- Introducing Kaia Preus
You know what I always refused to do? When I was a professor? Besides serving on committees with that obnoxious medievalist, I mean. Or accepting late work. Or teaching class outside (everybody just tunes out and watches the squirrels).
Let someone extra into my class. Never. Not once in fourteen years of teaching. If the course was capped at twenty, then by God, no one else was sneaking in the door. One student punched the wall and cursed me out because I wouldn't sign the add form. Another burst into tears and said she wouldn't graduate because of me. And because I am evil, this didn't bother me.
But I let Kaia in. I'm not sure why. Maybe because she ambushed me. It was my first semester teaching at St. Olaf College, where I was the writer-in-residence, and as I walked toward the classroom, she popped in front of me and said, "I am so excited about this class!"
I don't like exclamation marks. I also distrust people who are overly friendly and enthusiastic. But Kaia is one of those genuinely good-hearted people who manages to infect everyone with her excitement. It's her super power. If she was a member of the X-Men, her codename would be Captain Gusto. In response to her, I almost wanted to say, "I too am so excited about this class!" But I didn't. Because I don't like exclamation marks.
She then began listing off some of her favorite writers and the stories she wanted to write this semester and and and…and I'm not really sure how this happened, but five minutes later, she was seated in the class with a signed form while I went over the syllabus.
Good thing. Because she turned out to be the most talented undergraduate I've ever taught. Over the course of the semester, she knocked me out with her lush sentences and complex emotion and experimental design (I nominated a mosaic piece of hers for the AWP Intro Journals Award). She's a talented artist as well, and I was particularly interested in the way she merged paint and prose in a campus art show, intersecting forms.
You know what else I never did as a teacher? Advise undergrads to pursue a graduate degree immediately. I always—always—tell them to take a few years off, work, travel, read, fall in and out of love, hammer the keyboard, and then see if the desire remains, the want to be a writer…
But once again, Kaia was the exception. She was so damn good and so damn driven, I did not hesitate when she came to me seeking advice. Go, I told her. Without question.
And—as you're about to discover—it was the right choice. She's a rock star in the making, and I look forward to filling my brain with her stories and my shelves with her books in the years to come. [End Page 20]