Faculty Focus: Kevin Murphy
From Gunsmoke to the Shores of Japan: Kevin Murphy Builds a Fascinating Career One Story at a Time
Kevin Murphy , Faculty
School of Undergraduate Studies,UMUC Asia
Marshall Dillon had run out of bullets. Festus might die of those seven snake bites. And Miss Kitty probably couldn’t keep outsmarting those drunken cowpokes. But at 8:30 p.m. sharp, it was time for an adolescent Kevin Murphy and his sister to turn off Gunsmoke and go to bed. Where television left off, Kevin's imagination took over. To calm his sister's concerns for their heroes, he would whisper episode endings to her as she drifted off to sleep. Out of brotherly kindness—or perhaps fate—he became a storyteller.
Today, Kevin is grown up but writing and storytelling have largely shaped his life. After graduating from Florida State with a PhD in Creative Writing, Murphy received what would become a life-changing book: Japan in Color. The pictures of geishas, sumo wrestlers, children in kimonos and golden shrines popped on the page and stole Kevin's imagination. With this, he resolved to experience the beauty he saw first-hand. With his PhD and some experience teaching for the PACE program on Navy ships under his belt, Kevin headed East to pursue his goal.
Following his imagination paid off. For the past 15 years, Kevin has been doing what he loves—teaching in Japan for UMUC Asia. He instructs courses in writing, speech, library skills, Shakespeare and American literature. “Some days I can’t believe that I am paid to stand around and talk about Shakespeare or Hemingway,” he says. “Of course, when I am grading my fifth set of English 101 essays at the end of the term, I do have the sense that I am earning my keep.”
Joking aside, Kevin says he also feels particularly lucky to teach his military students. "The diversity of stories I’m told through narration essays in my classes is refreshing," he says. "I also admire the drive of the students who work such long hours . . . and then come into my class, not just ready to learn, but also to meet the challenge of composing 6,000 words in eight weeks."
To keep students engaged, Kevin says he models his teaching style after a game of musical chairs, "but with everyone winning". Rather than teaching one topic the entire class, he might switch up topics every 15 minutes. "Having sat through a few three-hour classes myself, I’ve learned that these long sessions have to be dynamic if students are going to be able to survive them after their 12-hour workdays," says Kevin.
In addition to promoting active class sessions, Kevin can be found in motion outside of the classroom, as well. In his spare time, he plays beach volleyball. "I think it is one of the best ways to experience Okinawa’s beauty," he says. "Nothing is as peaceful as standing on the beach near dawn with my feet in the sand, the white ball floating in the blue sky above, the breeze bringing the crisp scent of the ocean. Not to mention enjoying the glory of a ball set perfectly and the resulting spike."
Looking back on his journey and how he got where he is today, Kevin thinks back to childhood. He says that he believes that creating story endings for his sister led to storytelling in general, then writing, then writing classes, then teaching writing classes, then to teaching writing classes in Japan. In all, he is proof that dreams can come true, including those developed in childhood. Says Kevin: “The boy is indeed father to the man.”