Elizabeth Oness: Profile of a published professor

Allison Mueller

Elizabeth Oness is an award-winning author and professor at Winona State. (Photo by Emma Masuilewicz)
Elizabeth Oness is an award-winning author and professor at Winona State. (Photo by Emma Masuilewicz)

Dana Scott / Winonan

Elizabeth Oness is a professor in the English department at Winona State University. However, she works along side her husband at a local book printing press, is also the author of a variety of award winning pieces of literature and recently moved onto a farm to renovate it. Oness shared her variety of interests and experiences and how she makes time for all of them.

Oness said she did not start seriously writing until she was in her mid-20s. However, as a kid she read a lot, and said most people are interested in writing because they are interested in reading.

Oness has written and published in a variety of genres, ranging from short fiction to novels to poetry. Her most recent piece of work, “Leaving Milan,” a novel published in May 2015, was the winner of the Brighthorse Press Novel award.

Oness said it is difficult for her to switch gears between genres, and she never writes both at the same time. She believes different genres require different parts of the brain to write and she is naturally more of a prose writer. She said because of this she can work on prose longer than she can work on poetry.

“Each was something I needed to write in its time,” Oness said, when asked if she had a favorite of her works. “You are always most interested in what you are currently working on.”

She said she is currently working on a longer short story set in Winona.

Oness has lived in many places. She grew up in Chappaqua, N.Y., attended and achieved varying degrees from universities in Virginia, Missouri and Maryland.

Oness expressed she liked living in the cities when she lived in them, and that Columbia, Mo. was “the coolest,” but she and her husband, Mikal, always liked Winona. She says she has no desire to move again because of the community of friends she has established here.

Oness said one of the reasons she likes the Winona area so much is because of all the resources for sustainability and organic farming activity. She mentioned the local farmers market, co-op and the land stewardship project, which is a private nonprofit organization prompting sustainable agriculture.

Oness said because of her and her husband’s interest in farming, work at the press has been put on the side. Oness directs marketing and development for the Sutton Hoo Press, a literary fine press, and her husband does the printing.

“Printing is hard and repetitive work; I’ll leave that to him,” Oness said regarding how she and her husband divide their work.

Mikal Oness founded the Sutton Hoo Press in 1989 and the press moved to the area in 1997. In 2001, Elizabeth Oness accepted her position as assistant professor of English at Winona State.

Oness said she was not sure if she would like teaching, and she got her Ph.D. because she was interested in reading.

“I started teaching when I was 32 and I’m now 55,” said Oness. “Teaching feels different now than it did, I have experience, I’ve seen a lot more life than my students but I still don’t feel above them. There’s just no substitute for that life experience.”

Oness teaches composition, literature and fiction writing courses. Oness said she likes teaching introduction to literature courses because she gets a wide variety of students who take the class as a requirement and it is a fun experience.

Along with being a professor, she also is involved in the Winona creative writing prize and the great river reading series, in which all the creative writing professors work together to bring authors to the university to read their work.

“Winona State has a good reputation for its reading series,” Oness said. “Visiting writers say it’s a pleasure to come to a place where students are reading their works and it’s a nice experience for students.”

With all of her involvement in her varies interests, Oness said she has become very good at managing her time.

“I don’t really have the luxury of having a writing process,” Oness said. “I revise a lot because I don’t have time. I try to get my own writing done in the morning and not waste morning energy on stuff that doesn’t matter, and things that don’t take much concentration I work on at night.”

To read Oness’s latest novel, “Leaving Milan,” visit The Book Shelf in downtown Winona to purchase a copy.