Up Close and Personal With the Baraza: Amber Kelly-Anderson

Today, Aussie resident Liv White interviews Texas resident Amber Kelly-Anderson, who wishes the interview could have taken place face to face in Melbourne over a couple of skinny flat whites.

Your Baraza posts focus on pop culture – how did your love of pop culture develop?
We didn’t have cable television when I was a kid, so we watched old movies on the VCR. My mother had a particular fondness for the 40s through the 60s. We’d watch musicals, dramas, Westerns, comedies–things like Oklahoma, His Girl Friday, Some Like It Hot, Shane, and Vertigo. Those types of movies got me interested in film in general and eventually formed a little database in me head of actors, movies, directors, etc. (My friends now get disappointed when I don’t know who was in something.) As I got older, my nerdy love of reading got me gobbling books about them and my interest expanded to pop culture in general. One year when I was about 15, my mom got me a subscription to Entertainment Weekly. I loved it and I have read every issues since. It’s my weekly ritual.

I seem to recall from various posts on your personal blog that you teach literature at tertiary level.  Firstly, am I right on that one??  Secondly, what are the challenges and rewards of teaching?
First, thanks for reading. And you are right, although I like your word for it much more than mine–tertiary sounds much more important than community college. Teaching is, I suppose, like most professions: there are things about it that try my patience and things about it that elate me. One of my biggest frustrations is the low levels that students have come to expect for success. Not all of them, but many of them resent being giving deadlines, held to standards, and asked to think rather than parrot. They want a grade for showing up even if they don’t do anything when they do. That’s not how I roll. In addition, during a given semester I usually have at any given time 50 or more essays awaiting grading. For English the grading never seems to stop.

The rewards, however, are pretty slick. I get to talk about things I’m passionate about in classes like British Literature and Creative Writing. I have been known to literally bounce up and down while discussing Morte D’Arthur because I get so excited. My work also offers the opportunity to connect with people I wouldn’t have normally, like Mitzi and Katie.

Does the fact that you teach literature change the way that you approach literature and reading in your personal life?  Do you still enjoy reading literature even though it forms part of your day to day work?
I tend to compartmentalize my reading. I have fluffy books that I read to turn off my literary brain–things that aren’t overly challenging and provide a nice escape. Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl is a recent example of one of those types of books. Then there are those things that I read from a more literary standpoint, analyzing and interpreting, like works from Margaret Atwood, who happens to be my lit crush. No matter what I’m reading, I’m always on the prowl for a good story and something inspiring as a writer. During the semester I tend to read more of the fluffy stuff just because I may not have time to read it or pay as much attention. More challenging works tend to be read on my breaks. In fact, I have big reading plans for my next few weeks off.

You run a personal blog, you do an amazing job of coordinating the Baraza residents and posts, you work in paid employment, and you have a young family.  How do you balance all the competing demands on your time?
I don’t sleep much. Aside from that, I have to prioritize–family, work, and writing. My house is usually a mess and we eat out too much. I’m not proud of those last two things, but they are the price of everything else I do. When I do get to cook, I enjoy it. But sadly daily home cooked meals are not in my cards. Multi-tasking is important and having a good schedule tracker. I fear technology, so I have a red old school planner. As I tell people at work, if it’s not in the book, it’s not happening.

I’m guessing that holiday time is pretty important to you, given how busy you are – what is your ultimate holiday destination?
I’ve had the good fortune to travel some and I die over Ireland, Scotland, and Southern Spain. Northern California is gorgeous. With our kids being young, we haven’t been able to take big trips like that yet. We do, however, enjoy smaller, more local destinations like the Big Bend and Fredricksburg. And since we got married at Disney World, that’s always a fun trip.

 It’s nearly Christmas – how do you and your loved ones spend Christmas?
Christmas is when I get to have down time with my kids and husband. We watch movies and drink hot chocolate, play games and drive out to see some of the big light displays. My daughter loves How the Grinch Stole Christmas, so we read that almost every night before bed. Christmas Eve we go to my parents’ house and stay with them so they can experience Christmas morning with the kids. For that morning, we open presents in turn and have yummy cinnamon rolls. The afternoon is usually watching movies or cooking shows like Iron Chef, napping, and messing about with the gifts. I read a great deal, take baths, try to see friends and family when I can.

Visit us again next week for all new posts, including our group holiday post.