Shonda Rhimes, creator of ABC's Grey's Anatomy, is the first African-American woman to write and produce a top-rated TV series. In addition to her Emmy-winning medical drama, she's launched the spinoff series Private Practice and written screenplays for such films as Introducing Dorothy Dandridge, Crossroads, and Princess Diaries 2. Here, Rhimes revisits her years at Dartmouth, where she discovered her love for theater and confidence as a writer. The only thing she couldn't find: A hair salon.
Name: Shonda Rhimes
Occupation: Television writer/director/producer
Grew up: University Park, a southern suburb of Chicago
College attended: Dartmouth College
Major: English literature with creative writing
Graduation date: 1991 Which schools did you apply to?
Yes. So what did you like most and least about Dartmouth?
I loved that Dartmouth was small—as they say, it's "on a mountain, in a valley, on a hill"—and it felt removed from the world. It was magical—even in the cold winters. I also loved the library. I spent most of my time there. The thing I liked the least? There weren't any hair salons that did black hair.
So how did you choose your major?
I arrived already believing I would be an English major. In between, I considered changing to theater or art history, but, in the end, I chose to stick with my first love—literature. What did you do outside of the classroom?
I wrote for the college paper, The D, for a while. I was also a member and a director of BUTA (Black Underground Theatre and Arts Association) as well as other theater clubs. Do you keep in touch with any of your college friends?
I keep in touch with several of my friends from college. There are friendships that I made in college that have remained incredibly strong over the years. What was your favorite hangout spot?
Top of the Hop—a lounge at the top of the Hopkins Center. Were you a bookworm or a slacker?
I think was I little bit of both. I was a bookworm for the subjects I loved, and I was definitely a slacker the rest of the time. Who was your role model when you were in college?
I was obsessed with Toni Morrison's writing and wanted to be her. I wrote lots of bad beginnings of novels. What was the biggest obstacle you overcame in college?
Being so far from home. Coming from a large, close Midwestern family, Dartmouth felt like another world to me. Tell us about one thing you did in college that still makes you proud.
My senior year, I directed George C. Wolfe's The Colored Museum— wonderful play, which was an incredibly difficult production to mount. The night the show opened, I stood in the back watching my fellow students acting, and I knew that I wanted to be a part of the arts for the rest of my life. Tell us one way in which college changed you.
College changed me in many ways. Dartmouth is where I grew up, began to truly experience life and think of myself as a citizen of the larger world. It's where I began to feel true confidence in myself as a writer. It's where I discovered theater; it's where I discovered ME. If you could go back, what about college would you do differently?
I would do more. Join more clubs, involve myself in more activities that I'd never experienced. Mostly, I would learn to ski.