Home Features Teacher Feature Meet Mr. Leali: a teacher and writer in one

Meet Mr. Leali: a teacher and writer in one

Mr. Leali smiling with two screens on his desk, with education awards on the wall
Image Credit- Trinity Heard

Editor’s Note, April 27 2022: This article has been corrected to reflect the following:

  • Albert DJ Cashier is the main historical figure mentioned in “The Civil War of Amos Abernathy,” not the main character of the novel
  • Albert DJ Cashier lived in Saunemin, Illinois, not Solomon, Illinois
  • The second book will be published in the summer of 2023; “The Civil War of Amos Abernathy” will be published on May 24, 2022
  • The second book does not focus on LGBTQ+ history

When walking into room 235, you can find a colorful room filled with books and an eager teacher ready to chat. Michael Leali is an alumnus and teacher of Oswego High School, who is close to publishing his first book, “The Civil War of Amos Abernathy,” which comes out on May 24.  

Leali moved to Oswego at age 11, after previously bouncing through Naperville and Aurora. He then graduated from Oswego High School in 2008 and was very involved during his years at OHS—he took part in the Speech team, show choir, musicals, and the school’s daily news.

“It’s really fun to be an alumnus of the school and the district,” Leali says. “Being back here, working with students, and seeing how things are growing and changing and being a part of that change.” 

After graduating, he attended the University of Iowa, earning a degree in English and Secondary Education with a minor in music. He also completed a creative writing track as an extra certification. 

His first time teaching at OHS was from 2014 to 2017. He was heavily involved in the Theater Department and worked with choir directors to construct musicals before he left OHS to pursue creative writing at Vermont College of Fine Arts. He then worked as a bookseller at Anderson’s and later worked at Sourcebooks, the largest women-owned publisher as a marketing specialist for a little over a year. In January 2020, he started preparing to come back to teach—just as the pandemic began. 

He is now serving on the Equity Advisory Board, working near the Board of Education. He also works with the Diverse Equity and Inclusion (DEI) committee that is joining the district’s Amplify Group.

Mr. Leali teaches mostly English 1, but this year is teaching English 2 and Creative Writing. He has taught many other English-based classes, like Broadcasting Journalism and College Composition. 

His passion for writing flourished even through his teaching career. In the midst of teaching, he started his very first book “The Civil War of Amos Abernathy.”  

“My first book was the work of many, many years of writing and drafting and revising,” Leali says.

Leali always had an interest in writing and specifically history. The novel focuses on U.S. history and how the LGBTQ+ community impacted it. 

“Queer folks have always been here and we will always be here, and we will be a part of the story of America.” 

– Michael Leali

“I wanted to write a book that was really for me,” Leali says. “There were a few different aspects of my identity that I was really interested in telling a story about: I was a 19th-century American historical reenactor for four years when I was a kid, I am openly gay, and I was also homeschooled for quite a bit of my childhood.”

Because of the amount of history Leali’s work includes, he has lots of pressure to keep it accurate. 

“Making sure that you accurately reflect history is a tall order, especially for someone who is not a historian but wants to do justice and do right by the people’s stories I’m trying to tell,” Leali says.

Albert DJ Cashier is the main historical figure in “The Civil War of Amos Abernathy,” a soldier from the 1800s who would most likely identify as a trans man. Albert DJ Cashier is the main character of the novel who was an immigrant from Ireland using he/him pronouns. There is a lack of information on Albert DJ Cashier—there are some articles on him, but no books. Leali had to work hard to find accurate information on this character. 

“So really making sure beyond Albert then, doing my due diligence to ensure that everything was factually accurate,” Leali says. “That was really important to me. Even though this is a work of fiction, I am not making up history but telling it as it actually was.”  

Leali reached out to the town of Saunemin, Illinois, which Cashier lived in after the war to collect more research and visit his grave. 

Leali hopes to make a difference through his readers. 

“The real measure of success will be when it gets in the hands of younger readers and knowing that they hopefully see themselves reflected in the story,” Leali says. “If they don’t, they have a window into the lives of someone who they don’t share that lived experience with.” 

Leali feels most impacted by the current events that occurred during the 2020 pandemic. 

“The world has been turned upside down, and I know we’ve collectively had this experience of a pandemic, of witnessing more public injustice related to race, and very recently, we’ve been seeing a lot of legislative attacks against the LGBTQ community in Florida, in Texas… There have been more things happening in Iowa and Oklahoma,” Leali says. “It just feels like a constant assault.”

With the pandemic, Leali found himself having to live in a different way than imagined. 

“It’s changed everything about how I live, what I do, how I teach, and in many ways, what I want to write about,” Leali says.

One of Mr. Leali’s top fav books is “Darius the Great is not Okay.” 

“It’s a tender book about mental health, and it’s also about queer identity and discovering who you are at home and in a world’” Leali says. “I think [the author] tackles it in such a genuine and honest way; the whole book feels so warm and inviting.”  

Mr. Leali has a few hobbies outside of writing, such as listening to music, cooking and trying new recipes, and playing on his Nintendo Switch.

Leali has already begun working on his future goals: publishing a picture book and a second novel in the summer 2023. “The Civil War of Amos Abernathywill be published on May 24, 2022. His book goes over the history of LGBTQ+ people from the 19th century and their effects on the history of America. 

“Queer folks have always been here and we will always be here, and we will be a part of the story of America,” Leali says. 

Leali wants readers to see the impact the LGBTQ+ community has made in history because of the lack of representation seen in history books. 

“I’m hoping to get as many books as possible out into the world and really growing as a teacher who writes and a writer who teaches,” Leali says.

As a writer, Leali gives a few words of advice to those who may be following the same path:

“The hardest thing to do is just start…Do not edit yourself and do not limit yourself, just let the words flow and worry about revision later.”

– Michael Leali

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