Indiana State University Newsroom

Professor's time in Alaska results in fish tales

April 27, 2010

What began for Mark Lewandowski as a summer working in a fish processing plant in Alaska has ended with a book of short stories.

It was the summer of 1988 and Lewandowski, now an assistant professor of English at ISU, was looking for a way to pass a few weeks before beginning graduate school at Wichita State University.

When a friend invited Lewandowski to spend the summer working in a fish processing plant, he reluctantly agreed and traveled to the town in which the "westernmost highway in the United States ends," he said.

"I didn't actually go there looking for material," he said. "It was after I came back home that I realized how much story potential there was in what I had experienced."

His experience in Homer, Alaska introduced Lewandowski to a colorful group of characters including the Alaskan natives, old Russian Orthodox believers, corrupt politicians and the "slime-line queens" of the Alaskan fishing industry. All have found a place in his book titled "Halibut Rodeo."

Lewandowski describes the town in which he worked as a refuge "where a lot of people from the lower 48 who'd found themselves in trouble ended up," he said.

Some of the story lines of Lewandowski's book emerged while he was working through graduate school. Throughout the years, he says he's tweaked the content and perfected his prose to the point that most of the stories in the collection have been previously published in various journals.

Amassing them into a collection allows the interconnectivity of the characters to emerge with the Alaskan fishing industry central to the story line.

As the title might suggest, the book is one that's "not designed to be heavy reading," Lewandowski said. "I wanted this to be funny. So the tone is fairly humorous even though some of the characters wouldn't see themselves that way."

This is Lewandowski's first book.

He completed his MFA in creative writing at Wichita State University and is a writer of stories, essays and screenplays, one of which premiered last year at the Cannes International Film Festival.

In addition to cleaning fish in Alaska, Lewandowski served as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Poland, and taught American studies and creative writing as a Fulbright Scholar in Lithuania.


Photo: Mark Lewandowski

Contact: Mark Lewandowski, assistant professor of English, College of Arts and Sciences, Indiana State University at 812-237-8552 or

Writer: Rachel Wedding McClelland, assistant director of media relations, Communications and Marketing, Indiana State University at 812-237-3790 or