Faculty & Staff
Professor of French and French Studies
B.A., The University of Virginia; B.A. & M.A. St. John's College, Oxford University; Ph.D., Yale University
Kathryn Oliver Mills learned French at the age of eight in a one-room schoolhouse in Taizé, a Burgundian village housing an ecumenical monastery. She went on to study French, German, and English literature for a B.A. in Comparative Literature at the University of Virginia, where she was an Echols scholar as well as an Honor Award recipient (1984). After a year exploring the “real world” while working at Morrison and Foerster, a corporate law-firm in San Francisco, she got back into academia by doing a second B.A. in French at St. John’s College of Oxford University (1987), and then a Ph.d. in French at Yale University (1995). Her first job after Yale involved teaching the French language to first-generation college students whose first language was Spanish at the University of Texas Pan-American. After meeting her husband, she moved from Texas to Tennessee, where she did short stints at Belmont University and Vanderbilt University in Nashville before joining the French Department at Sewanee, the University of the South, in 1997.
While at Sewanee Professor Mills has done a number of service activities, for example grading the French Advanced Placement (AP) exam for high-school students. In the realm of scholarship, two Appalachian College Association grants have funded two years of sabbatical research which helped produce two books: a critical work she wrote called Formal Revolution in the Work of Baudelaire and Flaubert (University of Delaware Press, 2012), and a volume she edited and for which she wrote the Afterword, the Selected Poems of her late husband Wilmer Mills (University of Evansville Press, 2013). She has also published miscellaneous reviews and articles on subjects ranging from the influence of Joseph de Maistre on Charles Baudelaire to Baudelaire as the father of the roman policier. She is now pursuing that last interest in the classroom via a course on the 19th and 20th century French mystery called Pulp Fiction, and has published a critical essay about the relationship between word, world, and Word in the poetry of Wilmer Mills entitled The Stable Doubt of Wil Mills (The Hopkins Review, Winter 2016). That critical endeavor represents a return to her first love, which was (and is) English poetry, but will probably eventually lead her back to French poets like Mallarmé, who were also preoccupied by how to get at the ineffable in words.