By the numbers: 42 things to know about Jessie at (nearly) 42 years of age:
Happily partnered for 21 years.
Mother of a 6-year-old rock star/soccer player/chess shark.
Big loving family: 6 parents, stepparents and parents-in-law, 6 siblings, step siblings, and a half-brother, 6 in-law siblings, and one grandmother.
I earned my doctorate in the department of English at New York University in 2009 where I wrote a dissertation on nineteenth-century American anti-slavery literature and early photography.
First doctoral student in my department from Louisiana. First doctorate in my immediate family. Second in my extended family.
Participated in a 7-month strike as an organizer for GSOC-UAW (ultimately successful)
Temporarily lost a semester of doctoral funding over political activism. Replaced my stipend with photo research for a book about Spy Magazine.
Unrelenting dedication to learning and teaching equitable pedagogy since 2004.
Wrote an award winning dissertation (NYU Dean's Dissertation Completion Fellowship for 2008-2009), and an award winning undergraduate thesis (Best Honors Thesis, Loyola New Orleans ’99)
Taught American literature in Singapore for three years, in the faculty of the Division of English in the School of Humanities and Social Science at Nanyang Technological University.
Fellowships and post-docs supporting my research: NYU Humanities Initiative; National Endowment for the Humanities and the American Antiquarian Society; Nanyang Technological University Humanities and Social Sciences Start Up Grants; and the Newhouse Center for the Humanities at Wellesley College.
With Broadview Press, I brought Ida May: A Story of Things Actual and Possible (1854) by Mary Hayden Green Pike, the antislavery romance that occasioned Sumner’s interest in Mary, back into print in 2017. Transcribed 250,000 words, many of them in dialect, with footnotes.
Published book chapters in edited editions on subjects as diverse as the Hawthornes’ journals, Tiong Bahru, Frederic Douglass, and abolitionist daguerreotypes.
My first book, Girl in Black and White: the Story of Mary Mildred Williams (W.W. Norton March 2019) took me 12 years to research and write. I first found a mention of Mary in 2006.
1 brain aneurysm, 2 miscarriages, and 2 stays in the ICU (childbirth 2012, Neuro-ICU 2003).
With partner James Owens, founded Morgan & Owens photography, in 2005.
In 2008, Morgan & Owens won the coveted “PDN30” award for Emerging Photographers. Our photos were screened in Times Square.
Morgan & Owens Photography has shot in 34 states and 3 continents. We photographed countless stories for Monocle, Conde Nast, Travel & Leisure, Destinasian, Domino, Budget Travel, New York Times Magazine, and many others.
I have stayed or lived in 48 of 50 states (missing Iowa and Alaska), Mexico, the Caribbean, 20 European counties, & 8 Asian countries. Spent a quarter of my life abroad (so far).
We’ve rebuilt our lives from nothing ($0.00) in New Orleans, once, and New York, twice.
Bought my first house at the age of 40.
Found work I believe in: in June 2014, I took up the role of Dean of Bard Early College in New Orleans, an initiative to improve the equitability of access to college and the liberal arts by offering tuition-free, immersive college courses for public high school students.
Helped dozens of people find each other or meaningful work.
Designed inquiry based Bard Seminars on topics such as “What is identity?” “What is justice?” “What is privacy?” and “What does it mean to be human?”
Graduated more students than I can count, and loved so many of them.
Our school, Bard Early College New Orleans (BECNO), in 2018 now has Board of Regents approval to award Associate’s Degrees, alongside the high school diploma. I authored the academic plan for the first early college in Louisiana.
I believe that success happens in crowds. I value friendship and relationships above all else.
I saw the 1996 oil tanker, Bright Field, ram into the Riverwalk Mall from my job at the Nature Company. Witnessed 9/11/01 from my Brooklyn brownstone’s front window. Was not in New Orleans in 2005.
Pescatarian since the age of 16.
I drive an electric car (Nissan Leaf 2012).
My next project will be based on the journals of John Thomson, the first photographer at Angkor Wat.
Co-authored (and photographed) a playbook to share what we at Bard learned in three years of working with Opportunity Youth, or students who are ages 16-24 but disconnected from education and careers, to encourage other four-year colleges in meeting these students’ needs.
Once taught a hotel ballroom sized crowd how to lead a focused free write.
Capsule wardrobe aspirant.
Seventh generation on my father’s side born in Louisiana. My maternal grandmother’s family were settlers in North Dakota. My maternal grandfather’s family began the New Orleans restaurant Liuzza’s, known for its red gravy. I was born in Monroe, Louisiana.
Received a daguerreotype of an unknown girl as a wedding present from my husband. She remains unidentified.
Founding member of the New Orleans writing group, No Name.
Science fiction fan.
Double fire sign: Aries, Fire Snake.
Represented by the inimitable Jay Mandel at William Morris Endeavor.