Wednesday, 15 February 2017
Humans of the English Department – Professor Kristin SteeleThe daughter of two teachers from Wayne, West Virginia,…
The daughter of two teachers from Wayne, West Virginia, Kristin Steele always knew it was a given that she’d go to her parents’ and sister’s alma mater, Marshall University.
She got her BA in Journalism and her MA in English, and also spent some time as a graphic designer. After pursuing her MFA at The New School in New York City, she returned to Marshall University, where she’s been teaching as a visiting assistant professor of English since 2014—a job she says is her favorite one yet.
But she does more than just teach: she writes. “I’ve always been a writer; I’ve always been interested in writing. I always loved books and reading—I tell my students, you can’t be a good writer if you’re not a good reader. When I was a kid, I would always make books—I’d staple the pages together, and write, and draw the pictures. I thought the idea of writing a book was so cool, because it meant you were important enough that someone would take interest in what you said.
“Now, more than ever, words are powerful. We can use them to hurt or to empower. We should always ask ourselves, ‘Are you using your words to help the greater good, or are you using them to hurt?’ Words can help others.”
She decided to use her words to build others up by participating in the Women’s March on Washington last month. “Of course politics can be exhausting, but every decision we make is political. Our decisions are influenced by politics, and our decisions influence politics. Even the act of writing itself is political. This idea is important to me, because I come from a place of privilege. I’m white, I’m educated, I have security. As a person of privilege, I need to make sure I’m standing with the under-represented–people of color, immigrants, people living in poverty, Native people, the LGBTQIA community, people living with disabilities, survivors of sexual assault, people with diverse religious faiths, and all women. I felt I hadn’t done enough beyond speaking my mind in writing, so I did this as a sort of attitude change and commitment to action—I want to make sure I practice what I preach.”
One of her biggest influences—in writing and education, in empowerment, in life—was her grandmother, Louise Mae. “She had sixteen kids, she could only attend school up to the eighth grade, and she was the smartest woman I’ve ever known. She could read. She could write. Despite staying in her domestic sphere, she found ways to help her community. I want to be like her in spirit, even though our lives and our choices are very different. I want to continue the legacy of influential women in my family, whose influence began within their own means. The day of the March, I wore my grandma’s brooch. I wanted to have her with me during this historic moment.”
This semester, you can find Kristin Steele teaching courses on Appalachian Literature and Autobiography in the English Department, and volunteering within Marshall’s Women’s Studies Program.