Gatepost Interview: Katherine Kellett Assistant Professor of English

(Photo by Erin Fitzmaurice)

What is your resume and background?

I got my B.A. in English from FSU and I got my Ph.D. in English from Boston College. Afterwards, I taught at Boston University for a couple of years. I taught in their humanities program and I also taught at Penn State Altoona as their Shakespeare specialist, and now I’m at FSU.

Why did you attend FSU as an
undergrad?

I really was attracted to the small class sizes here – the idea that you could work closely with professors. I really wanted to not be a number when I was a student here and I felt that this was a place where I would be fostering really close relationships with students and professors. And I was right. It was a great place.

What was your favorite undergrad experience?

Probably studying abroad and the opportunity to do that. I studied for a semester in Canterbury, England at the University of Kent, and it was just a really wonderful experience that enabled me to do lots of traveling, to study early modern literature in a different setting. I got to see a play at the Globe. I got to do a lot of different sightseeing and experience a lot of new things, so I really enjoyed that a lot.

Did you always know you wanted to major in English and become an educator?

From pretty early on, I took a Shakespeare course with Dr. Beilin my first semester here at FSU and I was really enchanted. I was hooked. And I really wanted to be part of this kind of community for the long term. The classroom was a really special space for me. It’s a real privilege to be able to sit in a room with a bunch of other people reading the same text, and talk about ideas, talk about language. It’s something I have enjoyed from very early on and wanted to share that love with other students.

What is your favorite literary text to teach?

That’s a hard question. I don’t know. If I had to choose one, “The Tempest” is one that I keep coming back to. … It works really well in the Literary Study class. It’s a text that is really interested in issues of power, oppression and enslavement. I think it’s a really relevant text in so many ways. It’s one that has spoken to so many different groups of people throughout the centuries. One of my great loves and one of my first loves of literature, “Jane Eyre.” It’s not in my field, but it’s a text I like to teach in general education courses. I have a lot of fun. It’s one of the first kind-of-real novels that I read when I was a high-schooler. I’ve read it and re-read it so many times.

Can you tell me about the book project you are working on?

My area of expertise is Shakespeare and early modern literature and I’m working on a project that looks at the figure of the beloved mistress in early modern England. The mistress from the sonnets you may be familiar with. I argue that this is a figure that represents a larger cultural anxiety about what’s authentic in this period. This is the 16th century. It’s a time period where older institutions and ideas like the church and the monarchy were becoming strained and splitting, and so the anxiety surrounding whether a mistress was true or false was actually one that you see in a lot of different contexts – political context, social context, theatrical context. So I look at how writers use that figure to express and negotiate this kind of anxiety about what’s real and what’s false.

Should we expect to see the book on any of your syllabi soon?

I don’t know how soon that will be. It’s an ongoing project. I’ve written and published articles that relate to some of these ideas. My most recent essay came out in a collection of essays on the blazon, which is the cataloging of the different features, usually of a female beloved in poetry. I wrote about how that convention is used and formed in Shakespeare’s “The Winter’s Tale.”

What class do you think all students should take?

I would hope that all students get the chance to take a literature course. Literature is a great way to discover things about yourself, about other people, to discover ideas that you have not been exposed to, perspectives that are new to you, to think about empathizing with others. I think if students get the chance to take any literature course, it’s a wonderful aspect of your education, even if that’s not your sole focus.

Do you have any hobbies?

I don’t have a lot of time, being the parent of a 3-year-old daughter right now. So it would be lovely to say that I do all these wonderful things. But I love to spend time with my family. I’m a little bit of a science-fiction geek. I like to watch “Star Trek.” But other than that, just getting a few moments of spare time is a luxury at this point in my life.

What advice would you give to FSU students?

I would advise them to read a lot. Reading is a way to, as I said before, connect and discover things. Read everything you can get your hands on – read books, read magazines, read news. Reading is part of what it means to be an educated person. And also I would say take classes in areas that are different from your field. When I was an undergraduate, I took a lot of music classes even though I’m not a musician. I took a Beethoven class, opera class, I took a geology class, and they were some of the most fascinating classes I took, even though it was not directly feeding into my program of study. That’s part of what it means to have an undergraduate education – to explore things, to discover things about the world around you.

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