Leigh-Ann Sallis

Leigh-Ann Sallis


Reading is power, and each book I give away could change somebody’s life. I truly believe words are power. I have always loved words and books and, personally, I go home and feel like I am helping people.

MSU degree(s):

BA in English, 2006

Masters of Public Policy and Administration, 2011

Most Innovative Research Award at the Graduate Symposium for my team’s Capstone Project

Any other degrees:

1st Cohort of Loyola’s Women’s Leadership Academy, 2019

Favorite memories of being an undergraduate English major:

Visiting with Dr. Marsh and the feeling of being cared for and guided by her. Dr. Marsh is also the reason I discovered one of my favorite authors, Ian McEwan. Dr. Anderson’s Shakespeare class, Dr. Hargrove’s 20th-Century Drama Class, and the dances Dr. Wolf offered as extra credit for his classes. I loved the classes when they weren’t intro classes and we really read and discussed things. I learned so much and so many new ways to read things and to notice things more.

Current Position:

Community Literacy Specialist


Starkville Oktibbeha County School District


When you graduated with a degree in English from MSU, what were your plans for your future? 

I don’t know if I had plans, honestly.  I loved reading and I thought it was a degree that showed I could think critically, and it was also, “generic” enough that I would have many options. I never had any intention of teaching.


Has your career path mostly realized those early plans, or have you discovered new plans and goals along the way?   

My career path looked NOTHING like what I thought. When I finished my master’s I moved to New Orleans for 8 years and worked at Tulane University Medical School. I worked with residents in the combined Medicine/Pediatrics program then with 3rd- and 4th-year med students during their internal medicine rotations. I think my English degree prepared me to be able to adapt to all kinds of environments and the reading and writing I needed to be able to do for that job.  My mind being of the English side was in direct contrast from those who go into medicine, and I think my degree prepared me well to thrive in that environment. Also, while in Nola, I was able to work for 5 seasons with The Tennessee Williams Theatre Company of New Orleans—and my success with them was directly related to my English degree.


What is your current occupation, and what does your work mostly consist of?

I might have found my dream job! I work with schools and the community to inspire interest in reading and pushing the importance of early literacy. I make literacy bags for new Moms after delivery at Oktibbeha County Hospital, I make literacy bags for pediatricians’ offices and any place we can catch young kids. I provide information on how important it is for parents to read to their children and with their children. The grant I work for pays for free libraries throughout town and pays postage for The Dolly Parton Imagination Library, so Starkville is able to benefit from this wonderful free program.

I plan events and give away free books! I get to choose the books and I love that. I work to get authors to come do readings and teach kids about all the ways you can be reader. In the last year, I planned many events, but some I am most proud of are as follows:

  • A former Starkville High School graduate who was the Artistic Director for Sony animations and did Moana wrote a children’s book. He came and the entire 1st grade got the book for free, and he read it to them.
  • To coincide with Mississippi’s new state song, a wonderful children’s book was done with illustrations to match the lyrics of the song.  The book is called One Mississippi, and Steve Azar, Mississippi Music and Cultural Ambassador, came and sang the state song with all of the 2nd -4th graders! Along with the talented illustrator and others celebrated in the book that I asked to come and talk about Mississippi, 1200 books were given away to the students.
  • I planned a huge Black History Event focusing on Mississippi authors like Jesmyn Ward and important Mississippi figures such as Fannie Lou Hamer. I found children’s books to explain Fannie Lou Hamer’s role in the Civil Rights Struggle.
  • I had Mississippi’s Poet Laureate come and work with the high school students on analyzing and writing poetry. The classes received a selection of poetry books from Mississippi poets.
  • One of my most favorite events was one called “What Do You Celebrate,” and I did it for the Pre-K classes. We focused on The Chinese New Year, Holi, and Ramadan. I planned fun events for each, and the children went home with free board books explaining each holiday and what it means—some even taught them to count in a different language.
  • One of the funniest events I did coincided with The Starkville Dachshund Derby. I took my 4-year-old blind and deaf dachshund, Doc, to read books on dog safety and how to meet a new dog for kindergarten and 1st-grade classes. The children loved it, and so did Doc! There aren’t many jobs in which you can take your dog to work. 
  • I am ending my first year with an event featuring fellow Mississippian author, Angie Thomas, of The Hate U Give fame. She has written a new middle school book, and all of 6th- and 7th-graders got the book at no cost. Angie is coming to talk to the kids about the book and be interviewed by me. The book is the first installment of a trilogy.


Which skills that you learned as an English major do you use most in your job?

A love of reading and the importance that books and words have in this world. The sheer power of words and word choices and how different words can convey different meanings. I use critical thinking in deciding what books to pick and in talking to children about why reading is important but, mostly, why it can be so fun!


What additional skills did you need to learn in order to do your job, and how did you learn them?

I need to be able to speak and email well.  I need to be able to convey ideas I have well to my audience.  I learned this in school and in my job: I have to be able to make others excited about reading and how important it is in every part of your life. English helped with writing and speaking to convey my ideas clearly and concisely.


Are there common misconceptions about your career field, which current English majors might share, that you have learned the truth about?

One I always get when I say I did English undergrad is that the ONLY career is teaching. English allows you so many opportunities for so many different jobs. Another, which was true, is that I must be great at grammar. LOL. I loved reading and I loved hearing others’ interpretations of the same material and how differently everyone could interpret the same material.


In what ways does your career enrich your life and help you to achieve your personal as well as your professional goals? 

I love this job. It seems like my perfect fit, and that is so scary to think about because it is grant funded. LOL. I get to order books (picking out the books is the best part) and plan activities around them to help engage people. I get to show people who say, “I hate reading” something cool they have never seen or thought about and why it is awesome. I recently found a graphic novel of To Kill A Mockingbird . . . wow, to think another generation may receive that story in a totally different format than I read it. Plus, giving books away at no cost feels so good. People are so happy when they get a free book. Reading is power, and each book I give away could change somebody’s life. I truly believe words are power. I have always loved words and books and, personally, I go home and feel like I am helping people. Professionally, I think I have done a wonderful job of promoting Mississippi authors this past year, and that makes me proud.  For all the things Mississippi is, both good and bad, we have always been a state that turns out some beautiful minds, and while I am not a writer, I am helping shine a light on those authors.


What advice do you have for undergraduate English majors right now who might want to follow the career path you did? 

Don’t stress about finding the “perfect” job right away. English gives you such a solid groundwork for you to be able to explore and figure out how you want to use your degree. When you graduate, you think you need to figure it all out right then and you do not. You will learn more from the mistakes and failures then you will from your victories.  Try things, don’t be scared to fail. Don’t be scared to ask for help and don’t be afraid to succeed. The degree you are getting is a wonderful place to start exploring, and you will figure it all out.  I think my English undergraduate degree was the best professional decision I ever made.


[Updated May 2024]