Sarah Kay, Brown University class of 2010, begins her interview by describing her experiences as a child during 9/11 in New York City. Kay recalls in great detail the effects that 9/11 had both on her family, as well as her budding interest in poetry. Kay continues by describing her decision to apply to and attend Brown University for her undergraduate degree. She discusses her time at Brown, and the lasting impact it had on her life and career, including memories from acapella, performing and teaching spoken word poetry at Hope High School, and her involvement with theatre troupes on campus. Kay then moves on to talk about her grandmother, likely the first Japanese-American woman to graduate from Pembroke college in 1946. Kay describes how the United States government allowed her grandmother to leave a Japanese internment camp in Arizona in order to attend university on the East Coast, and how Pembroke allowed her independence and freedom. Finally, Kay elaborates on her time after graduating from her undergraduate degree, her decision to get a Masters in teaching at Brown, and her sudden success just after college. She ends the interview by talking about the immense influence her Brown education has had on her poetry and self-expression.
Recorded on Apr 16, 2018 at Alumnae Hall, Brown University, Providence, RI.
Interviewed by Shuyan Wang, class of 2020, and Mary Murphy, Nancy L. Buc ’65 LLD‘94 hon Pembroke Center Archivist
Suggested Chicago style citation: Kay, Sarah. Interview. By Shuyan Wang and Mary Murphy. Pembroke Center Oral History Project, Brown University. April 16, 2018.
Sarah Kay was born in New York City in June 1988. She attended the United Nations International School in Manhattan, during which time Kay took part in her first poetry slam, cementing her interest in the arts. She entered Brown University in 2006 as a Chemistry major but then switched to Modern Culture and Media. During her time at Brown, Kay participated in several extracurricular activities, groups, and organizations, including the Higher Keys acapella group, Word (a poetry club), and the Production Workshop Theatre. While at Brown, Kay also taught spoken word poetry after school to students at Hope High School in Providence. This prompted her to pursue a Masters degree in education after graduating in 2010. She pursued her Masters concurrently with poetry tours and teaching. Kay performed “If I Should Have A Daughter” at the “Rediscovery of Wonder” TED Conference in 2011, launching her internationally successful career as a poet. Since then, Kay has performed all over the world, including venues such as Carnegie Hall, the United Nations, the Tribeca Film Festival, Lincoln Center Out of Doors, the Apollo Theater, the Royal Danish Theatre, and many others. She also founded and co-directs Project V.O.I.C.E, an educational program that promotes self-expression in the arts, and works to bring poetry to high school students. Additionally, Kay has also published four poetry books, B (2011), No Matter the Wreckage (2014), The Type (2016), and All Our Wild Wonder (2018). Kay was the youngest honoured speaker of the Willis M. Tate Distinguished Lecture Series at Southern Methodist University, the recipient of an Honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters from Grinnell College, a featured poet on the HBO Def Poetry Jam, and in 2006, she was the youngest poet competing at the National Poetry Slam in Austin, Texas.