School is back in session so we thought it timely to introduce you to Samford English professor Dr. Keya Kraft. In addition to teaching, Keya serves as the university liaison for the BACHE (Birmingham Area Consortium for Higher Education) Visiting Writers Series and is also working on her first book. Welcome, Keya!
Where did you grow up, and what brought you to Birmingham?
I grew up in Carbondale, Illinois, which is about as far south of Chicago you can go and still be in Illinois. I came to Birmingham for my current job as assistant professor of English at Samford University.
Tell us what you enjoy most about your work.
I teach courses in Victorian and Romantic literature and the novel, as well as a freshman survey of world literature that is part of our Core Texts program. I am lucky to get to teach small classes with very good students, and I particularly enjoy seeing the way that student’s minds can be transformed by the experience of coming to their own understanding of a really great book or film.
In addition to working with students, I’m currently writing a book tentatively titled The Gothic Novel of Property and the Rise of the Modern British State, 1790-1895.
What type of volunteer work are you doing with Desert Island Supply Co?
DISCO is a creative writing and tutoring center for students in the Birmingham area. Last fall, I helped out as a volunteer with their annual Read-a-Thon, which that year was organized around the theme of banned books. I also participated in a discussion they hosted last fall titled The Author as Outcast: Mae West, Oscar Wilde, and the Social Politics of Reading by giving a short talk on Oscar Wilde and the implications of the three trials that culminated in his conviction for “gross indecency.” That event was one of the most enjoyable things I’ve been a part of in the community here.
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever been given?
Having spent nearly all of my life to date in school, I’ve been overwhelmed with advice and not all of it good. When I was younger, I think I followed too much advice from others. So, I can be a little prickly about advice and about everyone’s desire to give it, especially since it can so often take the form of what Rebecca Solnit has called mansplaining. One thing that really sticks with me from college, though, is the time when one of my professors asked if we regularly read the newspaper—a good national one like the Washington Post or The New York Times or The Wall Street Journal (if that’s your thing). At the time, I used to scan the front page of The New York Times online every day, but he told us that after we graduated, we should make a practice of reading a good newspaper daily. He was absolutely right. And I’m terrible at following that bit of advice. I also have a subscription to The New Yorker that I’m absolutely terrible at keeping up with.
Favorite thing to do on a Saturday night?
Spend time with people who inspire me, because they are generous, creative or hard working, or they work in demanding fields that interest them. I’m not especially extroverted, so being around others sometimes drains me a little, especially after a week of teaching. In my free time, I want to spend my time with people who sort of fill me back up with ideas and interests and good will. If good food, music, or art is involved, all the better.
Favorite local restaurant?
This is an impossible question, since Birmingham has a great restaurant scene with a great range from the expensive to the inexpensive. I’m always impressed with the unpretentious simplicity and quality of the food when I go to Bottega Café, which is not often enough. I get takeout on a fairly regular basis from Taj India, which certainly makes my life better and easier.
What are you listening to these days?
Lately, I’ve been spending more time listening to older, classic, great albums in full, something I kind of stopped doing for a while with the ease of streaming and of buying individual songs. I’ve recently gotten really interested in the folk singer Karen Dalton. Also during the summer, I tend to be better about paying attention to new music, and this summer I’ve also been listening to Wye Oak’s Shriek, Sharon Van Etten’s Are We There, Future Islands’s Singles, and, of course, St. Paul and the Broken Bones’s Half the City.
What upcoming local event are you most looking forward to?
Sidewalk Film Festival.
What is your “must-have” purchase for this season?
I am sort of perpetually on the lookout for a great blazer and the perfect pair of jeans. The other day, I found a navy blazer at J. Crew for a quarter of its original price, so I guess that’s my “must-have” for this season.
What books are you currently reading?
This summer I’ve read some terrific contemporary fiction: Chimamanda Ngoze Adichie’s Half of a Yellow Sun, Colm Toíbín’s Brooklyn, and Donna Tartt’s The Goldfinch. I’ve recently started Jumpa Lahiri’s The Namesake and, on the plane the other day, I read a handful of stories from Alice Munro’s short story collection Dear Life: Stories.
Do you have any personality quirks or irrational fears?
This is probably a symptom of my generation, but I can be a little bit obsessive about self-improvement. I’ve certainly had my moments of obsession with running, veganism, yoga, and Pilates. I think I made it about 12 days as a vegan. My fears are pretty normal, boilerplate stuff.
Name three things you can’t live without (excluding friends, family and God!)…
A great pair of jeans, regular hot showers and a continuous supply of novels.
Thanks for sharing Keya! And a huge thanks to Beth Hontzas for today’s beautiful photos: www.bethhontzas.com.