Small college campuses tend to engender celebrity. Graduates and students of small liberal art schools know all too well what I’m talking about. There are student celebrities, known far and wide on campus for their extreme political views or daring sartorial choices (think trench-coat guy, Fedora girl, etc).
The celebrity professor, though, is a more unusual, more interesting kind of bird.
These are the profs with long waiting lists for any course they offer. They generally tend to be younger. They often teach exceptionally cool shit that seems novel in a traditional academic setting (things like visual urbanism or an anthropological look at the electronic music scene). They are sometimes good looking. And they are consistently talented. While they may formally derive their livelihood from teaching, they are often better known by the world at large for their cultural commentary–their books, articles, criticism, et al, especially when that shit blows up in a popular forum.
Kiese Laymon, 39-year-old author of fiction and pop essays, and native of Jackson, MI, possesses these qualities in spades. He’s been teaching for the last decade at Vassar College, where his courses tend to stand out amongst the more traditional offerings listed in the College’s course catalogue. Next semester, he is slated to teach an English class – “Because Dave Chapelle Said So” – a post-modern analysis of the black tragic-comic figure in American storytelling. He’ll also teach an introductory class in Africana Studies on Jay-Z, which he calls “Shawn Carter: Autobiography of an Autobiographer.” Laymon’s academic game isn’t all that defines him though. He’s also known around campus, and across the collective blogosphere, as an exceptionally talented and prolific writer. His blog, Cold Drank, where his provocations, essays and short fiction appear, is a regular topic of conversation among students on campus. He is a contributing editor over at Gawker where he published a particularly poignant essay last July called “How to Slowly Kill Yourself and Others in America” which attracted a lot of attention, and widespread consideration as one of the best essays of the year. Last semester, he took some time off to write pieces for ESPN, NPR and Esquire, many of which have gone viral, garnering him a national readership and a reputation for humorous and incisive cultural critique.
And, he’s got not one, but two books set for publication this summer. He’s got chops.