Priscilla Layne is an associate professor in the department of Germanic and Slavic languages and an adjunct assistant professor in the department of African, African American and diaspora studies within the UNC College of Arts & Sciences. Through literature and film, she studies German identities, how culture affects national boundaries and the representation of marginalized peoples. Layne spoke to UNC Research about her research and how she chose her field of study.
UNC Research: When you were a child, what was your response to this question: “What do you want to be when you grow up?”
Layne: I had a lot of different ideas of what I might like to do. I loved drawing, so I considered becoming an artist — in particular a comic book artist or an animator. I loved writing stories, so I also wanted to be a fiction writer or a screenwriter. And I considered becoming a vet, due to my love for animals. But another consistent dream was to become a teacher. I used to line up my 100 stuffed animals and pretend they were my students. I cut up little pieces of paper for them to do their homework. My mother always says it was clear early on that I’d be a teacher.
UNC Research: Share the pivotal moment in your life that helped you choose your field of study.
Layne: Two pivotal moments come to mind. When I watched “Raiders of the Lost Ark,” I heard German for the first time and decided to learn the language. When I was an undergraduate at the University of Chicago, I read Franz Kafka’s “Metamorphosis” in English translation for a class — and fell in love with German literature. From that moment on, I decided to make that my focus.
UNC Research: Tell us about a time you encountered a tricky problem. How did you handle it and what did you learn from it?
Layne: Having to switch to online instruction this spring was pretty tricky. As professors, we can’t forget that our students are people first. We have to have patience and compassion. We have to be willing to be flexible to meet students where they are and be able to address their particular needs. I learned to let go of the need to have the perfect class session or semester. Under such difficult circumstances, with students and faculty dealing with health and financial problems, we just all do our best to keep going, find joy in our day and provide a space where students feel like they’re part of a community.
UNC Research: Describe your research in five words.
Layne: Continuously challenging German national identity.
UNC Research: What are your passions outside of research?
Layne: I have loved punk music since I was about 13. I’ve spent a lifetime going to live shows — from small, intimate concerts in dark clubs and squat houses in Berlin to large festivals of hundreds of people. My love of music has also always been connected to collecting LPs, which I have done since I was 10. I have amassed quite a few punk LPs since my college days, when I had a punk show on college radio for a year. At the time, I lived in Chicago and mostly relied on finds at my favorite record store chain: Reckless Records.
Since having a child six years ago, I haven’t been able to go to concerts as much as I’d like. But some local venues I frequent are Cat’s Cradle, Pinhook and Motorco. I occasionally volunteer for the organization Girl’s Rock, which helps me stay in touch with music and subculture.