Editor’s Note: Domer Diaries is the newest storytelling series from the Alumni Association where members of the Notre Dame family tell their stories in their own words. This week’s Domer Diaries entry comes from Ashley Cavuto ’21, who published her first novel, The Dust That Danced, in April, just prior to her graduation from Notre Dame.
Name: Ashley Cavuto
Class Year: 2021
Residence Hall: Welsh Family Hall
Major: Film, Television, and Theatre
Minor: Science, Technology, and Values
Student Activities: President and Editor-in-Chief of Her Campus Notre Dame (junior year), Media Corps Coach (senior year)
Local Notre Dame Club: Notre Dame Club of Central New Jersey
You celebrated two huge milestones this year — your graduation from Notre Dame and the publication of your first novel, The Dust That Danced. Share a brief synopsis of the book and how you balanced writing a novel with completing your degree.
The Dust That Danced is a story about four friends in college whose beliefs are tested when a new companion opens their eyes to the realities of the environment they've been inhabiting. A blend of mystery, psychological thriller, and the nuances of the cinematic medium, the novel will prompt you to question your understanding of the female psyche, as well as the systems at play within the private institutions we so often admire and the groups we so often yearn to be a part of. I can confidently say that balancing my writing with my schoolwork was an incredibly challenging and stress-inducing task, but I also know that I, unfortunately, produce my best work under an immense amount of pressure. As much as I try to refrain from looking back on the numerous and, frankly, haunting, all-nighters, I believe that the story wouldn't be what it is without those critical bursts of inspiration I could only seem to experience as the rising sun signaled a new day.
You’ve said the university’s campus in the book is based on Notre Dame. What is your favorite place on campus and why?
It's so difficult for me to pick just one spot, but I will say that the Debartolo Performing Arts Center holds a very special place in my heart. Having majored in film, I spent many hours in the building, but my affinity for the space goes beyond my favorite lectures in the Browning Cinema and really ties back to the people I met there. I loved being surrounded by so many creative and inspiring students and faculty.
What advice would you give current Notre Dame students?
For Notre Dame students in general: immerse yourself in that which makes you feel passionate. Take classes that make you excited to do homework — pay attention to the subjects that inspire you, and run with them. For my fellow artists/day-dreamers/imagination junkies: every day I am growing more and more accustomed to the idea that creative and multi-passionate people should embrace the desire to be many things in life — and that you certainly don't have to have it all figured out the second you graduate and step off campus. I'm also a firm believer that those who care about and study and consume art maintain a different and important view of the world — please do not let anyone even attempt to convince you that a degree in the arts is useless. They're wrong.