Faculty Fellow Interview: Kelly Younger

Throughout the 2016-2017 year, the ACTI blog will feature a series of interviews with current and previous ACTI Faculty Fellows, in which they will elaborate upon their ACTI Fellowship research projects and what motivates their scholarly work.  Our interviewer, Rory O’Donnell, is an ACTI Rains Research Assistant and graduate student in the Philosophy MA program at LMU.  

Our next featured Fellow is Dr. Kelly Younger, Professor of English.  His project, “UNTEACHABLE,” is a full-length play about a Jesuit professor grappling with issues of academia and “words that inflict as well as instruct.”


ACTI: Tell us about yourself – What animates or invigorates you?
KY:  I’ve been a member of the LMU English Department for the last sixteen years.  I teach dramatic literature courses, fairy tales seminars, and play writing workshops.  I’m also a professional playwright and screenwriter.  What animates me?  Well, at the moment, animated films.  I am writing a project for Walt Disney Feature Animation.  Can’t get much more animated than that!


ACTI: At what schools have you studied and worked at previously?

KY: I am a proud alumnus of LMU, earning a dual B.A. in English and Greek.  I then attended Loyola University Chicago for an M.A. in Classics.  I completed my Ph.D. in Anglo-Irish Literature and Drama from the National University of Ireland – University College Dublin.  All three are Catholic institutions.  The Newman Society, in fact, was founded at UCD.


ACTI: What is your favorite part of living (or working) in Los Angeles?
KY: I am a third generation Angeleno, so I have always considered LA my home.  It is a wonderfully complex, diverse, progressive city.  There is always a sense of forward motion.  I think that’s my favorite part of living here.  And, of course, the Dodgers.


ACTI:  How do you see your research project as part of ACTI’s mission to develop, critically examine, communicate, or otherwise engage the rich resources of Catholic thought and imagination?
KY: Well, my project is a play that explores the contemporary controversy over trigger warnings and college campuses.  There is an unsettling trend where students are refusing to engage with certain texts on the grounds that they trigger past trauma.  When I started the project, I thought I had a clear opinion on the matter.  But over time, and through creating characters on both sides of the argument, my opinion is no longer so cut and dried.  Why should we study the classics?  Why do we require students to take a core curriculum?  Who decides?  Can a student really be ‘unteachable’?  Can a professor be as well?  Since the Catholic intellectual tradition is deeply tied to the humanities and liberal arts, it really is at the center of this debate.


ACTI: What is the most challenging aspect of your research project?  
KY:  Because it is a contemporary issue, new articles and op-ed pieces continue to emerge.  Just when I think I have figured out who a character is, or what they believe, a compelling argument convinces me otherwise.  The good news is my characters continue to grow and develop as a result.  The challenge is that the argument gets more and more complicated.  But all that makes for good drama.


ACTI: In your research, were there any findings that you did not expect or any that sparked your interest further?

KY:  I did not expect to find both sides of the debate equally convincing.  In fact, I think audiences will also be surprised.


ACTI: Why do you think your project is important? Is there some aspect that is personally important to you?

KY:  Now, more than ever, we need to teach students to be critical thinkers, effective communicators, creative artists, and compassionate citizens.  As faculty, we must demonstrate that the Catholic intellectual tradition and the liberal arts are not only a part of that education, but also a vital one.


ACTI: How did your own experiences in academia help shape UNTEACHABLE?

KY:  Well, I certainly have a very well developed faculty character.  It takes place at a university, often in a classroom, so of course I am bringing my own experiences into it.  But the play really is an imaginary response to the question all plays ask:  What if?


ACTI: Were any of the characters based on or, at least, paying homage to any real life people you know personally?

KY:  No.  I write with actors in mind to play characters, but rarely people in mind who are those characters.


ACTI: Has your play been performed? If so, where? Where can people interested view it?

KY: I am currently working through revisions in private readings with actors.  The best way to revise is to hear it out loud and have conversations with talented actors.  Some scenes from the play will be performed at an LMU ACTI event this coming fall.  There are already some preliminary conversations with festivals that develop new work.  Once they play has had a few public readings, it will be sent out to artistic directors and producers who will, hopefully, include it in their forthcoming season.


To learn more about current and previous ACTI Faculty Fellows or to apply to the program, visit our website.