Thayer’s Kautsire publishes second memoir
Thayer Academy English Faculty Caroline Kautsire’s latest memoir, Some Kind of Girl: An African Girl Looking for America, begins in 2004 when Kautsire, alone in the United States save for two brothers, arrives at Logan International Airport in Boston. The Malawian girl is 17, or about the age of the juniors in her current classes, and she has never stepped foot in a culture that isn’t predominantly Black.
“I was a speck of pepper in a bowl of salt,” described Kautsire in the memoir, which launches Dec. 16.
The new book is a sequel to — and in many ways an answer to — What Kind of Girl?, Kautsire’s first memoir published in 2020. That book chronicled Kautsire’s struggles within the well-mannered but limiting culture of Malawi in the 1990s, a culture which expected girls and women to be passive, submissive, and just downright shy.
“You aren’t expected to use your voice,” explains Kautsire, adding that the title is a nod to the questions she would get as a young girl in Malawi: What kind of girl doesn’t want to cook? What kind of girl argues? Etc.
In Some Kind of Girl, Kautsire recounts her own journey of self-discovery upon coming to the United States and facing the impossibility of following both African and Western traditions for women. She explores an awakening to a new sense of personal liberty but one that comes at a cost — namely, profound insecurities about gender, race, class, language, and sexuality.
“I was coming to find the American Dream and discover my authentic identity,” she says.
Asked if that dream came true for her, Kautsire quotes Shakespeare’s Ophelia in Act IV, Scene 5 of Hamlet — “We know what we are, but know not what we may be” — before choosing her own words: “It’s an ongoing process, and I am still open to possibility, to what I may become. The transformative journey is what I embrace.”
Kautsire again employs a literary reference — this time Nick Carraway, the fictional character and narrator in F. Scott’s Fitzgerald 1925 classic The Great Gatsby — to describe what she sees as her dual role in her adopted American society.
“I feel like Nick Carraway in that I am from within and also from without,” she says. “I am from within because I am part of America, part of that melting pot, part of that diversity. But I also know that I am from without because I was cultured differently for 17 years.”
Having now spent slightly more time in the United States than her original home of Malawi, Kautsire is no longer wide-eyed and innocent about an America whose streets are paved with gold, the one she saw on American television shows as a schoolgirl.
“I came to America believing that America could do no wrong,” she says. “I realize now that America is just as fragile, just as unfinished as any other nation.”
But she is also here to tell her readers, her students, and anyone who will listen that the American Dream is a reality, one found in the experiences she has shared and the people who have shaped her life these past two decades.
“The American Dream does exist, and it’s that people in America have options,” says Kautsire. “Those options mean you don’t have to settle for one way of existing. Self-expression in America allows people to find different joys, different versions of kindness, different versions of identity.”
And for Kautsire, that self-expression has led to her new memoir.
“I made the decision to tell my own story and take control of the narrative,” she says.
Before starting at Thayer this year, Kautsire was a college professor of English for 13 years in the Boston area. She is a mentor for the Women’s Launch Pad at Brown University. She is also a stage actress, a poet, an activist, and a motivational speaker for organizations that focus on diversity, equity, and inclusion.