He accepted the organization's 2023 Distinguished Scholar Award last month in San Francisco at its first in-person awards ceremony in three years. It was a homecoming for Kucich, who grew up in the Bay Area and graduated from San Francisco State University.
Kucich said he was delightfully surprised upon learning of the award. For decades, he’s attended K-SAA banquets and witnessed towering figures in the field receive the prize.
“Woodsworth has a poem that begins, ‘My heart leaps up,’” he said. “My heart was leaping up. I feel privileged and honored to be included in that visionary company, some of whom are major mentors to me. It makes my heart soar.”
For Kucich, the award for lifetime achievement and impact is an affirmation that his research, teaching, and writing about British Romanticism have been meaningful for colleagues and students.
Several of his notable contributions include advancing the exploration of theater within Romantic studies; promoting the combined literary and political engagement of John Keats, Percy Bysshe Shelley, and their circle of writers; and highlighting female writers and feminist issues of the time.
Kucich has been enamored with Romantic-era writers since he was a college student.
“I just latched onto it. British Romanticism really made an impact on me,” said Kucich, a faculty fellow in the Nanovic Institute for European Studies. “I loved it from the get-go — the beauty and music of the poetry, and the sensuousness of the imagery.”
“British Romanticism really made an impact on me. I loved it from the get-go — the beauty and music of the poetry, and the sensuousness of the imagery.”
He also was drawn to the forward-looking politics of the writers — who championed democratic ideals, women’s rights, religious rights, and the abolition of slavery.
“The Age of Revolution, this was really the beginning of modern democracy,” Kucich said. “We have a lot to learn from the Romantic writers.”
British Romanticism also taught him about connecting with others, and living well. For Kucich, that has included a career that involves examining Keats, the Shelleys, other poets and writers, and sharing his discoveries with others.
Kucich was an undergraduate when he first aspired to have a career as an academic. When invited to gatherings with his professors and their friends, he became engrossed discussing ideas with academics, novelists, journalists, and musicians.
“Their life’s work was so interesting, saturated in arts and politics. It gave me an ambition to want to be a university professor,” he said. “And Romanticism was the area that I wanted to specialize in. Romanticism has been the through line. I’m just as excited about it now as I was when I was an undergraduate.”
He’s shared that excitement and knowledge in a number of books, including Keats, Shelley, and Romantic Spenserianism (Penn State, 1991) and Keats’s Reading / Reading Keats (Palgrave Macmillan, 2022), which he co-edited with Daniel Johnson, the English, digital humanities, and film, television, and theatre librarian at Hesburgh Libraries; and the late Beth Lau, then-professor at California State University, Long Beach.
The book was published after a 2018 international conference of the same name, which Kucich helped organize at the Notre Dame Rome Global Gateway. The event coincided with the launch by Kucich and his conference organizers of a digital edition of Keats’s annotations and markings of Milton’s epic poem Paradise Lost. The conference and the digital edition coincided with the 200th anniversary of Keats’s immersive study of Paradise Lost.
After teaching at Notre Dame for nearly four decades, Kucich is looking to retire after the 2023–24 academic year. Working with students, he said, has been and is, a continuous source of fulfillment and joy.
He is deeply concerned with the current trend of fewer students majoring in the humanities nationwide — “democracy,” he said in quoting Martha Nusssbaum’s memorable phrase, “needs the humanities.” They promote empathy, particularly for marginalized groups, critical thinking, writing, intellectual growth, historical awareness, and cultural immersion, he said — skills and qualities that are important in life, in politics, and in many careers.
Kucich plans to continue to research and write, often at his flat close to The British Library in London, not far from where Keats was born. And he is already organizing a major, international conference — Byron and the Mediterranean “Cult of the South,” to be held at the Notre Dame Rome Global Gateway in 2024, the bicentennial of Lord Byron’s death.
“I’ve been greatly fortunate to lead this life and career which involve reading, writing, thinking about, and teaching material that I love,” Kucich said. “I compare it to the work of a professional athlete who gets paid to play a sport that's tremendously fun.”