Higher education transformed the life of world-renowned U-Idaho professor and writer
“I grew up in the logging camps of north central Idaho, along the feeding streams of the Clearwater River, much of the time without electricity or running water,” recalls Kim Barnes. “My parents were from “poor-dirt” Oklahoma sharecroppers. Even though we were marginalized financially, socially, culturally and isolated in every way, my parents found ways to bring us an education. When the traveling salesman came around, they bought the encyclopedias for $5 a month and I read them 500 times.
Now a full professor of English in the College of Letters, Arts and Social Sciences, or CLASS. Barnes says financial support was critical in her attaining a degree and doing post-graduate studies.
“The financial support I received was essential. I didn’t have a car and the thing we forget about the West, the rural west, is that it’s not like you can just jump on a subway. So when I started, I went to the financial aid office and said ‘I need a car. I don’t know if I can keep going to school.’ They came up with enough support to buy me a very old Dodge Coronet. And without that car, my college education would have come to an end.”
Thanks to that simple, but essential financial support, Barnes was able to start a journey that today is filled with professional accolades. She is a world- renowned writer, Pulitzer Prize-nominated author, PEN USA Award-winning novelist for "A Country Called Home" and a respected scholar with whom students from across the country come to study with in the College of Letters, Arts and Social Sciences.
“The University of Idaho community is different from many others I’ve been in,” Barnes said. “The administration and faculty are so invested in what students are doing, “We all work really hard to foster that sense of community and we work together toward shared goals. We want one another to succeed; and we want our students to succeed.”
It is this sense of community that appeals to Barnes and her husband, poet Robert Wrigley, also a faculty member. “We could live anywhere. But we choose Moscow and the University of Idaho. That says something,” she says.
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