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For the second year in a row, a novelist from Old Dominion's English department has been selected to receive a prestigious SCHEV Outstanding Faculty Award.

Sheri Reynolds, associate professor of English, is among 10 statewide winners who were honored yesterday in Richmond. Old Dominion's winner last year was Janet Peery.

Since the program's inception in 1987, 14 ODU faculty have been chosen as winners of the award.

Reynolds and the other 2003 winners were recognized Jan. 16 in a ceremony at the State Capitol Building. Each received a check for $2,200 and a plaque from the State Council of Higher Education for Virginia. In all, 76 faculty members from 31 colleges and universities statewide were nominated for this year's awards.

Reynolds was further recognized as the "Rising Star" among the 2003 winners. According to Alan F. Edwards Jr., associate for academic affairs with SCHEV, "This designation indicates that, while she is still in the early stages of her career, she has already made outstanding contributions to her students, her institution, her community and her field."

A favorite among creative writing students for her energetic and inspirational teaching style, Reynolds has also made a name for herself in the literary world. She appeared on "Oprah" in 1997 when her second novel, "The Rapture of Canaan," became the sixth book chosen for the show's monthly book club.

The novel, which explores the spiritual struggles of a 14-year-old girl as she looks for answers about sin and faith within her Southern religious community, held the No. 1 spot on the New York Times Bestseller List for several weeks. The San Francisco Chronicle has called Reynolds the "newest and most exciting voice to emerge in contemporary Southern fiction."

She is also the author of "Bitterroot Landing" (1995) and "A Gracious Plenty" (1997). She sent her fourth novel to her editor last fall. While she may be well-known in literary circles, it is inside the classroom where students benefit most from Reynolds' talent, and she regularly receives outstanding evaluations from underclassmen and graduate students alike. Students have described her as a spark plug.

"Sheri Reynolds is a warm, caring individual and communicates this to her students," said President Roseann Runte. "She is a brilliant and talented writer who brings her creativity to the classroom. Her knowledge of literature and her enthusiasm for her subject makes her conversation so delightful that I think it would be a great privilege and a pleasure to enroll in her class myself!"

Old Dominion's Ruth and Perry Morgan Chair of Southern Literature, Reynolds encourages her students even as she critiques their writing. Jennifer Woodworth, an M.F.A. candidate in poetry, recalled, "At the end of my first story, Professor Reynolds wrote some constructive criticism, followed by, 'But -- it's a great start here! You do have a fiction writer in you! We'll urge it out.'"

According to Reynolds, however, it's not only the students who benefit from the classroom give and take.

"Teaching is the truest kind of adventure for me," she said. "No matter what class I teach, I can always count on my students to challenge me, to make me think in a whole new way. My students have opened my mind and my heart, so every class is its own kind of award."

Reynolds, who joined the ODU faculty in 1997, said of her latest honor, "I'm excited. There are so many incredible, dedicated teachers in this state and in this university, so I'm just amazed and pleased to be recognized by SCHEV. I didn't expect it, but I'm thrilled."

In addition to her teaching and research (writing), Reynolds was cited in her nomination materials for her service. She coordinated the 24th annual Literary Festival, and she often visits public schools to speak to students, read from her works, consult on their literary magazines and answer their questions about writing.

A popular speaker, she gave the keynote address at the Eudora Welty Symposium in Mississippi in 2001.

This article was posted on: January 15, 2003

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