“A Husband and Wife Are One Satan” is a Russian saying that describes how couples are implicitly connected in each other’s activities. It is also the title of Jeff Fearnside’s prize-winning short story in which bickering between the married owners of a café in Kazakhstan attracts more and more customers even as their personal life spirals out of control, recently reprinted in the anthology “Everywhere Stories: Short Fiction from a Small Planet.”
Fearnside knows a thing or two about exotic cultures. For two years, he taught English in Kazakhstan while serving in the Peace Corps, where he met his bride Valentina. He stayed another two years, primarily to manage the Muskie Graduate Fellowship Program in Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan, travelling with his wife along the Silk Road to China, Turkey, India and Uzbekistan. He wrote about his experiences in the award-winning chapbook “Lake, and Other Poems of Love in a Foreign Land.”
While place and culture are important topics for Fearnside, his writing also reflects a longstanding interest in the natural environment. His story “Maps and Compasses” tells of a young man hunting in Northern Idaho, tracking a large, wise buck in a careful way taught to him by his father. On one level “Maps and Compasses” is an adventure story, and on the other it deals with the relationship of the boy to his dad and ultimately to himself.
With a Bachelor of Fine Arts from Bowling Green State University and a Master of Fine Arts from Eastern Washington University in creative writing, Fearnside has published many pieces in magazines across the nation, including “The Sun,” “The Pinch,” “Rosebud,” “New Madrid” and “The Los Angeles Review,” and has won a number of awards, including nature writing residencies at the Bernheim Arboretum and Research Forest and the H. J. Andrews Experimental Forest.
When not writing, he teaches. As a visiting assistant professor at Western Kentucky University, he was nominated for a faculty award for teaching. He has also taught at Washington State University and Prescott College. Two years ago, he and his wife landed at Oregon State University, where he teaches Writing About Places and is revising the Asian world literature course.
“I have a deep interest in folklore and ecology,” says Fearnside. “I keep an ear open when travelling. If a snippet of local lore is relevant, I might weave it into a story. I love to study the natural environment. I’ve even volunteered as a visiting scientist, collecting plankton samples aboard the NOAA ship Oregon II in the Gulf of Mexico.”
Receiving an artist Fellowship from the Oregon Arts Commission will allow Fearnside time to complete his novel, which is set in the difficult transitional years in post-independence Kazakhstan.