To celebrate 50 years of coeducation at Kenyon, we’re profiling three dozen of Kenyon alumnae during the 2019-20 academic year. These women, merely a small sample of the thousands of female graduates who have earned Kenyon degrees since 1969, will discuss their undergraduate experiences and how their education in Gambier prepared them for their lives and careers.
The 28th alumna in our series is Caitlin Horrocks ’02, who majored in English at Kenyon and is now an associate professor of writing at Grand Valley State University near Grand Rapids, Michigan. Long a successful essayist and short story writer, Horrocks’ debut novel “The Vexations” — which examines the life of French composer Erik Satie — has received significant attention and critical praise, and earned Horrocks a spot as one of Kenyon’s top newsmakers of 2019. “The Vexations” is the current selection of the new Kenyon Alumni Book Club, and Horrocks will participate in a Kenyon Review Reading Series event on Feb. 11.
How do you prioritize your life and get things done?
With difficulty. I teach and write, so virtually every component of my professional life can expand to fill any and all space I give it: I could always write more, or read more, or work up a new assignment, or give a student more feedback. Once I had a kid, I couldn’t let my job(s) expand as far into the rest of my life, and I’ve been learning to cut certain tasks off at “good enough.” I’ve also tried to get better at being either “on” or “off”— working or with my family — to avoid the endless mental churn of tallying up the things I’m not getting done at any one time.
Where did you first discover your power?
I knew for a long time that I was pretty good at stringing words together, but it didn’t feel like a power, or a life plan. I kept hoping to discover that I was really well-suited to something “better,” or more narrowly defined, or more obviously marketable. I used to hope someone would tap me on the shoulder and tell me exactly what I should do with my life. Eventually I figured out that that wasn’t happening, and that I’d have to just point myself in a direction and lurch forward and see where I went.
Who at Kenyon inspired you?
So many professors, so many peers. If I’m choosing just one, [John Crowe Ransom Professor of English] Kim McMullen. She’s a wonderful teacher, but also a wonderful human, and I’m as grateful for her deep kindness as I am for her great questions or edits.
What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?
Best professional advice: that the goal isn’t just “to get published” — it’s to publish work you’re proud of, in places you feel proud to appear in, working with people who can help do for your work what you can’t do yourself. The verb is “publishing,” as in making-public, not “privishing.” If you’re a writer (or any creative person) hoping to get your work out into the world, you owe it to yourself and your art to partner with people who can help you do that in meaningful ways.
How has your worldview evolved since leaving Kenyon?
Several of the interviews in this series so far have talked about navigating how big and messy the world is beyond the Kenyon “bubble.” I had that experience too, but part of what it made me realize is that I wish I’d been less self-deprecating or apologetic about the bubble while I was actually in it. There is no time in my life, before or since, that I grappled as much with books and ideas, and that experience was so precious and so valuable. Kenyon may be a rarified little corner of the world, but it’s still part of the world, and everything I learned there I was able to take with me when I left.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Read about the previous woman in our series: Alexandra White ’09
Read about the next woman in our series: Melody Travers ’12