Memories of Jeanne Leiby


Starting graduate school this year at Iowa State, I’ve been asked a lot where I did my undergrad. After I tell people, “University of Central Florida,” they ask, “The Florida Review? Jeanne Leiby?” And I say, “Yes. Yes.” And then they share a story—a spark—about Jeanne.

On the MFA roadtrip back from the Badlands of South Dakota, ISU professor David Zimmerman told me how he used to get back from his graduate night classes at the University of Alabama, and then he and Jeanne would sit outside their apartment building and talk about fiction late into the night.

“She listened to a lot of the Cure,” David said.

“That’s when she edited fiction for Black Warrior Review,” I said. It wasn’t a question. I knew, because Jeanne had told me at the Florida Review’s office where she’d ask me to turn up the volume when “Heroes” by David Bowie came on my computer while sorting manuscripts.

“Yeah, she was passionate,” David said. He looked ahead at the perspective disappearing into the road walled in by cornfields. “I mean, she believed writing matters.”

In one of the cafés on campus, my academic adviser Ben Percy said, “Jeanne’s tough.” And coming from Ben—a man’s whose voice is deeper than a grizzly’s growl—that means tough. Jeanne had published his story “The Mud Man” in the Southern Review. I had read it around the time I was applying to graduate schools and figured if Ben was good enough to publish, and Ben taught at Iowa State, then Iowa State must be good enough to go to.

It seems like everyone knew Jeanne. There’s essays and memorials and conferences, and even a chapbook contest dedicated to her. A lot of people remember Jeanne as tough and passionate and so many other hard working words.

If our catchphrase in Orlando is “It’s a small world,” then Ames’ should be “In the middle.” With that, I’ve wanted to hear more from people who knew Jeanne in-the-middle; after Alabama, but before Louisiana. What about Florida? What about her students at UCF? Her interns at the Florida Review?

I asked a few friends and former students if they would write something about Jeanne, because I know they had a spark from her, too. You can read their memorials by clicking on the tabs below. I openly welcome others who knew Jeanne to add to the memorials in the comments section as we remember her.

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