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Elisa Troncoso is inspired by the most fundamental displays of humanity in her writing. The first-year student is the winner of this year’s prestigious Thomas Wolfe Scholarship.

Headshot of Elisa Troncoso
Elisa Troncoso, the 2023 Thomas Wolfe Scholar, wrote in her application, “The magic of the written word came to me early, and writing followed soon after—I wanted, more than anything in the world, to be a storyteller.” (photo by Donn Young)

For Elisa Troncoso, the greatest inspiration for her many creative endeavors is witnessing “all the lovely little human things,” from the angst of college heartbreak to the joy of people kissing on the street. 

Troncoso, a Greensboro, North Carolina, native who is double majoring in history and media and journalism with a minor in creative writing, is the 2023 recipient of the Thomas Wolfe Scholarship. This four-year, full-ride merit scholarship is awarded by the department of English and comparative literature to talented first-year students interested in creative writing. Troncoso’s manuscript of poetry and nonfiction impressed the committee and paved the way for her to attend UNC. 

For Troncoso, writing has always been an intrinsic part of her life. 

“I started writing when I learned how to write. I don’t have any memory of that being a [conscious] decision that I made; it was just something that I did,” she said. 

As a child, Troncoso almost exclusively wrote novels, publishing her first one online when she was only 10. She still considers the reception of this book – which follows a teenage girl struggling with rare health issues across a cross-country move – a key moment in her writing journey. 

“I had a lot of readers, and they were all nine-year-olds, but it actually was an enormous thing for me to get comments every week from [my peers] saying, ‘I read your chapter, and I cried my eyes out,’” Troncoso said. 

She transitioned to writing poetry in high school after reading “Crush” by Richard Siken, which became a constant companion for most of her high school career. Truncoso credits Siken’s poetry collection as marking the transition from her enjoying poetry to truly understanding it, and poetry remains one of her favorite genres today.  

“[Poetry] just felt very inevitable for me, like I was supposed to discover it at some point,” Troncoso said. 

These days, nonfiction has joined poetry as Troncoso’s other favorite genre to write, largely because of its role as an intersection of her many interests, including poetry, history, cultural critique and literary analysis. Nonfiction allows Troncoso to blend the intellectual with the artistic, which she does primarily through cultural critiques, life writing and memoir, many published on her personal Substack, a subscription network for independent writers and creators. 

As she nears the end of her first semester at UNC, Troncoso reflected on what a perfect fit Carolina is for her. With parents who were both faculty members at nearby UNC-Greensboro until recently and an aunt who attended graduate school at Carolina, Troncoso had already spent plenty of time on campus and developed “an enormous fondness” for it before she even applied. But being a Tar Heel is even better than she’d anticipated. 

“I’m having the best time ever,” she said. “It’s just exactly what I wanted.”

Troncoso’s favorite class this semester is “Ancient History,” taught by Henry Gruber; she heralded it as “the greatest joy of my life.” Even though it’s one of her earliest morning classes, she’s always in her seat 20 minutes before it begins. 

She’s also enjoyed returning to poetry writing – after a brief but necessary break following her intense application process – through “Introduction to Poetry” with graduate student Colin Dekeersgieter. 

Beyond her exciting coursework, Troncoso has immersed herself fully into Carolina’s campus community, developing many strong friendships. One group she’s especially connected to is the group of other Thomas Wolfe Scholars currently attending UNC.

“Having that community and also being able to talk about [receiving the scholarship] with them is just really comforting,” she said. “It was probably the most life-altering event that’s ever happened to me.”

In addition to writing, Troncoso has another major creative passion and talent: visual art. She attended a public art high school, Weaver Academy. In her senior year, she blended sewing, crocheting, painting and poster-making to create a final portfolio, a recreation of her bedroom filled with pieces of art that represented the diverse experiences of teenage girlhood. The exhibit, which included a handmade wedding dress, was displayed in the Center for Visual Artists in Greensboro.

A mock bedroom -- complete with bed, dresser, and clothes rack -- showcasing art pieces, including a crochet wedding dress, prints and a painting.
Elisa Troncoso’s art exhibition, “Transept (Crossing),” at the Senior Showcase Exhibition for Weaver Academy for Performing & Visual Arts. (photo courtesy of the Center for Visual Arts in Greensboro)

In her art as well as her writing, Troncoso draws from basic elements of the human experience. For her art portfolio, she conducted interviews with women in her life about their experiences growing up, and she takes similar inspiration from both friends and strangers in her writing. 

“My biggest inspiration ever is … the most human behaviors in people that I observe around me,” Troncoso said. “Love and heartbreak and friendship and hoping and wishing and desires and obsession.” 

By Andy Little ‘24


Enjoy one of Troncoso’s poems: 


when I peeked in between my fingers, I could see skies 

           immutable, upturned like flowers penitent under soft-shadow sun. everytime 

I imagined myself it was as a saint, stupid divinity spilling 

           out of me like wine. I wanted to lay on pillows and pretend I was less than 

holy, more than human. I wanted someone to take my 

           hand and spin me until I collapsed right through his body. I wanted great 

libraries that didn’t burn, armies that couldn’t fall, walls 

           unbreakable and kings unkillable. wanted to jump in ponds unrippled and 

blooming and fertile. wanted a baby. wanted someone 

           to grab me by the hair and say you are not evil but you are not good either

wanted all that came with being teenaged and girl. Wanted

           to get married. wanted to be alone. wanted life to shake me by the shoulders 

and leave me wrung-out and new-eyed. wanted to be stupid 

           and unafraid. wanted to throw myself in the ocean and be found beautiful 

and tragic surrounded by bioluminescence and camera 

           flashes. wanted to be stared at. wanted to move forever unseen. wanted to 

tear everything apart with a fork. wanted to justify my life 

           to every man who looked at me for just a moment. wanted to buy myself 

a train ticket and lose my health insurance. wanted to smoke 

           cigarettes and carry around a basket and look french. wanted to scream at 

some god until he forgot he loved me. wanted to dig a hole in

           the backyard and press my skin into the earth. wanted to let someone do me 

wrong. wanted to bury myself at the mouth of his river. wanted 

           to be briseis at the death of achilles and claw at my face with grief. wanted to 

be a sinner. wanted to be weighed down by beauty. wanted 

           something bigger than skin, bigger than joy, bigger than anyone’s own history.


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