Alumna Awarded Prestigious Eudora Welty Prize for New Scholarly Book

Casey Kayser, PhD, ’01 IND, assistant professor of English and director of the Medical Humanities Program at the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville, recently was awarded the prestigious Eudora Welty Prize for her book Marginalized: Southern Women Playwrights Confront Race, Region, and Gender, which was published by the University Press of Mississippi in September 2021.

Kayser earned a degree in English from Westminster in 2001 before studying the subject in more depth through earning a master’s degree from the University of Missouri in 2003 and a PhD from Louisiana State University in 2010. Read further to learn how Westminster College influenced the career choice of the Jefferson City, MO, native.

How do you feel about receiving the Eudora Welty Prize? I am humbled and so very honored to have won the Eudora Welty Prize. I have been a great admirer of her work for a long time, so it means a lot to me.

How did you become interested the topic of the book? My interest in southern women’s literature actually originated at Westminster College, in Dr. Carolyn Perry’s Southern Women’s Literature course. I was immediately drawn to southern literature, especially women’s writing. Studying playwrights was a natural corollary to my interest in drama and theater. I loved attending plays from an early age, and I minored in theater at Westminster.

What inspired your decision to pursue a degree in higher education, particularly in English? Again, my time at Westminster was very pivotal. I remember being a senior and suddenly encountering this strange feeling that I was only just beginning to learn … starting to make connections between different topics and understanding concepts on a deeper level. I knew my education was far from over. I had always loved reading and writing, and my BA was in English, so it seemed natural for me to continue studying that subject.

Can you describe the most important element of your Westminster College education? The wonderful faculty I encountered there, who were passionate about their teaching and made me excited about learning. They really helped shape my own teaching today.

Who were your favorite faculty members? Carolyn Perry, Rebecca Shapiro, and Wayne Zade in English; Ted Jaeger and David Jones in Psychology; Bill Young in Religious Studies; and my theater director and professor, the late, great Doug Allbritton. I also have to mention how compassionate Bob Hansen was in interacting with students inside and outside the classroom, and I was very sad to hear of the passing of Pat Kirby, who was Vice President and Dean of Enrollment Services when I was at Westminster and such a special person. He was always cheerful and welcoming and went out of his way to make me and my family feel special at campus events.

Other than the Westminster faculty, who else has supported you along the way? I am grateful to my parents, Jim and Kay Kayser, for always supporting and encouraging me. My sister, Christy Kayser, is also a Westminster alumna (2005) and my best friend. Her daughter, my niece Clara, is such a joy to all of us.

What is your favorite Westminster memory? This is a tough question. I have so many wonderful memories of Westminster, from social events and friends to academic work to extracurricular activities. But I have especially fond memories of my time working in theater productions at Westminster, learning under Doug Allbritton and collaborating with my fellow cast members. Some of my favorite roles include playing Rosa in Tennessee Williams’ Summer and Smoke and Mina Harker in Dracula.

What book would you recommend to Westminster students? I would recommend my all-time favorite novel Carson McCullers’ The Heart is a Lonely Hunter. In that text, McCullers creates a beautiful portrait of a small town and the characters there, who are different from one another in significant ways — race, gender, age, (dis)ability, politics — but search for, and in some cases, find connectedness. A more contemporary novel I’ve read recently that I would recommend is Ann Patchett’s The Dutch House.

What do you do in your free time? I like to read (surprise!), run outside, spend time with friends and family, and sell my vintage 1980s toys on Ebay.


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Sarah Rummel Backer

Sarah Rummel Backer is the Director of Media Relations and Senior Writer at Westminster College in Fulton, Missouri. A proud Westminster graduate, Sarah has more than 20 years of experience in marketing and strategic communications in the areas of higher education, medicine, agriculture, and the private business sector.