Everything Beautiful is Small
Dr. Kenneth James Speirs Through the Words of his Students
by Daniel K. Speirs
Professor Kenneth Speirs lived life boldly and with passion. Not for him the ordinary or the practical. Life was to be seized and made into an adventure. He left behind two young boys and a beautiful wife and countless students who loved him. Writes a friend, “With Kenny, time became fatter and richer and slower, the world became more generous, experiences yielded up more stories, we all became a bit better at making the world bend, even if just slightly, in our direction.” Kenny struck up ebullient conversations with strangers. He was gut-splittingly funny. He was a tough competitor. He had great hair that went blond on his arms in the summer. He always preferred to walk. He was an athlete gorgeous to watch. He was a lifelong runner. He indulged his wanderlust. He doubted himself. He reveled in his lanky, capable body. He lived with style and always recognized beauty. For Kenny, everything was meaningful. Each written word was an expressive choice. He was a romantic to the core. He began every class he taught with a personal story. He loved Melville, Hawthorne, Emerson, Thoreau, Faulkner, Shakespeare. He loved Bob Dylan and Van Morrison, the Lakers and the Dodgers. The last book he taught was Cormac McCarthy’s The Road. In it a father and a son strive to endure in an apocalyptic world. At the end, the father dies and the boy must carry on. Ken suffered a heart attack while running the Berkeley Half Marathon on November 24, 2013. He died on December 11, 2013. He earned his PhD in English from New York University in 1998, writing a dissertation on Herman Melville. He went on to teach in China, Taiwan, New York, LA, and most recently UC Berkeley and Diablo Valley College. Over his professional career he was awarded several NEH grants, other research awards, and a Fulbright. This collection of student letter, teacher evaluations, class notes and words of wisdom are for his family, friends and students.