Alumni Spotlight Archive
Spotlight on: Dr. Kirstin Hamblin Squint
Kirstin is an Associate Professor of English at High Point University in High Point, NC. She received her BA in English from Eureka College in 1995, her MA in English with a fiction writing emphasis from Miami University of Ohio in 1998, and her PhD in comparative literature from Louisiana State University in 2008.
Her published works include the 2018 monograph LeAnne Howe at the Intersections of Southern and Native American Literature and the forthcoming Swamp Souths: Literary and Cultural Ecologies, co-edited with Eric Gary Anderson, Taylor Hagood, and Anthony Wilson. Her essay “Kentucky Coming and Going” appeared as a chapter in the 2019 Appalachian Reckoning: A Region Responds to Hillbilly Elegy, edited by Anthony Harkins and Meredith McCarroll. In 2019-20 she will serve as the the Whichard Visiting Distinguished Professor at East Carolina University,
What was VAMPY like for you?
The first year, I took an expository writing class, and for much of my life my goal has been to be a writer, so that class alone was really helpful. It was the first time I read Faulkner. I wrote a piece about my grandmother, and we did peer reviews with our classmates. I had never had any kind of formal writing training — that class was very powerful for me. I took other interesting classes, but that one was life-changing because of who I am intellectually.
The other thing was that I came from a very poor rural community in Kentucky, neither of my parents went to college, and no one I knew in my family had gone to college. I was meeting children of lawyers and college professors and people who were going to magnet schools in Louisville — people from socio-economic and educational backgrounds that were so different from mine. By becoming friends with those people and realizing the way that I had felt different from my classmates and my community, I didn't feel so isolated anymore.
At what point did you decide you wanted to go to graduate school?
I knew that pretty early on — I remember in seventh or eighth grade, I had this idea I was going to get a PhD, and I thought I was going to do it at Harvard or something — I had no idea. But that's the thing — I met people at VAMPY whose parents had gone to Harvard and who did themselves go to Harvard, so suddenly that was within reach to me, and it was not within reach previously. Again, VAMPY exposed me to a world that I had never been in contact with before.
I discovered as an undergrad that I wanted to be a a fiction writer, so I got into the MA program in English at Miami of Ohio. I wound up moving out to New Mexico and taught in a high school on the Navajo reservation for a year. I learned that I didn't want to be a high school teacher, but I learned that I did love teaching. After I finished my master’s, I started doing community college teaching, and I liked it because I had a lot of first generation students like me. It was work that was meaningful.
How did your research interests develop in graduate school and afterwards?
What really started my research was teaching on the reservation. It opened up my world in terms of seeing and understanding settler colonialism and the relationship of indigenous people to the United States government. I had a growing interest in native writers, and when I was at the community college in Flagstaff, AZ, I created its first Native American literature class. There was a really high number of Native American students who attended, a lot of of Hopi and Navajo students, so that felt like a really important thing to do.
I read Choctaw writer LeAnne Howe’s novel Shell Shaker when I was at LSU. That book moves between the 18th and 20th century in the Choctaw homelands of what became Mississippi, Louisiana, and Oklahoma. I realized when I read it that I could look around Louisiana, and all these places had Choctaw names, like Bogue Chitto and Atchafalaya. It made me think simultaneously about native presence and absence in the southeast.
I wrote a dissertation on 20th and 21st-century Native American writers, called Native Spiritualities as Resistance: Disrupting Colonialism in the Americas. As I was thinking about what my next project would be, I thought about what I had enjoyed the most about the dissertation. I had done an interview with LeAnne Howe in 2008, and it became my first national publication. I thought, “I really want to write more about her” and then realized I wanted to write a book about her — nobody had written one yet. LeAnne Howe at the Intersections of Southern and Native American Literature came out from LSU Press in 2018.
I'm under contract for another book about her — it's an edited collection of essays with the University Press of Mississippi. I also coedited a forthcoming collection called Swamp South: Literary and Cultural Equalities. A lot of things have happened in the last couple of years, and it's been super exciting.
What is it like being someone who is not Native American working in native literary
Having had the experience of living on a reservation, I have an awareness of settler colonialism that a lot of Americans don't have. I'm always aware of my outsiderness, and I try to keep learning from the native scholars I know and whenever I'm in a native community. I never think that I know as much as I can know — I'm always learning and trying to figure out the best way to be an ally.
For example, I just wrote a letter of recommendation for one of my students who is Eastern Band of Cherokee. She's going to do a community health certificate program at Western Carolina because she wants to synthesize western medicine and native healing methodologies and wants to go on to graduate school. I'm so proud of her, and I feel like anytime I have an opportunity to mentor native students, I want to do that.
It sounds like you're leveraging power from your position to help people who don't
have that access, which relates back to when you were younger and you didn't have
access to certain things.
You're right. I taught on the reservation and at Southern University, an HCBU in Baton Rouge, but I didn't understand this until recently. The piece that I wrote for Appalachian Reckoning was about my family in dysfunctionality, how my grandparents came out of the mountains in southeastern Kentucky and their shame about their hillbilly identity. They carried that shame with them and passed it on — we weren't allowed to listen to banjo music because there was this real shame attached to it — “we don't want anybody to think we're hillbillies” — but of course, they couldn't see the extent to which they embodied that anyway. I went to school out of state because I wanted to get away from Kentucky. I had all this shame.
When I was on a panel at the Appalachian Studies Conference in March talking about Appalachian Reckoning, someone asked about Appalachian identity and double consciousness, and it hit me so hard. I've talked about the idea of W.E.B. DuBois’s double consciousness with other ethnic minority communities and when I've taught multiethnic literature, but it never occurred to me that I might also be carrying a form of double consciousness from a hillbilly perspective. For all of my life, I couldn't see the forest for the trees, why I was drawn to these places doing these things. The Appalachian Reckoning piece has been a big moment of me coming to some awareness about my life.
Anything else you want to say about VAMPY?
VAMPY was a transformational experience. It opened up the world in so many ways. It's hard to measure the impact that it had on me.
Spotlight on: Karyn Andrews (SCATS 1986-87)
Karyn is currently in the WKU graduate program in gifted studies, working toward her endorsement. For her practicum, she taught a course at SCATS this the summer.
Where did you grow up?
In LaRue county, in a little town called Buffalo.
How did you find out about SCATS?
My mother was working on her gifted endorsement at the time — she actually taught at SCATS my first year. I took her class — a newspaper class.
What other memories do you have of SCATS?
Going to Opryland — that was fun. I remember making a camera out of an oatmeal box and getting to develop the pictures. There is a drawing that I did in a drawing class still hanging on the wall of my parents’ house.
What career have you pursued?
I work at Mt. Washington Elementary in Bullitt County as the school librarian. I taught band for two years at a Christian school and then want back to graduate school and got my Masters in library. I’m now doing the gifted endorsement toward earning Rank 1 as a teacher.
Why did you decide to do the gifted and talented endorsement?
It’s something I've always wanted to do. I’ve always been a strong advocate for gifted education.
Have there been topics you have covered in your graduate work that have made you reflect
back on yourself as a gifted student?
Definitely. I've learned a lot about myself. I didn’t realize that getting frustrated easily and being very emotional were often tied in with being gifted. I would get irritated with teachers who wanted me to work a problem the way they wanted me to work it out rather than the way I wanted to work it out.
What was it like growing up as a gifted young person?
I was lucky my parents were advocates for me. Once she realized I knew all my letters when I was 19 months old, my mom thought, “Hey, this isn’t normal. We need to figure something out.” She brought me to Western when I was four and had me tested. I was lucky in that I had teachers who challenged me up through third grade. There was no gifted program in my school until I was older, and that was a pull-out, one hour, one day a week program. The superintendent in the district now does a good job with middle and high school students, but with elementary, we’re still getting there.
Has there been any part of the graduate program that you have particularly enjoyed?
I've enjoyed all of it. I’m really enjoying SCATS. This is my first time working with middle school kids, except for when I did student teaching years and years ago, and it has not been as scary as I thought it would be!
Your class is called Book, Books, Books. What are your specific goals?
I want students to have shared with each other books and book series. I want them to come away with a big, long list of new books to read and an appreciation for different genres. Their interests are guiding the direction I take in class. I think it’s working!