Meet The Professors

by Kat Weigle

UTSA’s English department is known for attracting top-notch professorial talent. Here’s an opportunity to glimpse the personalities behind the PhDs!

Kimberly Fonzo, PhD.

Dr. Fonzo is our resident Medievalist and armored heroine who seems to bring centuries old literature into the present with quirky and exciting new perspectives. Nowhere else will you find a professor who justifiably appreciates the humors of Chaucer and Pee-wee Herman equally.

Can you tell a bit about your background that we won’t find on your CV?

I’m really involved with my neighborhood, Tobin Hill. I’m on the board of the neighborhood association, and I meet up with my hilarious and wonderful neighbors almost every week. I mainly moved there for all of the great food nearby. I’m a huge fan of breakfast tacos and micheladas, and I have a ranking system for which ones are my favorites. I also love that I can walk to any of the clubs on the St. Mary’s strip and see live music or check out a live art show nearby. Live, local art brings people together in a way that mass media can’t. I just love being part of a community and knowing the people around me.

What is your favorite class to teach?

Probably my Chaucer graduate seminar. I hope to offer my Chaucer course at the undergraduate level soon too. For one, Chaucer is hilarious, so there’s always fun to be had in each class. For another, I enjoy teaching Middle English translation and pronunciation skills, and Chaucer is an easy author to start with because his dialect isn’t too difficult. Most importantly, Chaucer is such a rich storyteller. Because he plays with a variety of source texts, genres, word meanings, and literary figures, we will never run out of questions to ask and explore about his work.

What is your favorite field of research/specific research interests?

My current research is on the ways that popular political wartime prophecies entered late fourteenth and early fifteenth-century literature and how this (somewhat accidentally) had the effect of constructing early conceptions of authorship. I argue that English literature has a longstanding tradition of viewing authors as prophets and that this has a lot to do with the ways that authors were used by political movements in the late medieval period. Prophecy enters into other areas of my research as well. I’m working on a project that looks at ways that the Devil is depicted on the medieval stage in order to encourage or discourage skepticism in visionaries and mystics. In the past, I’ve directed some medieval plays and plan to do so in the future.

What is your favorite space in San Antonio?

There’s a spot along the Riverwalk, pretty far from the tourists, where I go to read by myself. I can’t tell you exactly where it is because you’ll all steel my spot! Sometimes I’ll read a chapter, walk a mile, and then stop on a new bench somewhere else. When it gets dark and I can’t read, I love the sunfish hanging under the I-35 overpass along the Museum Reach. In general, I’m really impressed with the art along the Riverwalk, but I like the fish in particular because they’re beautiful when they light up at night. We should be proud of the Riverwalk. No other city has anything like it, and there are so many parts of it to explore.

Is there a literary figure you could name who had a profound impact on you personally or academically?

Christine de Pizan was the writer who won me over to medieval literature. She’s considered the first professional female writer in France, and she turned to writing as a young widow to support her family. I discovered her in college, and I was so impressed with how craftily she was able to work as a woman in the very male-dominated fields of literature and politics. In her writing, she would use the examples of famous female women, especially the Sibyls of antiquity, to not only defend herself from misogyny but to promote herself as someone who could see the world from a unique angle. She’s someone who tapped into her talents in order to better her life, and that’s what I’ve aspired to do. Now, I try to help my students do the same.

Do you have a guilty pleasure, pop culture or otherwise?

I can’t believe that I’m admitting this, but I’ve loved Pee-wee Herman since childhood. I still watch his Christmas special every year, and I can quote Pee-wee’s Big Adventure by heart. I haven’t tried to watch the show in a long time though.

What's the story behind the Sombrilla photo with the suit of armor? Were you channeling a specific character or historical figure? Also, rumor has been flying that you had to wear extensions for the photo. Can you confirm or deny this?

You know, I’m not even sure exactly how I ended up in that suit of armor. Someone from UTSA’s public relations office called me and said that they were interviewing new professors. In the sort of preliminary interview, I let it slip that I used to be a stage actress before graduate school. When the Sombrilla called back for a longer interview, they kept asking me about my favorite medieval characters, and I mentioned that I’d written about Christine de Pizan’s portrayal of Joan of Arc. They explained that they wanted me to do a photo shoot dressed as Joan of Arc to go along with the article. I guess that, since I had a background in theatre, they thought I wouldn’t mind getting dressed up in some crazy medieval getup…and of course, they were correct! Later, someone got back to me to say that they hadn’t found my costume yet, but that I was going to be on the cover of the university magazine. That’s when I got scared that I would look ridiculous and completely ruin my reputation at UTSA before the end of my first year. One day, my students were performing in class, and one of them wore a full suit of armor with a sword for his scene. I went ahead and asked him if he’d mind if I borrowed it for the photo shoot because I thought, “At least this looks pretty cool!” The art director of the Sombrilla was so happy that I’d managed to procure my own costume. They hired a stylist for me, which I had not expected. She had pictures in her makeup kit of when she’d styled Selena in the 90s, so I felt pretty important. It took about an hour for her to do my hair and makeup, and she had to do it with the armor already on because I could only get it off and on by pulling it over my head. That armor was so heavy too! The stylist did bring hair extensions, but they were more platinum colored than my blonde hair, so she layered them underneath. You can spot them in the picture if you look for them. It’s funny that they wanted big hair for the shoot since Joan of Arc is famous for her cutting hers off. Somewhere along the line, I think that the Joan of Arc theme got scrapped for a more general woman-with-sword theme, and I’m OK with that. It was a fun experience, and it was neat to see my students get excited about it. Heck, people are still asking me about it two years later! I’m sure when I’m older, I’ll frame it and put it somewhere in my office. It was a nice way to be welcomed to campus.

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