Kaya Oakes

Job title: 
Continuing Lecturer

Kaya Oakes (she/her) has been a lecturer in College Writing since 1999 and teaches R1A, R4A, R4B, and a variety of creative nonfiction courses. She is the author of five books, most recently including The Defiant Middle: How Women Claim Life's In Betweens To Remake the World (Broadleaf Books: 2021, one of Sojourners' 2021 Books to Inspire Faith and Justice), The Nones Are Alright (Orbis Books: 2015, Religion News Association best books finalist), Radical Reinvention (Counterpoint Press: 2012), and Slanted and Enchanted (Henry Holt: 2009, San Francisco Chronicle Notable Book). Her sixth book, Not So Sorry: On the Limits of Forgiveness, is forthcoming in July 2024. Her essays and journalism have appeared in The New Republic, SlateThe Guardian, The Washington Post, Foreign Policy,Sojourners, On Being, and many other publications. She is also a contributing editor at Killing the Buddha, a contributing writer at America magazine, and she writes a column on forgiveness for The Revealer, a publication of NYU's Center for Religion and Media. In 2016, she was among a group of international writers who traveled to the Vatican to study reporting on religion in politically tumultous times. Kaya was selected as Religion News Service's 2021 recipient for best commentary writing.

At Berkeley, she was the recipient of an innovation grant and a faculty fellowship from the Mellon Faculty Institute for Undergraduate Research, and twice received a Lecturer Teaching Fellowship. She has designed and co-designed several courses including College Writing 131: Introduction to Creative Nonfiction, CW 131N: Cultural Critique, and CW 130: Introduction to Creative Writing. Kaya teaches composition and research courses on themes such as music and social movements, gender, social inequality, wealth and poverty, and much more. Her teaching pedagogy focuses on helping students discover their agency and voice as well as igniting student interest in social issues as they apply to writing across the disciplines. She holds an MFA in creative writing and has done postgraduate work in writing, education, and psychology. Her books are widely taught in writing and religion courses, and she travels frequently to colleges and conferences to speak and guest teach, but mostly enjoys spending time in her hometown of Oakland, California, where she still lives. 

Publications & Presentations: 

Books (featured)

Not So Sorry: On the Limits of Forgiveness (Broadleaf Books, 2024)

The Defiant Middle: How Women Claim Life's In-Betweens to Remake the World (Broadleaf Books, 2021)

The Nones Are Alright (Orbis Books, 2015; Religion News Service best books finalist)

Radical Reinvention (Counterpoint, 2012)

Slanted and Enchanted (Henry Holt, 2009; San Francisco Chronicle notable book)

Chapters in Anthologies

Oakes, Kaya. “Forgiveness in the Epoch of #MeToo.” The God Beat: What Religion Writing Is and Why It Matters. Minneapolis: Broadleaf Books. June, 2021. Print.

Oakes, Kaya. Forward. Revelations of Divine Love. Julian of Norwich. Boston: Dover Editions. November, 2019. Print. 

Oakes, Kaya. “How We Understand Our Sexual Lives.” What I Am Living For: Seven Lessons from the Life of Thomas Merton. Ed. Jon Sweeney. South Bend: Notre Dame, 2018. Print.

Oakes, Kaya. “Gossip.” A Pope Francis Lexicon. Ed. Joshua McElwee, Cindy Wooden. Collegeville: Liturgical Press, 2018. Print.

Oakes, Kaya. “Literature at the Xerox Machine: The Rise of the Zine.” A Daniel Clowes Reader. Ed. Ken Parille. Seattle: Fantagraphics, 2013. (165-170). Print.

For a selected list of essays and journalism, please visit oakestown.org. For a full list, visit muckrack.com

 Selected presentations and invited talks

  • "The Future of Faith/The Defiant Middle" Trinity Church, Princeton, NJ. September 2022.
  • The Defiant Middle, Othering and Belonging Insitute book talk with Dr. Rohnit Stahl, UC Berkeley. March, 2022.
  • The Defiant Middle, book talk, Georgetown University Women's Center. Zoom. March, 2022. 
  • “Catholics and the 2021 Election: The Problem of Amy Coney Barrett” American Catholic Historical Association. Zoom. October, 2021. Speaker.

  • Faith and Secularization: A Dialogue. Loyola University Chicago (Zoom). October, 2020. Speaker. 

  • Academy of American Religion special topics presentation. San Diego, CA. November, 2019. Speaker.
  • Does Faith Have a Future? Fordham University. October, 2019. Speaker. 
  • Festival of Faith and Writing. Calvin University, Grand Rapids, MI. April, 2020. Speaker.
  • Borgogni Lecture in Religion, Syracuse University, October 2018. Speaker. 
  • Writing a Life on the Margins. Search for Meaning festival. Seattle University, Seattle, WA. February 2017. Speaker.
  • The Queering of Young Adult Literature. Associated Writing Programs Conference. March, 2016. Panel moderator.  
  • Spiritual Autobiography in a Secular Time. Creighton University. October, 2015. Speaker.
  • Seekers, Believers, and Those In Between: Millennials, Gen X, and DIY Religion. De Paul University. May, 2015. Speaker.
  •  Joyful Indifference: Montaigne and the Contemporary Religious Essayist. The Future of the Catholic Literary Imagination Conference. University of Southern California. February, 2015. Panel.
  • Richard Rodriguez and Kaya Oakes in Conversation. Faith Presbyterian Church, Oakland, CA. October, 2014. Speaker.
  • Doubt is my Revelation: Literary Journalists on Religion. Associated Writing Programs Conference. February, 2014. Panel.
  • “Social Justice Week. College of Saint Rose. March 2013. Speaker.
  • Getting to Know (All?) About You: Unmasking the Teacher. CCCC Annual Conference. March 14, 2009. Panel.

 Editorial Activities

Religion Dispatches, USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism. 

Editorial Advisor for Lilly Foundation grant. 2015-2018.

Killing the Buddha, February 2013 – ongoing 

Contributing Editor, Contributing Writer

Kitchen Sink Magazine, January 2002-2007

Senior Editor, Literary Editor, Contributing Writer, Co-Founder

Awards, Grants and Fellowships (selected)

Religion News Association, Best commentary, 2021

Senior writer, editorial advisor, Lily Foundation grant to Religion Dispatches for a series of articles on Millennials and religion. Annenberg School of Journalism. University of Southern California. 2015-2018. 

Scholarship, The Church Up Close seminar for religion reporters, Pontifical University of Santa Croce, Rome, Italy. September 2016

Finalist, Awards for Religion Reporting Excellence, Books, Religion News Association, 2016

Lecturer Teaching Fellowship, UC Berkeley, 2013-2014

San Francisco Chronicle Notable Book, 2009

Mellon Innovation Grant for Undergraduate Research, 2005-2006 

Mellon Faculty Institute for Undergraduate Research, Fellow, 2004-2005