Young Alum’s New Novel Draws on Art History Studies

News Story categories: Alumni Art History English
A stack of books titled Ink fire beauty by jordan Renee

The line between her passions and her professional aspirations is a thin one for Jordan Chappell ’20. An art history and English double-major, Chappell honed her writing skills as an undergraduate at RMC, where she served as the copyeditor for The Yellow Jacket, the College’s student newspaper, and as the fiction editor for The Stylus, a journal of creative writing produced by the English department. In her senior year, she set the goal to publish some of the works she had completed as a student. 

In November 2021, she met that goal by publishing her first novel, “Ink, Fire, Beauty.” Published under the pen name Jordan Renee (her middle name), the work of historical fiction centers on a young Chinese painter tasked with fulfilling her mother’s deathbed wish to visit the mountains where her grandparents fell in love. 

Inspired by Chinese history and culture, the novel came together in an Asian Art course that Chappell took with Professor of Art History Evie Terrono. 

“The class provided my first exposure to Eastern cultures, and everything was so fresh and new, and I couldn’t get enough of the cultural complexities,” Chappell said. “I found myself taking two sets of notes every day: one set for the class, one set for my novel. My evenings were suddenly split between writing my senior thesis in art history and writing a book!” 

By the end of her undergraduate career, Chappell had a finished draft in hand, but the road to publication required many additional months of editing and pitching the story to publishers. A background in art history certainly played a role in impressing editors. Her writing is informed by a nuanced understanding of female painters in Chinese art and the sociocultural conflicts in early modern China. Together, those topics create a fictional context in which the novel’s protagonist, Túlià, a young female artist, becomes a powerful agent of dramatic political changes. 

Chappell credits the development of her writing skills to Terrono’s guidance and encouragement, without which she says she “would not be the writer I am today.” Specifically referencing the process of researching and writing her senior thesis, Chappell says her undergraduate training taught her not to be “put off by the prospect of more work. Don’t settle for less just because it’s easy. Don’t be discouraged when what you produce isn’t perfect. Effort, dedication, and striving to do better are most valuable.”

Those are essential qualities for a creative writer, though Chappell uses them every day in her professional writing, too. While she continues to write short stories and poetry in her spare time, Chappell is the marketing and digital communications coordinator for a Richmond-based law firm.

“Jordan thrives on the challenge of writing, and it was truly a pleasure to work collaboratively with her on improving her rich skills,” Terrono said, reflecting on the strength of Chappell’s senior thesis.

Chappell’s early success in writing bodes well for her future, as she intends to pursue a career as a writer. She attributes her accomplishments to the “invaluable skills I learned at Randolph-Macon to pursue the things I love every day, and I owe much of what I’ve learned, and what I’ve earned, to the challenging, rigorous, and inspiring teachings of the professors in the RMC art history program.”