Valeria Méndez, a student at Austin Peay State University, publishes a short story in Spanish in a literary journal


Clarksville, TN – Sounds like the setup of a joke – what happens when you combine surrealist artist Salvador Dalí with pop star Billie Eilish? For Valeria Méndez, a foreign language student at Austin Peay State University (APSU), the answer is news that can be published in Spanish.

Méndez, a surprised smile still curved on her lips, recently recalled the day last semester when she wrote her strange story. That afternoon, Dr. Ozzie Di Paolo Harrison, a Spanish teacher, showed students in his Advanced Spanish Composition class Dalí’s famous painting, “Swans Reflecting Elephants.” He then asked them to write a short story based on the surreal image.

“So I saw the painting, then I got up and went to the bathroom, and as I was walking I had the whole story in my head,” she said. “When I came out of the bathroom, I said, ‘I have the end of the story!’ I started thinking about what to write and started writing it.

That night, Méndez returned home to finish work on a story about a man having nightmares about his dead daughter. To help set a sad mood for her songwriting, she put on Billie Eilish’s “When The Party’s Over.”

“Music is one of the most important parts; I can write when I’m quiet, but if there’s music, especially sad music, I can go,” she said. “And I’m not a fan of Billie Eilish, but I know she sings slow and sad. When I heard the song, I thought, ‘Wow that’s so sad.’ I had the same song on replay.

Méndez completed a four-page story, inspired by both Dalí and Eilish. Then she emailed it to Di Paolo Harrison, a notoriously strict grader.

“When I first read it I was like, ‘Oh my God, this is awesome,'” Di Paolo Harrison said. “I said, ‘Why don’t we try to do something with it? “”

Over the next few days, Méndez reworked parts of the story, based on his teacher’s recommendations. They went back and forth over each sentence, asking him to be more lively in his descriptions or to tighten up the wording.

“We had to work very quickly,” she said. “He helped me make it more professional because he’s a writer.”

With the story nearly complete, Di Paolo Harrison began looking for literary journals that published short fictional films in Spanish. He quickly found “Azahares Literary Magazine”, a journal published by the University of Arkansas.

“They said they were posting in Spanish and English, related to Hispanic issues,” Di Paolo Harrison said. “The problem was that the news was incredible but there was nothing Hispanic about it. I said we need to adjust this story to fit this journal. I said, ‘How about including something related to immigration and all the perils of immigration that we have today?’

Méndez’s story turned into a story about a man whose daughter died while trying to immigrate to the United States. With this last change, she sent it to the newspaper. It was his first news.

“I love to read and I feel like I always have stories in my head, but I don’t think I can make it happen,” she said.

Di Paolo Harrison, knowing how difficult it is for professional writers to get published, tried to temper his expectations. After all, she was only a second year student.

“I said to him, ‘You know, there’s a good chance it won’t be accepted, but if it’s not, we’ll find something else, we’ll listen to what they’re saying and we’ll fix it. “”, did he declare. .

With the semester over, and with no classes to occupy his life, Méndez stopped checking his emails. Then in January, she looked to see if she had missed anything and found an old diary message.

“I was like, ‘Oh wait, I got accepted!'” she said.

A printed issue of the journal will appear this spring. That’s when it will feel real for Méndez. For Di Paolo Harrison, the project fulfilled a long-held dream.

“In all the years I’ve been teaching, I’ve always wanted to do this,” he says. “But I could never find a student who was ready. Some had the ability, but they didn’t have the dedication. And sometimes, when we indicate so many things to correct in a text, the student is frustrated. She was very receptive about it. Instead of taking it like most people would, no, she just kept going and going. She’s an amazing student. »

For more information about foreign languages ​​at Austin Peay State University, visit


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