Faculty Focus: Kevin Murphy

From Gunsmoke to the Shores of Japan: Kevin Murphy Builds a Fascinating Career One Story at a Time

By Julie Epstein |   October 2010

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.”