Meet Kate Birdsall
Kate Birdsall recognizes the value MSU’s WRAC program holds for its diverse students. “Watching students get passionate about something is the best. It’s contagious,” she says. “That is why I come to work every day.”
Author and rhetorician Dr. Birdsall joined the WRAC department in 2014, and teaches an array of courses, including professional writing, creative writing, first-year writing, and Integrative Studies in the Arts and Humanities. She is currently focusing her research on empathy and how it “translates into writing instruction.” Her knowledge on the subject can be traced back to her dissertation research on the rhetoric of self-help and memoir, in which she explored what it means to identity with and understand writers, what it means to turn towards self-help books, who gets excluded from them, and so on. “I’m interested in this idea of community and empathy and cultivating connections in a world that feels more and more fragmented,” she says. “I think it just feels that way because when we actually do look at the connections we cultivate, they’re very real and important.”
Dr. Birdsall is also researching Student Learning Communities, a curriculum program that focuses on connections and shared goals; the purpose of SLCs are to increase interactions between both students and faculty, and to help students learn how to effectively collaborate in a professional environment. Dr. Birdsall is also studying the importance of providing formative feedback, a type of ongoing feedback designed to improve learning and target strengths and weaknesses; she notes that whether it is a first-year writer or an established editor, formative feedback is vital for making writing better at all skill levels.
Outside of her academic work, Dr. Birdsall recently published her novel The Flats, after realizing how much she needed a creative outlet while finishing her dissertation. The Flats is a suspenseful mystery following detective Liz Boyle and her partner as they investigate a series of unspeakable murders in the Cleveland area. As far as inspiration and writing process, Dr. Birdsall wants others to know that although writing a novel isn’t easy, it’s possible with hard work and determination. She specifically remembers watching several drafts of her book go through the formative feedback process of growth and development. Aware that this effective (and at times very painful) process was necessary, Dr. Birdsall was able to make her ideas come to life. “I’ve been reading mystery my whole life and I wanted to see a certain kind of character that I hadn’t seen. So I created her.”
Dr. Birdsall has several future goals, one of them being to write and publish a second book; she hopes to work with Red Adept again, an independent publishing company. Other goals include finishing and publishing a short story she has been working on, and continuing her academic work on empathy, community, and formative feedback.
As both a Professional Writing professor and published author, Dr. Birdsall has three pieces of advice for PW majors and aspiring novelists: “Learn your process and follow it, but don’t hesitate to change it if something isn’t working, put your butt in the chair and write the words, and the third one is ask for help if you need it.”
The uniqueness of WRAC and its PW program allows for both students and faculty to connect with and learn from one another, something Dr. Birdsall acknowledges and highlights: “I think we’re really invested,” she explains. “Once you graduate and get into the “real world,” there aren’t going to be people who aren’t your boss or your coworkers who are willing to just sit down and have long conversations about what PW is. We’re here to do that, so definitely talk to us.”
Written by Reyna Hurand