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Omaha Magazine

Molly Ashford: Writing Her Own Success

Jul 01, 2022 11:06AM ● By Daisy Hutzell-Rodman
Molly Ashford behind chain link fence

Photo by Bill Sitzmann

Molly Ashford sits at a table in the back of a popular Dundee coffee shop. Spread around her are books and notebooks as she conducts research on a laptop. Her large brown eyes look pensive, and one can tell her brain is processing ideas at the speed of light.

She’s studying for a degree in medical humanities, but has no aspirations of practicing medicine. She prefers working with the written word, an aspiration that she comes by naturally. Her father is the owner of Jackson Street Books. 

“Growing up around books, I’d always felt a point of pride in that,” Ashford said. “There’s so many you couldn’t even read a third of them. The physical space of it was comforting.”

She spent her childhood consuming books such as Slaughterhouse Five and those by Miami Herald police reporter-turned-mystery writer Edna Buchanan. She spent her youth in the school newspaper office at Central High School.

“I was in choir and hated it,” Ashford said. “I had to take another elective, so I took newspaper.” 

Ashford rarely takes a traditional path, and high school journalism was no different. The prerequisite to being a reporter for the school newspaper was an intro to journalism class, but that wasn’t available, so Ashford got the prerequisite waived by the school and began writing nonfiction.

“Without even taking an intro to journalism class, she shined as not only a writer, but as an inquisitive young person,” said her adviser, Hillary Blayney, via email. “She was always striving to uncover stories that other high school students would have been scared to tackle.”

Ashford credits Blayney for much of her education about the world of journalism. “[Blayney] was very hands-off,” Ashford said. She spent every free hour she could working in the newspaper office and eventually rose to become the editor. That achievement, however, came at a price—one she documented in a senior-year editorial titled “‘Strive for 95’ not enforced, pointless.” While certainly written from the perspective of a 17-year-old, the piece shows a maturity in that Ashford thought about the piece from the viewpoint of others.

Missing more than one-third of her senior year, however, did have an impact on her future plans—and that was good for Omaha.

“I really wanted to get out of Omaha,” Ashford said. “I didn’t get into my dream school, which was Reed College in Oregon. I did get into Lewis and Clark [College) in Seattle, but it was $40,000.”

With dreams of moving to the West Coast vanquished, Ashford graduated from Central High School and moved into an apartment with a friend at age 17. The next fall, she started at the University of Nebraska at Omaha, but she was no longer interested in being part of the social network of college.

That was…until a newspaper editor reached out to her.

“She was a tenacious young journalist who I could tell was passionate about truth and justice from the first pieces she wrote,” said Kamrin Baker via email. Baker recruited her to UNO’s The Gateway as a contributor. “She was a skilled writer who was able to take on stories with courage and self-determination, and I was so impressed by her, especially so early on in her career.”

Back in the field, Ashford began forging a path ahead, writing articles about alumni and students with interesting hobbies as well as deeper articles about how the pandemic was affecting student life. She became a copy editor, and, eventually, editor-in-chief.

While the UNO Gateway brought her a sense of satisfaction as a writer and advocate, her classes did not. She wanted journalism classes, and she found the degree offered more public relations classes. 

“Medical humanities allowed me to create my own major,” Ashford said. The field is interdisciplinary, using programs such as English and women’s and gender studies with health education and biology. Ashford is taking the writing concentration.

While the writing part appeals to her most, the medical part is what initially drew her to the field.

“I know a lot of people who are sick and disabled,” Ashford said. “My best friend has cerebral palsy, and my mom has Parkinson's.”

It wasn’t a writing class, but an anthropology class that she initially took. That led to classes such as gender identity and personal writing, writing sickness and health, and philosophy of medicine.

“I was scared. These were upper-level classmates. I had never taken philosophy before, but I loved it,” Ashford said, continuing, “I don’t think I’ve ever had to work so hard to learn something.” 

The self-described “overly ambitious” writer was undaunted by the intellectualism of an anthropology or philosophy class, and continued to create a unique education for herself.

As she’s set to graduate from UNO in December this year, she is continuing to create a career for herself before the ink on the diploma dries—reporting as a staff writer for the Omaha World-Herald. 

“It's been a blast seeing her grow in the Omaha journalism scene, and I can't wait to keep reading her work,” Baker said. 

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This article originally appeared in the July/August 2022 issue of Omaha Magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.  

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