Researching AUM: Joyce Kelley’s love for the arts

Photo: Dr. Joyce Kelley from the AUM Department of English and Philosophy seen here with her cello during a Broadway concert 

Dr. Joyce Kelley’s research includes raising public awareness of underrepresented writers, including authors of children’s literature. While she enjoyed reading as a child, the Associate Professor in the Auburn University at Montgomery Department of English and Philosophy says she never expected to pursue a career in literary studies.

“I won a local essay competition in high school and the person who delivered the award asked if I planned to be an English major,” she recalled. “I remember his startled look when I said I hoped to be a field biologist!”

Kelley reconsidered her career goals in college.

“That’s when I realized how much I truly loved my English classes,” she said. “My favorite novel I read in freshman year at Haverford College was Virginia Woolf's ‘Mrs. Dalloway.’ It had no chapters and took place during one day of a woman’s life – I was absolutely mesmerized by it and still write frequently on modernist authors and attend the annual international conferences on Virginia Woolf.”

Today, she primarily studies nineteenth and twentieth-century British and American authors.

“I have written several articles on writers quite well-known in their time who are little known today,” she said.

These include Louise Clark Pyrnelle, a nineteenth-century Alabama children’s author, and Philippa Duke Schuyler, a concert pianist from New York who wrote about her world travels. Kelley is currently applying for a grant to continue her studies on the life and work of nineteenth-century author Elizabeth Champney.

“Champney was one of the first authors to use college women as protagonists in her books for young readers,” she said.

In Kelley’s book, “Excursions into Modernism: Women Writers, Travel, and the Body,” the author proposes that the literary experiments often seen in modernist writing, relating to introspection, flights of imagination, interior monologue, and reinterpretations of the self, are catalyzed by the idea of travel.

“I suggest that women’s travel writing of this era, a largely overlooked body of work, has important ties with fiction, even anticipating modernist tendencies. Outward voyages in these texts often are accompanied by inner exploration, a kind of ‘excursion’ into the mind or body paired with linguistic experimentation.”

And in her recent book, “Children’s Play in Literature,” Kelley edits a series of essays exploring authors who write for children and use children as their central characters.

Kelley’s interest in the arts also extends beyond literature – she took a double major in college that included music. She now deploys that additional talent as a cellist with the Montgomery Symphony Orchestra concert and will perform next on November 18 at the Davis Theater for the “Night of Musical Fairytales” program.

“I started playing cello in fifth grade,” said Kelley. “Most of my classmates picked the viola because the string teacher modeling the viola dressed up like Cyndi Lauper – which did make the viola look cool! But I didn’t want to play an instrument I had to hold under my chin, so I went on to play cello in orchestra throughout high school.”

“I often feel that literature is what I do with my brain,” she adds, “but music is what I do with my heart.”

Nick Thomas teaches at Auburn University at Montgomery (aum.edu) and has written features, columns, and interviews for over 750 newspapers and magazines (getnickt.org).