Alumni Profile: Katie Burke '96

Alumni Profile: Katie Burke '96

Photo of Katie Burke ’96

What Kids Say

Forget the expression, ‘kids are resilient;’ I don’t believe that. Kids learn resilience through enduring hard times.

— Katie Burke '96

Although she didn’t realize it at the time, after she graduated Katie Burke ’96 came to understand that Fairfield University had a “certain reverence” for writing.

“Maybe other schools share it. Maybe it’s because one of my best friends from Fairfield, Nicole Rivard ’96, wrote for the school newspaper, or because I had such a great English professor. Whatever the reason, I feel looking back that the school valued strong writing.”

Burke is the author of Urban Playground: What Kids Say About Living in San Francisco, in which she interviews 50 children, ages five to nine. With each conversation, she ex- plores different themes — family, school, pets, vacation, work, heroes, holidays, favorite foods, talents, and sports.

She also writes “Noe Kids,” a monthly column for The Noe Valley Voice, featuring chil- dren who live in San Francisco’s Noe Valley neighborhood. In the past, she has taught creative writing to children and adults in Kenya, South Africa, and in San Francisco.

Burke is thus eminently qualified to address the effects of the current Covid-19 pandemic on children. Her takeaway from interviewing youngsters during the crisis? They’re bored.

“In general, kids seem less scared than aimless and sad. When I asked what they most missed about being in the world, ‘my friends’ was the unanimous answer,” she said.

According to Burke, the pandemic and its fallout on education and social interac- tion is a good opportunity to teach kids about resilience. “Forget the expression,‘kids are resilient;’ I don’t believe that. Kids learn resilience through enduring hard times. It is painful to witness them learning for the first time that adults can disappoint them, that other children may make fun of them, and in the case of the coronavirus, that their world can be physically unsafe. Don’t try to deny them the truth that life sometimes hurts.”

Burke graduated from Fairfield with a BA in psychology and a minor in sociology. In 2004, after moving to California, she started a blog about San Francisco politics. Within a year, she was using the blog to write personal stories about her life experiences. Then came writing about day-to-day life in the city. In 2017, she began writing family stories for her six nieces and two nephews, and in 2018, she started a column of interview-based profiles of children for The Noe Valley Voice. Urban Playground, her book of San Francisco children’s profiles, was the next logical step.

“As my Fairfield major and minor may suggest, I am psychologically oriented, which means people fascinate me. I like to write real human tales and enjoy interviewing people to arrive at those stories. I write in a way that combines head and heart, striving always to leave readers thinking about the story they just read and feeling good about humanity for having read it.”

Along the way on her journey as a writer, Burke has picked up valuable lessons. “In my early writing days, other writers review- ing my work would write in the margins, Katie Burke ’96 `trust the reader.’ I write this all the time now when I review other writers’ works. It means that you shouldn’t tell the reader what you want them to think and feel. Instead, you should trust that if you have told the story well enough, the reader will pick up on any feelings you want them to experience, or the lessons you want them to gain.”

Burke’s favorite genre to read is nonfic- tion, and specifically she enjoys books that read like documentaries — for example, She Said, the book by the New York Times journal- ists who broke the Harvey Weinstein sex crimes/sexual harassment story, Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey.

“I write only nonfiction, so I draw my inspiration from real life. There’s human drama everywhere, and there are always details about people that make them interest- ing, especially on the individual level. I find that when I ask enough follow-up questions, I get to the aspects of a person that make them interesting. They won’t have fascinat- ing material for me on every topic, but I believe everyone has compelling facets to them.”

And that holds so very true for the children whose worlds were turned upside down during 2020.

Other Articles in the Fall 2020 Issue

Alumni Profile: Hugh Morgan '69

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Donor Profile: Bob Venero P'21, '24

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The Original lady laxers

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Guiding Eyes

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Art Inspired

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Goodbye, Mr. Fitz

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A New Chapter

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Letter from the President

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