Traveling from the farmlands of Kentucky to the hills of Geneseo, assistant professor of English Kristen Gentry has contributed her voice to the English department since 2007.
Gentry grew up on a cattle farm and apple orchard in rural Brandenburg, Ky., a town that she said was predominately white.
“I was the only black student there. What I remember is that it was hard … being the only one of something,” Gentry said. “That stands out to me, particularly for those years, being the only one so often.”
Gentry went on to study at the University of Louisville in Louisville, Ky. for her undergraduate education. Though she originally studied English, she soon switched her focus to communication because it “seemed more expansive.”
“When I looked at the catalog of classes, which had classes like British Literature, I didn’t want to read that,” Gentry said.
“I thought, this is the practical way you become a writer: You become a journalist,” she said. She also wrote feature stories for the college’s student newspaper, The Louisville Cardinal.
In 2002, Gentry graduated and worked for a different newspaper while studying for the Graduate Record Examinations. A few years later she began pursuing a degree at Indiana University where she returned to English and graduated in 2006 with a Master of Fine Arts in fiction writing.
“Sometimes I regret changing my major from English to communications because I feel that so many texts in the canon I haven’t come across or haven’t really read them. But I wouldn’t be who I am if I hadn’t done that,” Gentry said.
When Gentry heard of a job opening in Geneseo while working what she called “another crappy job,” she said she didn’t hesitate to apply.
“There was no question. Even though I was leaving everything I knew behind, I just couldn’t live like that anymore.”
Gentry has published five fictional short stories and two poems. These include “Jungle J” in Crab Orchard Review and “Thick Skin” and “Primary Purpose” in A Cocoon for the Pages: A Matrix Anthology of Literary and Visual Arts: Vol. 2.
Having taught at Geneseo since the fall of 2007, Gentry said that she loves the motivation she sees in her students here.
“They just seize every opportunity, and they exceed my expectations at times when I’m not expecting it,” she said. “I also like that Geneseo is small and tight-knit.”
Gentry said that she also receives support from the English department because of her colleagues she “learned to keep reading.”
“When I see them advancing, I want to meet their level,” she said.
Gentry said that her time spent here has not been without challenge.
“It can sometimes be difficult to approach the subject [in] any way, but it can be especially difficult for a professor of color standing before a class that’s primarily white discussing issues of race,” she said.
In spring 2013, Gentry will teach ENGL 237: Voices and Perspectives: Hip-Hop Culture & Contemporary Literature.
“I wasn’t expecting to teach hip-hop [next] semester,” she said. “I think it’s something that’s needed because so much of people’s current idea of blackness is tied up in hip-hop.”
Gentry said she hopes that her classes will give students a new perspective on racial divisions.
“I want to tell [students] that we’re not here to try and put a Band-Aid over everything,” she said. "We are all equal, but we're not all the same."