Princeton Profiles: Kay Gabriel, exploring classical literature and an artistic life

June 13, 2016 noon
Kay Gabriel sitting outside on bench
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Kay Gabriel, a Princeton University doctoral student in classics, is focusing her research on tragedy and reception, as well as sexual violence in ancient Greek and Roman literature. Her love of poetry, baking and running complement and provide a release from her rigorous academic work. (Video by Danielle Alio, Office of Communications)

Kay Gabriel is a doctoral candidate in classics at Princeton whose research focuses on tragedy and reception as well as sexual violence in ancient Greek and Roman literature. 

Gabriel earned a bachelor's degree in classics and philosophy at Columbia University in 2013. She won a Euretta J. Kellett Fellowship for postgraduate study at Trinity Hall, Cambridge University, where she completed her MPhil in classics in 2014 with a thesis on the fragments of Sappho and the Homeric Hymn to Aphrodite.

Gabriel said that her academic work requires a "combination of having really close attention to a text at hand, having the right historical background to know what a certain word means in a certain context … and having the command of theory in the sense of how to think abstractly about your work."

A published poet, she is also a co-founder and co-editor of "Vetch: A Journal of Trans Poetry and Poetics."

"Poetry for me is almost like a habit for me I never learned to kick," Gabriel said. "When I knew that I wanted to pursue an academic career, it became very important to me to have an artistic life outside of it."

Gabriel said her poetry and her scholarly endeavors share many of the same concerns, including "problems of representation, problems of narrative, configuration, metaphor." She said that what "makes me very interested to look at in a poem also makes me interested when I write."

She acknowledged that doctoral studies in the humanities can be challenging and intense. "Producing compelling research that is well articulated and well argued and well structured and actually says something new is very difficult," she said.

Her passions for running and baking complement the rigorous academic work and poetry writing.

"Running just lets me clear my head and really get out of my brain," she said. "I can also take something from a paper I can't figure out or something from a poem I'm trying to express, and somehow, with a lot of adrenaline coursing through my brain, I start to work out more of an answer."

Baking at her campus residence at Lawrence Apartments provides a creative break. "If I'm feeling a lot of frustration, I can mix a bread dough and that needs to be kneaded for 10 or 12 minutes," Gabriel said. "Baking is a way for me to learn something in a lot of very meticulous detail, which has nothing to do with what I'm studying at all."

It's also a way for her to connect with other graduate students and friends. "I can always show up at a dinner party with a pie … It's a great way for me to show a lot of care and affection to the people I love," she said.