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ADA, Okla. – The East Central University English Department has a long-standing history of producing and guiding well-educated and talented students. Generations of these students have gone on to publish novels, short stories, poetry, television, film and more over the years. 

Recently, three ECU alumni who worked their way through the program together, have gone on to self-publish their first works of literature in close succession.

Abigail Nance

A native of Seminole, Okla., Abigail Nance is a 2020 graduate of ECU and was the first of her classmates to self-publish, with her book titled “What Lives in the Dark” being released on Amazon, Jan. 2, 2022. 

“Publishing my own book was a lot of hard work, but ultimately the most rewarding thing I’ve ever done.” said Nance. “It was a huge learning experience, but being able to connect with readers through something I created is the best experience.”

Nance was an English major at ECU, where she received her education certification and participated in the ECU Honors Society.

"Abby Nance was one of our most energetic and engaging English majors.” stated Dr. Joshua Grasso, professor of English and Literature. “While at ECU, she not only distinguished herself in her normal coursework, but completed an Honors Thesis and started writing her first novel, What Lives in the Dark, which she subsequently published. Then, just to make things even more difficult, she decided to start teaching English at Ada High School during the pandemic! Is she an exceptional student or a force of nature? You decide." 

Nance has continued teaching since graduation. She currently teaches 9th grade English at the Broken Arrow Freshman Academy.

When asked if her time at ECU helped her in her journey to publication, Nance responded, “ECU taught me that I was capable of being a writer. It taught me that what I had to say was valuable, and also that people may actually find it interesting. Writing my undergrad thesis taught me a lot about self-discipline when it comes to writing, and it gave me confidence in my own ideas.”

A sequel to “What Lives in the Dark” is expected to hit shelves July 9, 2024.

Preston Mann

Coming from Sulphur, Okla., Preston Mann attended ECU, where he joined the English and Language Department. Mann graduated in 2021 and was the second of his classmates to self-publish a novel and long-time project. Mann’s novel, titled “Corrupted Blood,” was released on Amazon, April 19, 2023.

“Preston developed a tireless work ethic at ECU that allowed him to utilize his knowledge and imagination in productive ways.” said Dr. Mark Walling, professor of Creative Writing at ECU. “He had a good start on his book at ECU, but his work ethic paid off after he graduated. Many people don't continue working as writers, but Preston did on a daily basis. As a result, he became a published novelist at a very young age for fiction writers.”

Mann was an English major at ECU and received his teacher certification there. He also took specialized courses in creative writing to continue progress on his novel with Walling.

“Studying with Dr. Walling and Dr. Grasso was tremendously helpful.” said Mann. “They’re such experts in the field of creative writing, and with their guidance I was actually able to finish what I’d been working on for years. I’ve never really had a community that supported writing like I did at ECU. Being able to talk about what I was working on with people who understood the challenges was incredible.”

Mann currently teaches online courses for Epic Charter School.

“I am incredibly thankful for the support I received at ECU. Without it, I doubt I would have ever finished a project. I hope to take what I learned to further my writing career until I can do it full time one day," said Mann.

A sequel to “Corrupted Blood” is expected to be available on Amazon sometime in 2024.

Nikki Herrin

The most recent publication from an ECU English and Languages alumni came from Nikki Herrin, a native of Wayne, Okla. Another 2021 graduate, Herrin released her first self-publication, titled “The Progression: A Book of Poetry” Dec. 5, 2023.

“Nikki has made more progress than any writer I have ever worked with.” commented Walling. “She was skeptical of poetry when she came to ECU. Once she developed an interest in writing it, she often didn't accept critical commentary with enthusiasm. At some point, though, the community of writers at ECU, especially some writers who came to campus to read their work, allowed her to find the kind of poetry that truly spoke to her and this discovery quickly allowed her to create powerful narrative poems.

The title of her book reveals how aware she is of her journey as a poet, and I am thrilled by her success.”
Herrin majored in English and received her teacher certification at ECU where she also played softball for two years and served as a student assistant coach on staff for three years.

“Dr. Hada’s Ethnic Lit. class initiated my love for poetry.” said Herrin. “Creative Writing with Dr. Walling and his encouragement to submit to ECU’s literary magazine, “Originals,” helped me to realize that my writing was good and could make people feel something. Both of these things played a part in me eventually becoming a published author/poet.”

Herrin currently teaches junior and senior English classes at Wayne High School and is also the head fastpitch and slow-pitch coach.

For questions about the ECU English and Languages department and courses, contact Dr. Stephen Pedersen at 580-559-5929 or by email at

Featured from left to right, Abigail Nance, Preston Mann and Nikki Herrin

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