Today on our Tuesday Chat feature we have an interview with essayist and memoirist Kelly J. Baker. Her latest book is GRACE PERIOD: A MEMOIR IN PIECES. Did you know that Tall Poppies write nonfiction too? We do! Karen Karbo, Amy Impellizzeri, Sonja Yoerg, (me!), and more! You can check out our profiles and our books by clicking The Poppies in the top menu and surfing around. Let’s welcome Kelly J. Baker to Tuesday Chat. -Katie Pryal
KP: Tell us about GRACE PERIOD, Kelly. It’s a memoir of academia, right? Aren’t academics, like, dull? (Full disclosure: I was an academic for over 10 years.)
KJB: Academia isn’t dull, Katie! I loved it, and you did, too, if you recall. I loved the research, writing, and teaching. I was passionate about my work and students. So, GRACE PERIOD is a memoir about academic life simply because I happened to be an academic. But it’s more a book about what happens when your life doesn’t turn out like you planned. I trained for years to be an academic, a professor, and nothing happened the way I hoped it would. This book is my reckoning with how the life I planned for went away.
KP: In many ways, GRACE PERIOD provides a fun peek behind the curtain of higher education, yes? Just like MONEYBALL did for baseball or BRINGING DOWN THE HOUSE did for casinos?
KJB: Oh gosh, I never thought of my book as a MONEYBALL book. Now, I’m nervous 🙂 I do think GRACE PERIOD gives a behind-the-scenes glimpse of the harrowing nature of the job market in academia, especially the Humanities, and also what it is like to work as academic adjunct—which is a job that devalues your work and your life. Adjuncts hold up the whole system of higher education, and instead of being appreciated, they are exploited. I hope GRACE PERIOD shows some of the problems within the system of higher education that I lived through before I quit.
KP: What other books have you written? Tell us about them. Anything else in the works?
KJB: My first book was Gospel According to the Klan, about the history of the 1920s Klan’s white nationalism and their broad appeal to white Protestants. It’s an unfortunately relevant book right now and I keep having to talk about it on the radio and television. My interest in apocalypses led me to write about folks waiting for zombies to bring about the end of the world in The Zombies Are Coming! Right now, I’m finishing my fourth book, Sexism Ed: Essays on Gender and Labor in Higher Education (that one seems self-explanatory). And then, I get to finish my fifth book, The End of Us, a book that brings together everything I love: zombies, apocalypses, white supremacy, and gender in American culture.
KP: Wait. Tell me how that last book works again.
KJB: You know how there are all these apocalypse zombie moves? And one by one the characters die off? Think about who gets to live and who dies. That tells us a lot about who we are right now.
KP: Well, that’s really interesting.
KJB: Thank you.
KP: GRACE PERIOD tells a story about a career transition that seems to transcend one narrow career. In other words, isn’t GRACE PERIOD pretty universal?
KJB: You’re right. The book is universal because every life transition makes you reevaluate who you are and who you want (or don’t want) to be. My transition just happened to be out of my academic career and into my career as a writer. Transitions are so hard, and I hope GRACE PERIOD shows readers that we make it through them, in spite of their hardness. If I can make it though (and I’m routinely a mess), so can they.
Sound interesting? Right now, you can enter to win a paperback copy of GRACE PERIOD on Goodreads.
About Kelly: Kelly J. Baker is a freelance writer with a religious studies PhD who covers religion, racism, higher education, gender, labor, motherhood, and popular culture. She’s written for The New York Times, The Atlantic, The Rumpus, Chronicle Vitae, Religion & Politics, Killing the Buddha, and The Washington Post among others.
She’s the author of an award-winning book, Gospel According to the Klan: The KKK’s Appeal to Protestant America, 1915-1930 (University Press of Kansas, 2011) and The Zombies Are Coming!: The Realities of the Zombie Apocalypse in American Culture (Bondfire Books, 2013). Her newest book is Grace Period: A Memoir in Pieces(killing the buddha and Raven Books, 2017).
She’s also the editor of Women in Higher Education, a feminist newsletter, in its 26th year, with the continued goal “to enlighten, encourage, empower and enrage women on campus.”
When she’s not writing assignments, editing, or wrangling two children, a couch dog, and a mean kitty, she’s writing about zombie apocalypses and their discontents for the University Press of Kansas and slowly making her way toward a collections of essays about endings and other apocalypses.