While studying at the University of Illinois, E. Katherine Kottaras, English professor here at Pasadena City College, began as a Bio-Triple-E major—ecology, ethology, and evolution—so that she could one day frolic with the seals as a marine biologist.
However, the math didn’t add up as she found that she enjoyed the concepts of her major—she was the president of the Ecology Club—but not the calculations.
In her second semester she decided to become a high school English teacher as, like a majority of people, she did not have the best high school experience. So she hoped to improve her students’ lives if only a little while teaching what she discovered was her favorite subject.
Kottaras later moved to sunnier shores as she completed her M.A. in English at the University of California, Irvine.
Kottaras taught high school for eight years and later took that experience here to Pasadena City College.
Many students thought Kottaras appeared strict at first, but her love of English reached her students quite quickly.
“When I first saw her she looked intimidating, but after the first five minutes she was great, very passionate, she looked like she wanted to be here teaching us,” said Kyle Tocco, one of her students.
Kottaras left quite an impression on these students in only the first five weeks.
“She gives a nice vibe to the class,” Francisco Rosales said. “She makes you love literature. “
“Even though we’ve spent so little time in the classroom, I’ve gained so much already,” student Natalia Mendoza added.
Kottaras not only teaches writing, but of course is a writer herself. Her first book, “How To Be Brave,” is set to debut on Nov. 7 this year. The book was inspired by her own fears and hopes to encourage readers to not conquer but accept their fears.
“My father passed away when I was 17, and my mother passed away when I was 30. My daughter was 10 months old when my mother died, and I found myself sandwiched between the death of my best friend and the presence of this new life,” Kottaras said. “It was a dark and confusing time. I wanted to drown in my grief but also knew I had to keep myself afloat for the sake of my new baby. That’s when I turned to writing. On my darkest days, my husband would tell me to take time for myself—to go for walks, yoga, etc.—but more often than not, I would find myself at the library, writing.”
The book explores what her life what might have been like if her father had lived instead of her mother and the fears she wished she faced as a teen.
“And then Georgia was created, she’s much more adventurous than I ever was,” Kottaras said. “I put some of what I wished I was in her … It asks questions about how is it we are courageous in our everyday lives. How is it we define it ourselves.”
Being brave implies that one is scared first. As there has to be a reason, a fear to face, for so mebody to need to be brave. There are many different types of bravery, whether it’d be facing a man at gunpoint, jumping off a plane, or simply ignoring that feeling of inadequacy and sending that application to Stanford.
Kottaras’ own personal definition of bravery features forcing herself to try new things.
Kottaras described herself as “the kid picked last for gym,” but despite that she took classes in yoga. Today she leads the Yoga and Meditation Club here at Pasadena City College.
Kottara’s book has been receiving rave reviews online.
“A thoughtful exploration of grief and life,” Kirkus Reviews wrote.
Kottaras enjoys movies and shows that can make her both cry and laugh. The rollercoaster of life is key in both her own book, but what she looks for in other stories.
“How to Be Brave” was also featured on Buzzfeed as one of the “17 New YA [young adult] books that will make your heart happy.”
“Compelling, honest, and moving, Kottaras’s debut will inspire readers to live out their own acts of bravery,” Farrah Penn, a junior writer of Buzzfeed, wrote.
Kotaras will be holding a launch party Saturday, Nov. 7 at Vroman’s Bookstore just down Colorado and students will be more than welcome to stop by.