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Profile: Amy Franklin-Willis

Vanessa Marlin

As Amy Franklin-Willis prepared to sit down at her kitchen
table, she first lifted her youngest daughter, Grace, out of her
highchair and scooped up watermelon rinds that wound up on the
floor after Grace was finished with them. Once she placed Grace in
the family room to join her big sister, Georgia, she returned to
the kitchen and sat down with a sigh at the table in front of a
steaming cup of tea. As she sipped out of her cup decorated with
hearts, her focus shifted between her motherly duties, her first
novel on the verge of being published, and the events that have
occurred in her life over the past ten years since graduating from
Mills College.

At 32, Amy has taken what she has gained from her experience at
Mills and has created a life rich in family while motivating
herself to pursue her passion for writing.

Amy’s heart is still so deeply connected with Mills for a
variety of reasons, but the one that holds true the most is the
connection she made with her wife, Wendy Franklin-Willis, when they
rowed on the crew team together 12 years ago. Although Wendy may
not have known it at the time, Amy fell in love at first sight.
Although already engaged to a man, and having never dated a woman,
“I fell in love with her before she knew I was even interested,”
she said.

Wendy said that Mills not only gave her an education and
profession but also her wife and family. “Mills has given me a
lot,” she said. “Meeting her is what made going to school here so

The couple was married in a fairytale ceremony, in Half Moon Bay
nine years ago. “It was very Martha Stewart style, pre-cupcake
prison,” she said.

The newlyweds adjusted to married life with dreams to start a
family while supporting each other’s drive to build fulfilling
careers. Amy put her dream of becoming a full-time writer on hold
to nurture her wife’s career and start a family. During this time,
Wendy earned her masters degree in Washington D.C. and coached crew
at colleges and universities from Massachusetts to Florida before
landing her dream job as head coach at Mills. But to realize this
dream, the couple had to move five times in their first five years
of marriage. In 1998, Amy became pregnant with their first
daughter, Georgia, and the couple decided to settle down and raise
their family in the East Bay.

By this time, Amy had written her first novel and several short
stories, one of which appeared in the San Francisco Chronicle, yet
she still felt that she had a story to tell. She yearned to write a
novel that she felt was worthy of being published. Although she did
a lot of thinking and journaling in preparation for her book, the
demands of motherhood and her career as a fundraiser for the
Alumnae Association at Mills College prevented her from dedicating
the time she needed to sit down and write it. “The mental energy of
a novel is a huge undertaking,” she said.

In 2001, Amy endured a heartbreaking experience that ultimately
made her realize that time and opportunities are to be cherished
and savored. Amy was pregnant again and by the end of her first
trimester, she and her wife heard the baby’s heart beat at the
doctor’s office. However, shortly after that special moment, she
had a miscarriage. “I’ve lived a good life and I’ve been blessed,”
she said. “But it made me rethink everything.”

With support from her wife and this new clarity, Amy found the
inspiration and made the time to work on her passion, her novel. In
2002, she became pregnant with her youngest daughter, Grace, and
decided to quit her job at Mills in order to focus more on her
family and her passion for writing. “I was going to be home to grow
a baby and to grow a book at the same time,” she said.

Throughout Amy’s pregnancy, she immersed herself in her story
which reached back to her family roots deep in the poor rural
south. She based her main character, Ezekial, on colorful stories
spun by her father about growing up in poverty in a small farm
town. In creating the story, she was preserving the memory of the
place that left a profound impression on her since she was a young
girl. With a five page a week goal, Amy was almost finished with
the first draft of her novel by the time Grace was born.

Once Grace was born, Wendy said she felt their marriage grow
stronger and more complete. “We went from having a vision to having
a family and realizing that vision,” she said.

Now, with two daughters and a job at the University of
California at Berkeley as senior director of fundraising, Amy is
determined to fulfill her dream of being a published novelist. A
few weeks ago, she saw the perfect marketing opportunity for her
novel when she was invited to attend a reception for writers at her
10-year reunion at Mills. She set up a booth with a stack of copies
of her first chapter along with cans of RC cola and moon pies,
“southern junk food delicacies”, to lure other writers to look at
her work.

Looking back over the years since she graduated with honors in
English, Amy credits her experience at Mills for helping her figure
out who she is. “There are so many great role models of strong
women, [and] what we didn’t have then but have now are role models
who are mothers as well.”