For adjunct English Professor Jessi Lewis, getting her short story published in “Oxford American,” an iconic literary publication that bills itself as “A Magazine of the South,” has been a long-held dream.
Her piece, “False Morels,” was named the magazine’s 2018 debut fiction winner. It is the tale of a college student and her Polish-born grandmother with whom she has a fraught relationship stumbling upon the body of a man as they hunted mushrooms together in a Virginia woods.
“That piece has been rejected over 50 times from other journals,” says Lewis, who is in her second year as an adjunct at LFCC. She teaches English Composition and Survey of Early American Literature in person at the Middletown Campus and online for Fauquier Campus students.
Her story was chosen over more than 700 other submissions. Lewis says she’s been “obsessed” with getting published in the Oxford American since she first discovered the magazine.
“When I found out ‘False Morels’ had been selected, I think I danced with my cat – I was really excited, and she was on my lap,” she says. “‘Oxford American’ editors define themselves as kind of a Southern ‘New Yorker.’”
In 2006, Lewis earned her associate degree at the same time she graduated from Clarke County High School because she took dual-enrollment classes with LFCC. She went on to James Madison University where she received her bachelor’s degree in English and master’s degree in writing, rhetoric and technical communication. Additionally, Lewis has a master’s degree in fine arts, creative writing/fiction, from West Virginia University.
Both of Lewis’s parents are LFCC professors. Her mother, Kim, teaches English, while her father, Bill, teaches engineering.
“We were reading and writing when I was probably too young to understand what was going on,” Lewis says.
While her parents encouraged her to follow her passion, “they wanted me to pursue writing while having security as well.”
She has had essays, short stories and poems published in other journals, but none as prestigious as “Oxford American.”
“In my short stories, I tend to focus on family dynamics, and conflicts between humanity and nature,” Lewis says. “I don’t really get writer’s block. If you have a hesitation, you just need to continue on writing, or deal with another project and then it kind of comes back to you.”
She is currently working on a novel, but isn’t yet ready to share many details about it.
When Lewis thinks back to her LFCC days, she recalls her Early American Literature Professor Brent Kendrick as being a favorite.
“Brent’s class was fantastic and got me ready for JMU,” she says.
Art Professor Ann Currie was another favorite who “made me want to keep going in college.” In fact, Lewis minored in art. Her late grandmother, Irmengard Lewis, was a local artist.
“I always had Mom having me read poetry and my grandmother having me support art,” Lewis says.