Save Room on the Bookshelf for this Author
Issue   |   Fri, 05/23/2014 - 12:11
Photo courtesy of Kimberly Bain '14
Bain was awarded the Elizabeth Bruss Prize by the Amherst English Department. For her senior thesis, she wrote a novel titled "Shards of Ghosts."

I’ve spent the past three years admiring Kim Bain from a distance. Literally from a distance, as in straining my neck over a frenzied audience to see her dominate a DASAC show or watching her TA from the back of my 80-person English class. She’s kind of a big deal.

Veteran of multiple dance groups, indispensable member of the English Department Steering Committee and winner of this year’s Elizabeth Bruss Prize, Bain is a powerhouse — and that’s just what those of us who admire her from a distance get to see.

She’s an award-winning writer, but she’s not about to tell you so herself. Her talent nevertheless has a way of revealing itself, turning even our short breakfast interview into a site of wonderful storytelling.

Culture Shock

Bain was born in Trinidad and moved to the States when she was eight years old. What threw her for a loop during this major transition? The shopping carts, of course.

“In the supermarkets ... in Trinidad they’re, like, half that size. Maybe even close to a third of that size,” she began. “And I remember coming here and being absolutely amazed that there could be a grocery cart that’s that massive and that people could fill it with food. And they could actually purchase the food, and that was just really astounding to me, and I remember standing in the cereal aisle and just watching this wall of cereal and being absolutely confounded as to how people could choose and how they could afford all these cereals and I thought it was just the greatest thing ever.” It’s a childhood memory that she recalls “very viscerally” to this day.

Bain first visited Amherst during one of our trademark gloom and doom days. You know the ones: cold that you just can’t shake, topped off with an unrelenting drizzle and wrapped in lifeless gray. It gave her a less-than-favorable impression of the campus, but she applied anyway. Flash forward to May, and Bain found herself deciding between Columbia and Amherst. She gave the college another shot and visited during Admitted Students Weekend. To her great delight, “the weather was gorgeous and everything was green and it was warm.” It’s no mystery which institution she chose, and Amherst has its beautiful spring scenery to thank for snagging Kim Bain.

Ink Stains

If you’ve attended a DASAC or Amherst Dance performance in recent years, you’ll know how impossible it is to ignore Bain on stage.

She’s no bit player. Bain stars in several numbers each show and never misses a beat. The sheer amount of choreography she memorizes for a performance is intimidating enough without her flawless execution and unlimited energy.

“That’s how I de-stress,” she said of the multiple “very long and very time-consuming” rehearsals. “The great thing is working out your body and not your brain. You can just step away from academics.”

Bain joined Amherst Dance her very first semester at Amherst. She was drawn to the group’s informal feel as well as its inclusiveness. She got into a hip-hop piece and the rest is — you know.

She joined two more dance groups in her sophomore year: Dancing and Stepping at Amherst College (DASAC) and the DBJ, a Five College K-pop dance crew. “And from then I just did so much dancing,” she said.

Bain has managed to make time for even more extracurriculars. She was a part of Autopsy, an on-campus club devoted to screening controversial films and opening them up for discussion by students and professors alike.

“I also quasi-started a writing club with writers who just wanted to find a community so they could do their stuff,” she said.
“It was called Ink Stains.”

We laughed for a bit.

“Which I felt was very clever ... clearly I’m the only one who’s enjoying that.”

(I disagree.)

On It!

Ever ambitious, Bain entered Amherst set on becoming an English and Psychology double major. To her first-year advisor, LJST Professor Martha Umphrey, she declared, “I want to take three languages, I want to take Spanish, Chinese and Japanese, plus I want to take Intro to Psych and an English class! So I think five classes would be acceptable.”

She was promptly encouraged to turn things down a notch, which led to her taking, and falling for, Chinese. In what she describes as an unexpected turn of events, Bain ended up pairing her English major with Asian Languages and Civilizations.
The English Department seems pretty thrilled to have her, too.

Professor Judith Frank, the English Department Director of Studies, had this to say about her involvement in the Department:

“Kim won the Elizabeth W. Bruss Award in our department, which is the prize we give in memory of one of the most beloved professors we’ve had. Kim has been a brilliant and versatile student, and has done more to create a sense of community among English majors than anyone in recent memory. She also worked as an assistant for several professors (me, Prof. Cobham-Sander), making our lives both easier and more pleasant. Her signature ‘On it!’ — her response to our email requests — was always a joy to get, and we joke about how without Kim being on it, we don’t know how any of us will function in the future.”

Cobham-Sander added, “Kim didn’t only keep the English Department running. She probably kept at least three of us in the Department focused for most of the last two years. She worked as my academic intern for my digital humanities course that I taught in collaboration with colleagues on two other campuses and the logistical organization that it involved was overwhelming. I would never have been able to manage the course without her assistance.”

Bain has been a part of the English Department’s Steering Committee since the beginning of her sophomore year. The committee acts as a liaison between students and faculty, and even has some input during the department’s hiring process.
Bain continues to impress inside the classroom, as well.

Shards of Ghosts

“So, for my thesis, I wrote a novel,” Bain said.

To wit, she submitted a third of a novel, but has written more than half of it. “It’s a novel on postcolonial identity and it features three main characters who are all from different parts of the world. So we have one young girl who lives in the Caribbean, another woman who lives in Hong Kong, another one, a guy, who lives in India, in Bangalore, and they sort of each go on journeys, discovering who they are on different levels.” she explained.

The novel is called “Shards of Ghosts.”

“The title is sort of tied up with the past being ghostlike and still existing in this in-between plane but also shard-like, because it can actually still hurt you. It can be dangerous,” Bain said.

Bain remembers her thesis-writing process as riddled with false starts. However, there came a point where she realized she couldn’t keep going back, and turning in ten single-spaced pages to her thesis advisor, Visiting Writer Amity Gaige, became significantly easier.

“Kim was a steady, wise thesis student. After my comments she’d disappear and then reappear with comprehensive revisions. I was amazed by her ability to translate fairly ambitious concepts into powerful fictions. I kept expecting her to say, enough! But she never did. And her amazing novel-in-progress is the result,” Gaige said.

Bain is a meticulous writer, preferring to write in sequence — as opposed to penning especially interesting scenes ahead of time — and keeping bio sheets for her characters that are not limited to hair and eye color. “[It’s] things that’ll never end up in the actual book but sort of flesh out who they are as a person. Do they like crunchy carrots or do they like baked carrots, you know? They don’t like carrots at all!” Bain said.

Bain described her work as character-driven. Her goal in life is to write a character who is universally despised but whose story is nevertheless beloved. “That’s the height of skill,” she added.

Confidence Boost

The most exciting incident in Bain’s Amherst career was getting her driver’s license. The second was winning the Peter Burnett Howe Prize for excellence in prose fiction her junior year. “I think that was a proud moment for me, just because it really sort of told me ... you’re doing something that would be worthwhile, because it’s sort of hard to jump into the abyss and not get any response back,” Bain said.

Bain revealed that it took earning the award to gain a sense of confidence in her abilities as a writer outside of a classroom setting, adding, “You read other people’s work and you think, ‘Wow, this is amazing. Mine doesn’t stand up.’ And we don’t have the distance to judge our own work.”

Homeward Bound

Bain, a New Yorker, plans to relocate to the Big Apple — if not the Bay Area — after graduation to work in either marketing and PR or publishing. In the long-term, she’ll pursue a doctorate in comparative literature. That doesn’t mean she’s giving up producing literature of her own.

“I really love writing,” she said. “I don’t intend on ever stopping. I still want to take fiction writing classes and write and try to get published.”