By Jasmine Russell ‘17
How do you pronounce your name?
Koenigs [kay-nigs]. It’s a totally idiosyncratic pronunciation. People who actually speak German recognize that it should be like ‘ker-nig,’ but I don’t speak German, and evidently, no one in my family has for a long time.
Tell me a little bit about your journey to Scripps.
I came out here for the job, which I could not have been more excited about. I’ve really liked the idea of teaching at a liberal arts college, and it’s been everything I hoped it would be. I’ve been incredibly impressed by the students and the kind of classroom dynamics here have been… it’s really a great place to teach.
Were you teaching somewhere previously?
I was finishing up my PhD at Yale. I just finished my PhD in May, so I’d been teaching there as a graduate student. This is my first professor gig. It’s very exciting. It’s a very different part of the country than New England, which is also where I’m from, but it’s been a pleasant adjustment.
How are you liking the weather?
The weather’s been great since that heat wave. That was a little bit of a shock moving here, and it surprised me how warm October was. I definitely wasn’t used to that, but I think I’ll really enjoy talking to all of my friends and family back on the East Coast come February.
What classes are you teaching?
I’m teaching the first half of the American Literature survey, which is American Literature to 1865, and a course on slave narratives and novels about slavery from the 17th century through the 21st century.
Is that right down your alley? Do you specialize in other things as well?
That’s one of the things I specialize in. I work generally on American and African American Literature from the long 19th century, so the end of the 18th century through the beginning of the 20th century. So this is very much in my wheelhouse. I write mostly about the history of the novel versus other forms, although I do write some on various types of other narratives.
What is your official title?
Assistant Professor of English.
How has Scripps varied from your expectations, if you had expectations?
I had expectations and my expectations were very high. I mean, I had heard great things about the student body and the school’s kind of national reputation is very impressive, but I think I’ve been even more impressed with the students than I expected, like the high level of intellectual curiosity, the willingness to engage and kind of go out on a limb in a seminar setting. The kind of lively discussions in class, I’ve been really impressed with. So I don’t really wanna say surprised, because I was expecting a very high level, but it’s just pleasantly met my expectations, and possibly even exceeded them.
What are you most excited about being here, and also, do you plan on being here for awhile?
I do. I hope to be here for as long as they’ll keep me here. I really like it here, like I said. I very much like the liberal arts setting. As someone who teaches literature, this kind of setting is very appealing because you just can’t get that much out, as a teacher, standing in front of a lecture hall of 200 talking about books you’ve read over and over again for your whole life. Versus, if I’m in a seminar talking to students, I will almost always learn something new about the books from them….No matter how many times I’ve read Moby Dick or Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl, I always experience it anew through their eyes and through their encounter with the text and I really like that. I like to have my classes be guided by student interests, and what’s really jumped out to them because that’s what keeps things interesting and exciting for my in the classroom, versus me kind of laying out the blueprint of how I’ve read this text over and over again.
Do you have a favorite place on campus?
I’m certainly very appreciative of this brand new office. I feel sheepish as a new person here having this beautiful new office so… The whole campus seems so unlike any campus I’ve been on before. I’m used to these kind of cold, New England campuses, so I admit I cannot get used to walking past palm trees yet. It still seems totally weird to me. I don’t know if I have a specific favorite place on campus yet. I confess I have not really explored too much, either in the local area, but also in Southern California generally. I’ve kind of hit the ground running. I got here in August and it’s been pretty much just trying to prepare for classes and get some research done. That’s been my main focus here as I adjust. Hopefully they’ll be more chance for exploring in the future.
I heard that you were working on a book. Could you talk some about that?
I’m working on a book called Founded in Fiction. It’s a history of fiction in the early United States. The book really is interested in the fact that in early America, really counterintuitive to our standard ideas, Americans were really suspicious of the very idea of fiction. They thought books that didn’t have a basis in fact or in specific events were a kind of lie. They would only mislead readers and give them false ideas about the world. It seems crazy to us in the fiction-saturated culture we live in, but they really were suspicious of the very idea of fiction. A lot of early novelists then published their books claiming they were founded on fact, and even having footnotes pointing to who the actual characters corresponded to. So I’m really interested in all the different early American writers who broke this taboo against fictionality and wrote fictional texts and the different reasons why they wrote fiction. And they weren’t always how we think of fiction as a kind of autonomous work of art, something that’s got this high literary prestige, but often these early American writers were trying to use fiction for educational purposes, trying to use it for political purposes, using it for social critiques. So I’m just interested in all these kind of strange uses for fiction from before the time fiction was accepted widely in America. I’m enjoying the process of bringing these weird books that aren’t very often read to light.
Is there anything specific that you want the Scripps community to know about you?
I don’t know about anything specific I want known about me. I like bird watching, so if anyone sees me around campus staring at a tree, you shouldn’t think that I’ve totally lost my mind. I’m probably looking for some sort of new Warbler or something that I saw. But yeah, other than that, not too much to know about me that I want to put out there, specifically. I can’t think of anything.
Where would one normally find you?
In my office. I’m here pretty much from early in the morning until, at the very least, the late afternoon. That’s usually where to find me.