Kenneth Speirs
Former LBCC professor Kenneth James Speirs

Alejandro Nicholas H. / Staff Writer

LBCC teachers and friends remember Kenneth James Speirs by a favorite quote of his from Ralph Waldo Emerson: “God will not have his work made manifest by cowards.”

His wife San San Kwan, associate professor at U.C. Berkeley said, “Dr. Speirs suffered a heart attack on Nov. 24 while running the Berkeley Half Marathon,” later dying from complications on Dec. 11. Speirs was 49.

He was born Oct. 28, 1964 in Torrance. He grew up in Palos Verdes. He received his bachelor’s from Boston University, his master’s in English from Northwestern University and his PhD in 19th American literature from New York University.

He travelled all over Europe, Northern Africa, Asia Minor and central and South America. He lived in Paris, Beijing, Shanghai, Taipei, New York, Los Angeles, Minneapolis, Chicago and San Francisco.

Emilynne Mascardo, a former student at LBCC, said, “On the first day of class, he started by drawing a large map of the world on the black board and drew a fat white dot representing where he was born. Then he’d draw several lines to every single place he traveled.

“He didn’t let his students yawn in class and he always wanted to be addressed as doctor. He said, ‘I spent too many years in school not to be addressed otherwise.’ He used to call free-writing exercises ‘weather reports.’ ‘Step by step,’ he’d say, ‘everything is moments, take one of those moments and expand on it, because that one moment is what changes your life forever.’

“I felt connected to him, because he always mentioned his family before he began anything. He is my main inspiration why I pursued literature in college. And as I progress in my career, I always have Dr. Speirs in mind, he is my driving force, a light, reminding me that anything is possible.”

Speirs taught American Literature and The Novel at Berkeley. He wrote and published many papers and received many awards and fellowships.

Nicole Glick, a former neighbor and colleague of Spiers, said, “The loss is profound. He was an inspiration to his students, a fantastic literary mind, a genuine, warm and kind spirit. Always smiling.”

His dissertation, “The Deadly Space Between: Union and Mediation in the Narrative Imagination of Herman Melville,” received much acclaim. His book, “Mixing It Up: Multiracial Subjects,” that he edited with his wife, is on Amazon for sale.

Memorial services were conducted in Berkeley and in Palos Verdes Estates in January.

Glick said, “There were about 300 people there and it was nice to hear stories about him. He was my neighbor. I saw him almost every day, no matter if I was sweaty and running, we always said, hello.”

Velvet Pearson, a friend and English professor at LBCC, said, “I’m sad for all the students who won’t have the chance to take him and I’m sad for his two boys. I was reading Junot Diaz, “How to Lose Her,” and I ran across a Bartleby joke and how often do you run across a Melville joke? I wanted to tell Kenny but I couldn’t.”

He is survived by his wife; two sons Kai, age 10, and Bo, age 7; his mother, Joan Speirs and brothers, Daniel and Garrett Speirs. His father, Donald Speirs died in 2005.

Tax-deductible donations may be made to the McFarland Family Foundation, which has established a Kenneth Speirs Memorial Fund to support aspiring college students in the humanities: MCO Financial Management, PO Box 176, Los Olivos, Calif. 93441-0176