphere on that campus is so great,” she recalls fondly. But the rigors of the daily commute from her new home in the Pea Ridge section of Huntington on the often traffic-clogged Interstate 64, which was undergoing several major construction projects at the time, soon grew wearisome. “I really wanted to stay there but when the job in the Sociology/Anthropology Department opened up, I thought, 'This is just meant to be.' Only the job in Sociology could have drawn me away. But it was coming home again to where everything started—and I didn’t have to commute!”
And along with a new home and a new job, Conway and her husband, Josh, happily welcomed the birth of their daughter, Sophia, who is now three. These days Sophia enjoys romps in the parks, children’s days at the Huntington Museum of Art, and forays to an array of libraries. “We’re all library ‘junkies;’ I was raised in a library,” Conway cheerfully admits, and perhaps that’s only natural as her mother was a librarian. Avid readers all, the family heads out on weekends, hitting libraries all over the area ... Barboursville, Gallaher Village and often the downtown Huntington library.
And Conway is not only a reader, she’s a writer who’s had work published, although she’s exceedingly modest about her writing efforts. She prefers short stories, although she’s also written essays and even a novel. “I’ve done essays on sociology themes for blogs and some other Internet things, but I really want to concentrate on short stories.” And, in fact, she had one of her stories published in an independent publication. Her fiction is character driven, she says, with stories set in contemporary times with universal settings and while her characters are not necessarily based in Appalachia, they could be interpreted that way.
The novel came about as a fluke. She loves a challenge and although this one was daunting, she took it on and successfully completed it where many others failed. She wrote a 50,000-word novel as part of National Novel Writing Month, which takes place each November. Writers of all ilks are encouraged to complete a manuscript and submit it during that month, which she did and received an award for successfully turning out a 50,000-word manuscript. Her novel is set at a hobby convention where a cast of characters meet and interact, creating some dramatic events along with some comic moments as well. “I like using satire and comedy to mix in with other elements and I incorporated them into this work,” she says. “I wanted to write about what can happen at such a gathering, high drama at a hobby convention, but with some comic relief as well. Writing is a wonderful creative outlet for me and I may write another one sometime. I write for my own pleasure but it’s good discipline as well.”
And her sociology background does enter into her writing, she believes. “We say that sociologists are born, not made. You look at people critically and pay close attention to details. There’s a broad spectrum with diverse populations. I think I’ve incorporated much of that.”
In addition, she says, “I’m so lucky that I’ve been
able to work in a variety of positions, do a lot of different kinds of work ...
social work, administrative, academic, teaching ... but there’s always been a
thread running through all of them. That’s why I feel like I’m back home again.”
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