Lauren Kisare: Critical Language Scholar With a Future in Publishing

A natural community builder, Lauren Kisare’s time at Amherst has seen her excel at everything from journalism to studying Korean — all while bringing joy to the people around her.

Kisare plans to continuing to work in publishing after graduation, where she hopes to use her knowledge of Korean to take on editorial projects with Korean writers. Photo courtesy of Lauren Kisare '22.

A few things stand out immediately when you talk to Lauren Kisare ’22: her infectious humor, her sharp intellect, and her modesty about her own achievements. The last of these has made her, in the words of Professor of English in Film and Media Studies Amelie Hastie, “one of Amherst’s best kept secrets.” But as Hastie points out, “she’s not really a secret anymore.” Between journeying into the world of publishing, winning a Critical Language Scholarship to study in Korea, and keeping The Student’s Arts & Living section running through a pandemic, Kisare has both left a clear mark on the campus and carved out a meaningful career for herself.

Embracing English

When applying to colleges, Kisare decided early on that she was interested in the flexibility and community offered by liberal arts colleges, but was initially hesitant to apply to Amherst. She credits her father, a Tanzanian immigrant with family in Kenya, with encouraging her to do so. “Uhuru Kenyatta [the current president of Kenya] had gone to Amherst, so he was always like, ‘You should go to Amherst.’” Kisare was convinced, and considered Amherst her top choice by the time she was accepted.

Arriving at Amherst, the eventual English major initially thought that she would focus her studies on anthropology or sociology. “I was already really starting to like English,” Kisare recalled, “but [at the time] I didn’t know if English would take me anywhere.” Over the course of her first year, Kisare explored a variety of courses that eventually changed her mind. These ranged from “An Introduction to Economics,” which Kisare looks back on as “the worst mistake I ever could have made, in my entire college career,” to Samuel Williston Professor of English Geoffrey Sanborn’s “Engaging Literature: Craft, Conversation, and Community.” The latter of these was a revelation. “The literature we discussed was similar to what I’d studied in high school, but the way Professor Sanborn was approaching [it] was a lot more interesting and engaging,” Kisare said. “I saw my interest in writing grow because I realized that I could go in all of these creative directions.”

After taking that course in the spring of her first year, Kisare decided to delve deep into English. “If you look at my transcript after that,” she laughed, “it’s just four English courses, four English courses, four English courses.” Hastie, Kisare’s advisor, said, “As she would tell you, one of my goals was to get her to not only take English classes.”

“I was not always successful,” she added jokingly.

Introduction to Editing

Kisare’s engagement with the English Department and constant interest in improving her writing also shaped her extracurricular pursuits. During the fall of her sophomore year, she took “Nonfiction I” with Writer-in-Residence Min Jin Lee and realized that one of her favorite aspects of the class was editing assignments with other students. Kisare says she was inspired by the experience to start writing for The Student, hoping to both hone her writing and get the chance to discuss and edit pieces along with other students.

“It just so happened that that semester [then Managing Arts & Living Editor] Seoyeon [Kim ’21] was looking for another editor,” Kisare recalled. “And I was like, ‘Oh, that could be me! Why not?’” Kisare applied and got the position, continuing to edit for the newspaper until this past fall, when she left to study abroad in Korea. Beyond editing, Kisare also continued to write for the paper throughout this period, penning insightful reviews of artistic works from blockbusters like “Knives Out” and “Black Widow” to novels like “Where the Crawdads Sing.”

I started working with Kisare as a co-editor of the Arts & Living section about a month later, just after Covid had forced us all off campus and onto Zoom. Her attention to detail, smart comments, and constant kindness made her a natural community builder for the section. She also made use of what Carla Costa, program director for careers in arts and communication, called “her remarkable ability to keep that humanity alive, even in Zoom life,” coming up with “Performance Gone Virtual,” a series which highlighted the creative ways Amherst students managed to continue building community through art during the remote semesters. At the time, I was so impressed working with Kisare that it didn’t fully dawn on me until this interview that she had only started editing a handful of weeks before me.

“Seizing the Moment”

It was also while taking “Nonfiction I” that Kisare began developing an interest in publishing, which she now considers her first-choice career path. “I saw a life-altering Instagram,” said Kisare. “[Lee had] posted that her publisher put the spine of her book on the wall. And I was like, ‘Oh my gosh. She was published by Hachette Book Group, they’re a huge publisher.’ I thought that was so cool, and I [started to] look into how to intern for that publisher.”

That year, the Hachette internship evaded Kisare, but she was determined to find something similar. Throughout this period, Kisare began meeting with Costa, who she considers a major influence, for career counseling. The admiration goes both ways. “[Kisare] struck me as someone who was not only motivated by her professional goals but [who] puts her whole heart into everything,” Costa reflected.

By the end of the year, Kisare had two part-time internships lined up with literary agencies. She decided to take on both and work to fit them together into a cohesive schedule.

Kisare found working with the agencies, which mostly involved reading manuscripts and putting together critiques and recommendations, to be both engaging and rewarding, simultaneously allowing her to read a variety of interesting (and occasionally less interesting) texts, and to meaningfully comment on and shape them.

With more experience under her belt, Kisare decided to try applying to Hachette again during her junior year. The process was intimidating. “I feel like the resume and cover letter have to be so spot-on with publishing; literally, it’s all English majors reading your application,” Kisare said. This time around, however, she landed an editorial internship with Hachette’s Little, Brown and Company division, where she worked over the summer.

Since returning from studying abroad in the fall, Kisare has also returned to working with Hachette, now as an editorial assistant for Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, Hachette’s primary branch publishing children’s books. Kisare found the change in field to be surprisingly rewarding. “[When] I did literary fiction and narrative nonfiction,” Kisare recalled, “the manuscripts you’d get sent were huge … In comparison, with children’s fiction you have so much time … I can give way more in-depth editorial comments, I get to do so much more, and creatively it’s just so fun.”

Travel Abroad

Given Kisare’s focus on English at Amherst, her decision to spend five months of her senior studying abroad in South Korea might seem random. But for Kisare, who had originally hoped to study abroad at the start of her junior year, her interests made South Korea a natural choice. “People would sometimes ask me, ‘Why do you want to go to Korea?’ I would say ‘Why not?’” she reflected. “I already really liked the music, the pop culture, the food.”

Like anyone, Kisare faced challenges studying abroad in a country whose language she was still learning. “There were definitely times when I thought, ‘I don’t feel like speaking Korean today,’” Kisare said, “but I need[ed] to get to X or Y place.” Nonetheless, her enthusiasm to learn helped her settle in and work through her courses at Yonsei University covering everything from intensive language learning to Korean cinema — she even took a literary stylistics course in Yonsei’s English department. Alongside her educational interest and excitement at being in a new country, Kisare cites South Korea’s public transportation system as an important factor in helping her enjoy the visit: “So much better than the PVTA” is her review.

Kisare ended up enjoying her time in South Korea so much that she decided this spring to pursue a Critical Language Scholarship, an educational program funded by the U.S. Department of State which offers around 600 students opportunities to pursue intensive language study abroad each year. Kisare received the scholarship and will be returning to South Korea for an eight-week program after she graduates, this time in Gwangju. “I can’t wait to go back,” she said, noting that “I’m just really eager to dive back into intensive language learning and pursue something I’m truly passionate about.”

Kisare at Nami Island during her time studying abroad this past fall in South Korea. Having been awarded with a Critical Language Scholarship, Kisare will return to South Korea for eight weeks after graduating. Photo courtesy of Lauren Kisare '22.

Conclusion

After her time in Gwangju, Kisare sees a variety of paths in front of her. “I’m just excited to see what the possibilities are,” she said. “[The Critical Language Scholarship] reminded me that there’s so much more out there than Amherst.” Right now, Kisare is planning to continue working in publishing, where her deep interest in literature and capacity to creatively reexamine texts will surely help bring sharp insights to the fore. Whatever path she takes, one thing is certain: As Costa put it, “Lauren is someone who will bring a lot of joy to the people around her, and someone who will just be hitting her stride, actualizing, both professionally and personally.”