Valerie Ann Lewis, a doctoral candidate who was about to begin her graduate studies in English at Binghamton University, passed away Thursday, Jan. 24, at the age of 35.
Lewis was born in Carmel, N.Y., and lived in the Hudson Valley for most of her life. She received her bachelor’s degree in education from NYU and her MFA in creative writing from Goddard College in Vermont.
Lewis taught at several colleges and most recently was an adjunct of online courses at Mercy College in Dobbs Ferry, N.Y. She also worked extensively at the Learning Center, which provides writing tutoring for students who need help with written assignments, grammar, oral presentations and other communication skills. Dr. Frances Biscoglio, the program director for the bachelor’s degree in English at Mercy College, interviewed Lewis for her position and remembers her dedication and intelligence.
“She accepted the courses we gave her eagerly, and I know she cared deeply about her students,” Biscoglio wrote in an email to Pipe Dream. “She struck me as highly intelligent, extremely pleasant and bright and caring.”
Lewis’ boyfriend, Craig Sanders, said Lewis went above and beyond for the students she taught.
“She was about as warm and giving a person could be,” Sanders wrote in an email. “She cared very deeply about her students and would always go the extra mile for them.”
Lewis may be remembered best for her prolific writing. She is the author of 27 published short stories and poems, a novel and a novella — all of which are available for free on her website, valerielewis.net. Sanders remembers her passion for writing and even a quirky affection for the mechanics of the craft.
“She loved the Oxford Comma, if you could love punctuation,” Sanders wrote. “She had a passionate affair with semicolons. She loved Grammar. She was very excited to be taking a grad-level Grammar class at Binghamton.”
Lewis published work in Eunoia Review, Corvus Magazine and many other online literary publications, including Slit Your Wrists Magazine (SYW), which specializes in “noir fiction, poetic prose, underground music and controversial opinions.” The co-editor of SYW, Dakota Taylor, remembers being immediately struck by Lewis’ writing.
“When I ran across her work, I knew I had to publish it,” Taylor wrote in an email. “She is extremely talented and her story ‘String Theory’ went viral on the site. SYW will do its best to preserve her last publication forever.”
Mostly, Lewis will be remembered for her intelligence and sense of humor. According to Sanders, Lewis collected action figures that she would sometimes use as writing prompts for her students and kept a “tongue-in-cheek” journal documenting the facial hair of musician Tim Armstrong, of the punk band Rancid.
“On her wall there was a picture of Oscar Wilde next to a picture of Malcolm X,” Sanders wrote. “I asked her about it once, and she said, ‘I’d like to think that they are lovers in Heaven.’”
Valerie is survived by her mother Tina, father Michael and sister Jean.
“She was a strong woman, independent but not distant, tough but not hard, witty but not cruel,” Sanders wrote. “She was brilliant, the most intelligent person that I have ever met. She was too perfect, too gifted, too gentle and loving for us. I would say that she was ahead of her time, but Time will never catch up to her.”