West Virginia University Associate Professor Katy Ryan has been named an Eberly Distinguished Professor of Teaching. The intent of the distinguished professorship is to retain and reward faculty of the highest quality.
Ryan teaches courses in twentieth-century and contemporary American literature. She has been a faculty member in the WVU English Department since 2000.
“My colleagues in English are fantastic teachers and researchers. The bar is set very high. I am constantly learning, and every day, students at WVU make me want to be a better teacher. I am grateful to all of them,” said Ryan.
There is a saying that if you love what you do, you’ll never work a day in your life. Ryan is not so sure. “Teaching is personal and joyous and terrifying and I love it, but it is work,” said Ryan. “There are no magic tricks. Not as far as I know.”
Ryan was awarded the 2014 Neil S. Bucklew Award for Social Justice, the 2008 James and Arthur Gabriel Brothers Faculty Award for teaching and service, the 2007 Eberly College Outstanding Teaching Award, and the 2007 WVU Foundation Outstanding Teaching Award.
“It is such an honor to be named an Eberly Distinguished Professor. I’m grateful to Mark Brazaitis, also in English, who encouraged me to apply, and to my colleagues and students who wrote absolutely beautiful letters of support. This process has made me aware of how fortunate I am to have such a phenomenal community of students, past and present,” said Ryan.
Her research focuses on literature and social issues, primarily the history and practice of incarceration. In 2012, she edited a collection of writings on the death penalty titled Demands of the Dead: Executions, Storytelling, and Activism in the United States. Her research has been published in American Literature, Modern Drama, African American Literature, Studies in the Novel, Philosophy and Literature, and Texas Studies in Literature and Language. She is drawn to literary works that examine our policing, criminal justice, and prison systems, and that help us to think outside the cage.
She is currently writing an essay on three memoirs published in the 1980s, a threshold decade in US prison history. It is the decade that announced the war on drugs, built the first supermaximum prison, opened the first privately run prison, and saw the first woman executed since the reinstatement of the death penalty. Ryan is increasingly focused on writings by imprisoned and formerly imprisoned people.
She serves as Chair of the Appalachian Prison Book Project (APBP), a nonprofit that she founded in 2004.APBP has sent out over 17,000 books to women and men imprisoned in West Virginia and five surrounding states. Ryan also facilitates a book club at the women’s prison at Hazelton Correctional Center.
As a Named Professor, Ryan will be called upon for extraordinary service commitments and to act as a mentor and leader within the University.