Award-winning author Rick Yancey (BA English ’87) found a home at Roosevelt University — one that would put him on the path to his career as a writer.
The road to a full-time writing career wasn’t straightforward for Yancey. He notes that, when he arrived at Roosevelt, “I had just come out of a very big school in Florida, and the only ‘C’ [grade] I ever made was in my major of English,” said Yancey. “It was in this undergrad class where there were, 50, maybe 60 people? To me, it just seemed like a huge class. Like a lot of writers. I'm an introvert, so it was not pleasant, being at a larger school. I grew up in a small town in central Florida and being on campus at Florida state, I just felt a little lost — [I] didn't know where I fit in.”
When a friend told Yancey he was planning to move to Chicago and suggested Yancey join him so they could get involved in the Chicago theater scene, Yancey made the leap. “It's kind of ironic that I decided to come to a huge city to live, but I did that.” After a year of trying to break into the Chicago theater world with little luck, Yancey was ready to make another big change. It was time to return to college. “In my day, before Google, there was the phone book," said Yancey. "I saw Roosevelt’s ad and I thought, 'oh, that's cool, this school is right downtown. And it's small and the tuition is very reasonable.'"
Yancey "came down here [to Roosevelt] one afternoon," to check out the campus. "I thought it was so cool that I could walk right to the ‘L’ and come right to here. I thought that was great. I had a car, but I didn't like driving in the city because I was just a small-town Florida boy," said Yancey, who decided to enroll. "I just fell in love with the place almost immediately. I loved the small classes... coming to Roosevelt really did change my life."
As a Roosevelt student, Yancey loved the one-on-one interactions with his professors, and found one faculty member in particular whom he credits with nurturing his talent: Professor John Foster. Among his contributions to Yancey’s development was a seminar class he taught for aspiring writers. "I showed up [to the class] and it was at his office," said Yancey, who wound up having an entire semester of one-on-one instruction, bringing Foster all of the pieces he was writing so the professor could critique them. "At the time, I was really thinking I was going to be a playwright or a screenwriter, something in the dramatic arts. And I brought him...one of the first things I brought him was a musical I was working on with a friend. His reaction was pretty much, 'maybe you should think about a different kind of writing because this doesn't seem like your strength.'"
“I just fell in love with the place almost immediately. I loved the small classes... coming to Roosevelt really did change my life.”Rick YanceyBA English '87
The next thing Yancey brought Foster was the beginnings of a short story, which would eventually become a screenplay and then Yancey's first published novel. "I remember when I finished [writing] the story and brought it to him," said Yancey. "After he read it, [Foster] said, ‘I wonder if you could do me a favor. Can I keep this copy?’ And I said yes. He said, ‘would you please sign it? Because someday you're going to be a published author and I want to be on board with that.’” Years later, after Foster passed away, his daughter would find the signed copy of Yancey’s story while sorting through the professor’s personal effects.
It wasn't just Foster's guidance that gave Yancey’s writing direction. The diversity of subjects, thought, and perspectives was crucial as well. He took courses focusing on social justice and politics in writing, and also met classmates from all over the world—something he hadn’t done before. “The other thing Roosevelt really gave me was an expanded sense of the world, exposing me to things and cultures that I would never have in Florida,” said Yancey. “The diversity that’s at this school, which is still a small school, was just wonderful. Because I was in smaller classes, we could have actual dialogs, actually talking about ideas where they learned about my culture and I learned about theirs. That’s priceless.”
After Roosevelt, Yancey worked for the Internal Revenue Service for several years – but he continued to write on the side, leaving that position to pursue writing as a full-time profession after he published his memoir Confessions of a Tax Collector: One Man’s Tour of Duty Inside the IRS. The award-winning author of the 5th Wave series credits Roosevelt with helping him finally take that step. “Roosevelt gave me that self-confidence, that belief in myself,” said Yancey. “I came in here thinking I knew what I wanted to do, but by the time I left, I knew what I wanted to do. And that was the biggest thing. You know, I forget who said this, but someone, someone once said, I started in my career when I was in my 20s and by the time I got to my 40s, somebody noticed,” he said. “It took me a while to figure out what kind of writer I was I was going to be, where my ambition met the limits of my talent and realizing that it's not just talent, it’s perseverance.”