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Reprinted from: You Magazine

September 26, 2007

The Accidental Professor

UWGB Teacher Snags Literary Honors

By Sharon Verbeten

Rebecca Meacham may have recently garnered acclaim for her short story collection, Let's Do. But her own life is full of short story moments, dying to be shared.

The 37-year-old, an associate professor of Humanistic Studies at UW-Green Bay, remembers, for example, a day not too long ago that might qualify.

Stressed, unshowered, on deadline and with a crying baby in tow, Meacham drove to the post office a few months ago to mail her application for the 2007 Literary Gift of Freedom Award for Women Fiction Writers.

That "superhero mom" moment, as she calls it, paid off; Meacham was one five finalists among a field of 800 applicants for the national award.

Let's Do, a collection of nine stories, is Meacham's first book, and it has earned notable literary recognition beginning with the story of its publication.

Meacham a native of Toledo, Ohio started writing the stories in the early 1990s as part of her Master's in Fine Arts (MFA) program at Bowling Green State University in Ohio. She finished the manuscript in 2002, with the help of a fellowship earned for the last year of her doctoral program at the University of Cincinnati. The story collection ended up being her doctoral dissertation.

But Let's Do didn't find its way to publication until it won the University of North Texas Press contest receiving the Katherine Anne Porter prize, which included $1,000 and publication of the book in 2004. After that win, literary agents began to take notice.

Since then, the collection has been nominated for a 2005 Pushcart Prize and individual stories have won the Indiana Review Short Fiction Prize and the Chelsea Magazine Short Fiction Award. The collection has been recognized in Barnes & Noble's Discover Great New Writers program and has received countless other citations.

Meacham calls the accolades "confirmation." More than anything, she says, they mean that "what you think you're doing right, you are."

With such writing success, one might think Meacham always planned on a literary career. But she entered Miami University in Ohio as a chemistry major. "I had no real sense of what I wanted to do," she recalls. She "happened into" American Studies and began writing fiction on the side. Her keen insight into people and what makes them tick has provided the fodder for many of her tales.

"What attracts me to stories is to ask, 'Who would do that?'" she says. "It's curiosity...fiction is empathy."

After receiving her Ph.D. from the University of Cincinnati, Meacham found herself in an incredibly competitive job market. The year she looked for her first professional job, one in three people were finding jobs, but "Everything kind of fell into place," she says. She received a job offer at UW-GB in 2002. "I'm an accidental professor," she quips.

At UW-GB, Meacham teaches creative writing, literature and women's studies and advises the student literary magazine. "I love the prep work, I love the research [of teaching]" she says. "It pulls on somewhat of the same muscle of fiction writing."

In addition to a busy work schedule, Meacham and husband Chuck Rybak a poet and writing professor at UW-Washington County) keep hopping with 10-month-old daughter Gwendolyn and still find time to write.

But writing is often a solitary endeavor, requiring chunks of uninterrupted time something that comes at a premium these days. "My writing happens in spurts," she says. "I need to clear myself of distractions."

And part of the fun of writing is that there is no set template the author never really knows what will end up on the page. "If you're doing fiction," Meacham says, "You don't know if you're working with bricks or macaroni and cheese."

Up next for Meacham is a second collection of stories and a novel that reimagines the characters and events of the Peshtigo Fire of 1871.

Until then, Meacham will continue to sprinkle her days with the everyday events and routine that many of her characters experience...and that next book will come...someday.

"I compare my writing to a seed in the desert," she says. After a fluke storm, "20 years later, it might bloom."

Getting to Know Rebecca Meacham
Family: Husband Chuck Rybak; daughter Gwendolyn, 10 months
Favorite Author: Toni Morrison
Favorite Book: Ragtime by E.L. Doctorow
Hobbies: Knitting
One word she uses to describe herself: Curious (but flibbertigibbet and mercurial were runners-up)
If she weren't writing/teaching, she would be: Something in the gardening/horticulture field.

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