Author, teacher, scholar adds depth to WordPlay work

Meet Kate Spencer.

​Whether she’s analyzing the ethics in a 1950s TV Western, performing historical folk dances in hand-crafted costumes or working one-on-one with teens from Aiken High School at WordPlay, Kate Spencer exudes passion.

The WordPlay volunteer and tutor joined us last year and wasted no time offering up decades worth of lesson plans and strategies to teach secondary learners how to craft compelling essays and stories. She not only serves on WordPlay’s Curriculum Committee, she volunteers weekly with our signature after-school program for high-school youth, WordUP.

“There is so much untapped potential,” she says of the students who attend WordUP, which is designed to build writing and communication skills along with a strong sense of community and self-confidence. “I love empowering them to find their way to what’s inside them.”

Kate in her own creation, a replica 1860 ball gown.

A Scholarly History.

Spencer taught literature and writing at five college and universities before starting her volunteer stint in Northside. She won multiple fellowships from the National Endowment for the Humanities for her research into Gothic and Victorian era literature after she earned her PhD in English Literature from UCLA.

Though she’s published extensively about Dracula and science fiction, she’s taught about topics as diverse as Theater, Women Writers, African American Writers and Shakespeare.

During her stint at Cincinnati State Technical and Community College, she developed a theater program and taught Composition to students, many of whom were the first in their families to attend college. “I discovered that my own skills are best drawn out by the kids who need the most support,” Spencer says.

Folk Dancing & TV Westerns

In addition to her volunteer work at WordPlay, Spencer is dedicated to keeping history alive through international folk dancing. She and her husband dance weekly and also perform throughout the year as part of the Forget Me Not Historical Dancers.

“We get to do everybody’s dances,” says Spencer, who makes all of her own costumes. From 1860s social dances to ragtime, Spencer transforms into a Jane Austen look-a-like or a Roaring 20s flapper depending on the song selection of the day.

Spencer’s interests range beyond teaching and preserving history through dance, though. She’s a born storyteller who has more in common with one of her childhood idols than she realizes. Her latest book, Art and Politics in Have Gun—Will Travel, examines the ethical practices of Paladin, the 1950s TV Western gun-slinger who fascinated her when she first watched the show.

“I grew up watching this show, and I decided I wanted to be Paladin, undeterred by the fact that I was a girl,” she says.

Spencer was reminded of the show when it was referenced in the movie “Stand By Me.” She eventually found recordings of it and re-watched all the episodes. She wanted to see if the series withstood the test of time and our evolving expectations of entertainment. “They were better than I remembered,” she says.

In Spencer’s new book about the show, which she discussed recently on WVXU, she explains how the show’s protagonist set about righting the wrongs of the world.

“He uses fierce intelligence to make things better for people,” she says.

Sounds like an apt description of Spencer’s work at WordPlay and in the world.

More About Kate

Hear Spencer discuss her new book on WVXU.

Read more about and order your own copy of Art and Politics in Have Gun—Will Travel.

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