Kashif Andrew Graham
Kashif A. Graham (ΦΒΚ, Lehman College) is the President of the Alpha of Tennessee chapter of Phi Beta Kappa at Vanderbilt University, and a librarian for religion and theology at Vanderbilt's Divinity Library. He was elected to Phi Beta Kappa and received his Bachelor of Arts degree in English Honors Literature and Spanish Language and Literature from the City University of New York (CUNY Lehman, Bronx).
As a child, what profession did you envision yourself when you grew up?
I was a bit of a strange child. I had an early obsession with office supplies and equipment. In fact, I positioned the desk in my childhood room so that anyone coming in had to greet me like a secretary. It looked oddly like my office at Vanderbilt does now. Also, I know from an early age that I wanted to be a writer. I filled composition notebooks with stories. Sitting in church, I would make lists of potential book titles on scraps of paper. I wrote excerpts from books that I hadn't written yet. It was a safe place for me.
What was the best advice you were ever given and who gave it to you?
When people show you who they are—believe them. This was advice offered from Maya Angelou to Oprah Winfrey in a 1997 interview. People are always showing us who they are, and what they value. The problem is that we don't know what to do with what we see! So we act as though we've not seen anything. For instance, when people have shown me that they will only respect the person whom they perceive to be the smartest in the room, I believe them. It's unfortunate, since a room of people can be a library of knowledge.
You currently serve as the Outreach Librarian for Religion and Theology at Vanderbilt University's Divinity Library. What drew you to a dual path in both information science and theology?
My voyage into librarianship was rather circuitous. I first went into seminary in rural Tennessee, with the intention of going into full-time pulpit ministry. In the middle of the journey, I came out as gay and had to abandon my hopes of becoming a minister in the Church of God—they do not ordain LGBTQIA+ people. Since I was already working in libraries, I decided to mobilize my first degree by becoming a theological librarian. I suppose that what I do is ministry, after all. Theological librarians shepherd divinity students through the research process.
What does your role entail, or what is your favorite part about what you do?
Beyond my traditional collection development duties (I collect in the areas of Religion, Psychology, and Culture; Black Church Studies; Homiletics and Liturgics; and Carceral Studies), I also function as the principal relationship-builder between the Vanderbilt Divinity Library and School, the Vanderbilt body, and larger Nashville community. Think of it as professional friend-making! I also aim to get good press for the Library by appearing on podcasts, radio, TV, and other media outlets. All of my job brings me pleasure in some way, but I'm always energized by sitting in a coffeeshop and dreaming up potential partnerships with our constituents.
You're also the President of Vanderbilt's Phi Beta Kappa chapter. Why do you think Phi Beta Kappa and a well-rounded liberal arts & sciences education are important in today's society? What has motivated you to stay involved with ΦBK?
It's all about discovery and building intellectual bridges. Arts and sciences. A student in human biology who reads Sharon Olds' poem "Sex Without Love" is empowered to think beyond the coital—that is, to explore the poetics of human sexuality. An African-American Studies student who partners with an environmental scientist will have a much more compelling argument in the arena of environmental racism. In today's political climate—we must have both. I've remained involved in Phi Beta Kappa because students need to see me—especially our Black and Brown undergraduates!
What book(s) are you reading right now? Are you listening to any podcasts or watching any shows? Anything you'd recommend?
I am a regular contributor to Chapter16.org, where I review books; I'm always reading some new memoir, collection of poetry, or novel. I just finished Brian Broome's Punch Me Up to the Gods, which I highly recommend. He's a master of intercalation. In terms of podcasts, I've found great comfort in Being Seen, which is geared towards the experiences of Black queer men. I also suggest Queerology and OutLoud (I've been featured on both!). I'm currently watching Veronica Mars (I call her today's Nancy Drew), and the fourteen-part documentary, Eyes on the Prize.
What is your favorite cultural excursion or experience in your city?
I often find myself journeying through Nashville's plenteous greenways and trails. The MetroCenter Levee. Shelby Bottoms. Richland Creek. Two Rivers. Ashland City. I engage in a sort of 'lifelong kindergarten' by making up names for the different sections of each greenway. Kingsley's Way. Esther's Field. New Cleveland. The Storied. It's rather empowering. While walking, I sometimes listen to audiobooks (most recently, Begin Again by Eddie S. Glaude Jr.). Beyond this, I'm a member of my local cinema house, The Belcourt Theatre. You can often find me there, teary-eyes at some cinematic wonder!