A Writing Life

Born in London, England, Alexandra Rowan spent her toddler years in Oslo, Norway, where she learned not only to walk but also to ski and swim. Then she moved with her parents to Houston, Texas, and, throughout her youth there, she relished reading books, writing stories, dabbling in art, and enjoying nature.

At age 18, Rowan arrived at Pitt as a freshman with a bundle of interests and accomplishments. She was an avid hiker, held a black belt in the martial art of Aikido, and had explored robotics during her high school years. Most of all, she loved to write, especially in the fantasy genre, which tapped into her abundant interests and roaming imagination.

Initially, like many freshmen, the teenager was tentative on her path to adulthood in her first year of university life. Her parents, David and Roz Rowan, naturally worried about their daughter on her own in a new city. But Alex soon blossomed at Pitt, and so did her writing.

By the time she graduated in April 2013, the teenager had transformed into a confident, independent young woman. She had also found her calling. With bachelor’s degrees in fiction writing and communications, she resolved to make a go of life as a writer in Pittsburgh.

She had met a boyfriend, bought a car, and secured a place to live on her own. Soon, she began a full-time writing and marketing job for a Pittsburgh software developer, largely because of experience she’d gained through an internship with an online magazine in the summer before her junior year at Pitt.

The future glimmered on the horizon.

Then, just six months into her post-Pitt life, Rowan suffered a pulmonary embolism as she left work. In an instant, a massive blood clot obstructed her lungs. She was rushed to St. Clair Hospital, but nothing could be done to save her.

Within days of her death, her parents sat in the office of Don Bialostosky, chair of Pitt’s Department of English in the Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences. Still reeling from the shock and pain of losing their only child, the couple was determined to ensure that Alex Rowan’s life would inspire others.

“All her life Alex loved to write,” says David Rowan. “In every spare minute, she was tapping away. And it’s the classic thing, isn’t it—‘Make your job what you like to do.’ So we encouraged her.”

Now, the Rowans are encouraging other young women who have similar passions. “If there’s a way to help other English majors with their careers, that would be the best way to honor her memory,” says David Rowan.

The couple credits Pitt in large part for the transformation they witnessed in their daughter during her college years. It became their goal to enable similar transformations in other young women with a calling to be writers. Aware of the competitive job market for English majors after graduation, the couple also recognized the paramount importance of Alex’s internship to her early career success.

So, with input from Pitt’s English department, the Rowans established the Alexandra L. Rowan Memorial Foundation, which focuses on financial assistance and career advancement by funding several initiatives: grants awarded to 5-7 students each year to help cover expenses during writing-based internships; an all-female undergraduate writing competition with personally financed prizes for fiction, nonfiction, and poetry; and an annual Alexandra Rowan Writing Festival, featuring a distinguished guest writer, as well as readings and master classes taught by Pitt writing professors.

The inaugural festival, held in the Cathedral of Learning in March, featured New York Times best-selling author Lauren Groff, who read from her latest novel, Fates and Furies, and taught a master class in fiction. Pitt professors Jeanne-Marie Laskas and Yona Harvey offered classes in nonfiction and poetry, respectively. And David and Roz Rowan presented awards to the three winners of the inaugural undergraduate writing competition.

All he knows is that time seems to flow differently in the Hill Country, every second drawn out, slow and deep, like stretches of smooth water between rapids, and a day spent floating down the Guadalupe on an inner tube feels like an eternity, just you, the river, and a cloudless sky that’s so blue it hurts to look at. —Alexandra Rowan, from “No Rain”

Separately, the Alexandra Rowan Foundation committed $50,000 a year to the National Blood Clot Alliance to advance research on the prevalent link between massive pulmonary embolism and oral contraceptives for women. Those funds will also support the development of an MPE screening program to help prevent future deaths.

At Pitt, the foundation’s inaugural internship grants were awarded in spring 2015 to four undergraduate English majors, including this writer. The foundation’s financial support enabled me to accept an unpaid internship with Pitt Med magazine as a full-time student in the University’s undergraduate writing program—which, after my graduation in April, directly led to full-time writing work with Pitt’s Office of University Communications and its magazine group.

Thanks to the life of Alexandra Rowan and through the foundation that bears her name, the dreams of aspiring young writers are already becoming a reality.

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