Kathryn McQuade Grounds Passion for Creative Writing in- “Game of Thrones”

When Kathryn McQuade, Instructor in English, isn’t teaching in the classroom or working on her upcoming book, she’s catching up on the latest episode of “Game of Thrones.” Since McQuade started watching the show in 2012, it has informed her roles as both a teacher and a novelist.

This month, McQuade was featured in “The Lily,” the female-run and women-oriented subset of “The Washington Post.” In the article “Game of Thrones Is Full of Heroines. But Is the Series Actually Feminist?” Mcquade spoke with author Courtney Sender about how women are depicted in the show, a topic that McQuade finds pertinent to both her creative work and the political scene.

“Writing this article was terrifically fun—not just because I got to throw ideas back and forth with Courtney Sender, who is a brilliant writer, but because feminism and cultural criticism are topics that lend themselves to collaborative thinking,” wrote McQuade in an email to The Phillipian.

“Almost everything I write has to do with feminism, so it’s hard for me not to view ‘Game of Thrones’ through that lens. That said, I find it hard to imagine that anyone could watch the show in contemporary America and not at least consider the ways it mirrors, or fails to mirror, our political moment,” continued McQuade.

In addition to its political relevance, McQuade also values the show for its nuanced characterization. According to McQuade, the show has provided her with insight into the complexity of fictional characters.

“No one on ‘Game of Thrones’ is wholly good or wholly evil. Even the cruelest characters are given backstories, and the most morally admirable characters are often done in—not in spite of their goodness, but because of it. There are great lessons here for any writer,” wrote McQuade

McQuade has taken these ideas into her new novel, ‘Tell Me Who We Were,’ which considers the meaning of femininity in modern America. The novel will be released by William Morrow, an imprint of HarperCollins, this July.

“The book is a collection of linked stories about a group of girls at a boarding school (not Andover!) who try to solve the mystery of their teacher’s death. Their attempts bring about some bad consequences, and the book traces the girls through the years that follow: each girl gets one story that looks at how that early trauma impacts her later in life,” wrote McQuade.

Jeffrey Domina, Instructor in English, has admired McQuade’s creative work for years.

“I’ve read her novel [‘Two Harbors’] years ago, and I’ve read her poems and stories here and there. I was lucky to get an advanced copy of this new book, and I knew it was going to be good. I was so excited to read it for all kinds of reasons, but I was so impressed by all the stories’ stylistic and structural ambition. These are stories that, even if I had no personal connection to Ms. McQuade, I would be thrilled to read,” said Domina.

Domina also considered McQuade’s presence on campus as well as her ability to balance a passion for creative writing with a dedication to her students.

“From the start, I found her to be one of the warmest and most engaging colleagues in the department and in the school more broadly and at the same time, one of the sharpest intellects, most masterful teachers, and aside from that, this amazing artist who somehow finds the time and energy and intellectual and artistic bandwidth to write and work at it and do it really well, so she is tremendous,” said Domina.

When Erica Nam ’19 arrived to Andover as a new Lower, she found a welcoming presence in McQuade’s English-200 class. Nam, who took McQuade’s English-524 class this fall, expressed appreciation for McQuade’s enthusiasm during each class period.

“[McQuade is] just amazing. It’s really hard to describe. When I first came here as a student, a new Lower, she made me feel so welcome, and then I loved how she was so prepared, enthusiastic, and ready to teach every day when she entered the classroom,” said Nam.

Although McQuade had taken an interest in creative writing before coming to Andover, she credits her time at the school with helping to develop her skills as a writer.

“I was technically a writer before I got here. But Andover is where I learned how to be a thoughtful writer. There is no better training than sitting in a classroom full of brilliant students, taking stories apart piece by piece, and talking about how they work,” wrote McQuade.

In Winter Term, Fiona Kass ’19 was a student in McQuade’s English-501 Creative Nonfiction class. According to Kass, McQuade’s independent work in creative writing benefited the classroom environment.

“She was always around. It seemed like she had some other things going on, but she never put it before the class. If anything, I think it helped us and her both just by her gaining more knowledge from the writing process and sharing it with us,” said Kass.

McQuade’s advice to aspiring creative writers is to enter the work with a bit of uncertainty, a strategy that McQuade has found helpful in her own experience.

“Don’t try to figure out all of your ideas, much less a ‘point,’ before you start writing. I think creative work, unlike analytical work, is most interesting when it’s driven by questions rather than answers. So write with curiosity. Write to discover something that will surprise even you, the writer. To be honest, it’s only once I’ve written something down that I can go back and figure out what I was trying to write in the first place,” wrote McQuade.