Kresge fellowship picks Pfeiffer



On June 27, Professor Kathleen Pfeiffer, current English chair, received additional good news in the form of a prestigious Kresge fellowship. Pfeiffer, an English professor at OU since 1997, accomplished this by performing exceptionally as an educator and writer.

According to Kresge Arts in Detroit director Michelle Perron, the award is meant to elevate artists in the community. The fellowship accomplishes this by providing public recognition, professional practice opportunities in metropolitan Detroit and $25,000 to 12 talented writers and 12 exceptional performing artists from the greater Detroit area per year.

“At the moment, this (accomplishment) is pretty awesome.  It ranks right up there with meeting my husband, birthing my son and getting hired at OU — all major, positive events that have put me where I am today,” Pfeiffer said.

The award is difficult to achieve and is sought by hundreds of Metro Detroit’s most talented writers and performers, including artists Pfeiffer has long admired. While other OU professors have received the fellowship before — 2010’s Sociology Professor Vince Carducci is the most recent — Pfeiffer’s recognition comes off the heels of her recent appointment as English chair, as well as her husband’s appointment as History chair.

Pfeiffer is currently working on a memoir that delves into the seldom explored world of step-motherhood; a significant departure from her previous books; “Brother Mine: The Correspondence of Jean Toomer and Waldo Frank,” and “Race Passing and American Individualism.”

These events, as well as the growing anticipation for her current project, have elevated Pfeiffer to a level she never imagined, but hoped to achieve while staying humble and keeping busy.

“Todd and I are both assuming new positions as chairs of our departments and we can’t even really imagine what our lives will be like in the fall, so we’re trying to take things slowly and not get too overwhelmed,” Pfeiffer said.

“In general, I think that the major transitions in my life have revealed themselves to me as the next step in a progression.” Pfeiffer said. “I rarely plan or scheme or push an agenda; I’m much more likely to follow impulses and developments that emerge naturally.  At this point in my life, I pursue the things that make me curious and the things that give me pleasure, rather than being guided by any ambition.  I don’t actually think of myself as an ambitious person for this reason.”

Pfeiffer’s tendency towards allowing events to emerge naturally is evident in her classrooms where she encourages open discussions, no matter how taboo the topic. This practice affords her the opportunity to understand students on a higher level while helping them learn in the process.

“My favorite classes are generally defined by the students in them.  I love the subject matter in all of the classes I teach, so that’s not the issue — but the population in the classroom is what makes the difference,” Pfeiffer said.

This year’s winter semester marked the first time an undergraduate biography class was offered at OU. Pfeiffer, who teaches graduate-level biography, started the Undergraduate course to bring ideas of post-modernism in non-fiction writing to a younger generation. Pfeiffer considered the maiden course to be a resounding success.

“This past winter we had an unusually excellent group, and that made all the difference.  People were invested in learning, they were interested in the material and they wanted to be there.  That’s my favorite class to teach, the one where students want to be in the room,” Pfeiffer said.

Pfeiffer, who is no stranger to the practices of traditional gender roles, is hopeful about what the unrestricted money from the award will allow her to accomplish that she could not previously.

“The money can help because money can pay away some distractions,” Pfeiffer said. “For example, I’d like to hire a wife — someone to help with groceries, laundry, cook and do yard work — that day to day stuff takes up lots of mental space and lots of time.  I’d have much more time and space if I can outsource that stuff.

Contact Staff Reporter Mark McMillan via email at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @markamcmillan