Meet School of Literature, Media, and Communication Chair Kelly Ritter
Posted September 7, 2022
On Aug. 1, 2022, Kelly Ritter began her new role as the chair of the School of Literature, Media, and Communication in the Ivan Allen College of Liberal Arts. She most recently served as professor of English and Writing Studies and interim head of the Department of Philosophy at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign.
What led you to want to join Georgia Tech’s Ivan Allen College of Liberal Arts to serve as a chair?
Being chair of LMC appealed to me because I had recently served as a chair for a field outside my own discipline (Philosophy), which was a great learning experience, and so I wanted to continue to learn from faculty who are not directly in my areas of research. I also had a background in working at the college and campus levels with faculty from all over the liberal arts, engineering, computing, and more. At the same time, the various areas represented in the School of LMC — literature, film, creative writing, rhetoric and communication, and digital media — almost all intersect with work I’ve done in teaching and scholarship in the past. Overall, I was excited to lead such a diverse and engaging group of faculty, students, and staff, and in the process, continue to learn more about how rich the humanities really are, especially at a place like Georgia Tech.
As a distinguished professor and administrator for several academic programs, how has your experience and background prepared you for this new venture?
I think of myself as a hands-on problem solver, whether it’s at the department level or an institutional level—those are challenging conversations and projects that I enjoy being in. Also, as a scholar, I’m interested in institutional histories, especially histories of writing and literacy. Doing archival work gives me a longer view of how universities grow and change, including places like Georgia Tech, and what that evolution means to all of us going forward.
I also think my experience working at the University of Illinois for nearly a decade and seeing all the productive and innovative interactions and collaborations between the sciences, engineering, and humanities and social sciences is a good preparation for the kind of interdisciplinary work at the center of LMC and of Georgia Tech overall. And my interest in and commitment to the success of first-generation students at a research campus is something I think informs how I view our LMC curriculum, our programming, and our general interactions with our undergraduates in the school.
You had the opportunity to earn your MFA in Creative Writing from the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, known for producing Pulitzer Prize-winning writers and poets. How did that one-of-a-kind experience shape your career?
I feel very fortunate to have had the opportunity to study at the Workshop. I think many of us alumni say that experience carries with you throughout our lives, even if one is no longer actively writing fiction or poetry, as is my case. I learned a great deal about the value of reader responses and reader awareness, about craft and the precision of language, and about criticism and interpretation. Though I no longer write or publish poetry, what I was taught about valuing my work when sending it out for publication stays with me in my other scholarly pursuits. And, of course, having an MFA in CW is very helpful for me as chair of LMC, since we have such a wonderful group of writers here on our faculty and an active arts community, including Poetry@Tech!
Georgia Tech’s LMC program is housed in a technology institute in the city of Atlanta, which is rapidly developing. What value does that hold for LMC students, and how do you plan to capitalize on it?
Coming most recently from a college town located in a rural area, I’m excited about seeing what opportunities our LMC students have that our Illinois students may not have had, given their geography. I did my Ph.D. work in Chicago and remember that experience fondly, particularly the perspective it gave me on students’ individual/home community experiences and how that informed what they chose to study and how they chose to interact with the campus and their colleagues.
So, I think for both students who are from the Atlanta area and those who are not (for example, the student I recently met who comes to us from Cleveland, Ohio — my husband’s hometown), there are great advantages since it seems like Atlanta is probably never the same city twice, as it were, from student to student. But more specifically, the great center that Atlanta is for technology, industry, and the arts — including the film community — is invaluable to the future career aspirations of our LMC students. I hope we can continue to build internship opportunities and other partnerships with local/national companies and continue to join our digital initiatives and our artistic programming with that of the greater Atlanta area so that we reside at the center of research on humanistic inquiry, not just for the campus, but for Atlanta as a whole.
Have you thought of what your goals are for continuing to advance the School of Literature, Media, and Communication?
As I write this, I’m only on my 24th day of work! So those ideas are still percolating as I meet more LMC community members and gather ideas from them. But some of what I noted above informs my initial goals. Undergirding these is helping to diversify our funding in the school by bringing in new sponsors and donors who share our vision for LMC and who can also add new perspectives and dimensions to it, as well as continuing to diversify our student body through increased recruiting, outreach, and an amplified social media presence. I really want to highlight the LMC student experience in my work as chair, both to increase our own sense of community and to entice prospective students to be a part of our school. Finally, I want to continue to build on our own faculty excellence through both retention and recruitment and see new programs such as our Black Media Studies minor flourish and grow.
Now for a fun question. Can you name one of your favorite authors and why their work is meaningful to you?
So as a former English and film major, I could give you a bunch of answers to this question — both in relation to print media and visual media, especially if we think of filmmakers as authors. But in the spirit of fun (or works I didn’t study as an undergrad or grad), I’ll say one favorite is Caleb Carr, whose book The Alienist (and its sequel) combines my love of history and my other interest in mystery/suspense/horror. This book was recently made into a great miniseries, also. I also love the work of Allison Weir, who writes detailed biographical accounts of the history of the British Monarchy (particularly the Tudor era). More generally, if I’m reading for fun, I’m probably reading history!
You’re coming from the northern part of the U.S. What’s one unique thing you’ve found out about the South that you’ve just discovered?
Well, I did live in Greensboro, North Carolina, for five years (from 2008–2013) when I was on faculty at UNC-Greensboro. So, I have some familiarity with Southern living. I knew the food was great, the people were lovely and friendly, and the winters were mild. But one thing I’ve discovered about Atlanta per se is the immense number of trees here! I had no idea that Atlanta was so beautiful, having done my whole LMC interview experience via Zoom/virtually. My husband and I have been so pleased with the beauty and integrity of the natural landscape here, as well as the wonderful neighborhoods. As many say, you can feel like you are miles from the city when you are only 10 minutes from Midtown. That’s been a welcome surprise.
Is there anything you want to see, do, or explore now that you are officially calling Atlanta home?
My to-do list includes the Botanical Gardens, the Zoo, and the Swan House. I also should seek out wherever has the best biscuits because I remember that was a big culinary controversy in Greensboro. And I also want to walk the BeltLine, but I’m waiting until it’s a bit cooler outside, as I’m still adapting to this new climate!