He is not a household name, but Kirk Nesset is the author of several books — fiction, nonfiction, poetry — good enough to land him a position as a professor of creative writing at Allegheny College. And as of Wednesday, he's also facing federal child porn charges.
According to the criminal complaint filed on Wednesday with a federal court in Pennsylvania, Nesset used Torrent networks to download and trade child pornography images. There are graphic descriptions of the kind of images he was downloading appears in an FBI affidavit attached to the complaint.
The affidavit tracks the grim images to an IP address that ultimately traced back to Nesset's address. On Wednesday, the FBI armed itself with a search warrant and searched Nesset's home. They found an external hard drive which contained over 55o,000 jpegs and thirty folders of videos with names like "kidsfuck."
According to the affidavit, when the FBI read him his Miranda rights, Nesset waived them and promptly admitted he'd been downloading child pornography for the last two years. He also said he preferred images which involved girls aged 10 to 13.
The FBI has charged him with two counts, one for receiving and one for sending child pornography. Each count could send Nesset to prison for 20 years. Nesset appeared in court Wednesday, and was released on a $10,000 bond. He also resigned his position at Allegheny.
The news has trickled out slowly into the broader community of MFA professors and other creative-writing types. Nesset was very well known to them, both as a writer and as a fixture at the conferences the punctuate the calendar each year. Most in the community seem to be shocked. Sandra Beasley, a poet who teaches at the University of Tampa, wrote a long, searching blog post about the charges, which she unequivocally termed a "violation." Her post emphasized how tightly knit she was to Nesset, and how she'd had a high regard for him:
As I write this, we share 710 "friends" on Facebook, which essentially represents our overlap in the writing community. Many of those writers are parents who unhesitatingly post snapshots of their kids in various stages of dress. They deserve to know, and so I will link to this on Facebook...
If you attend the annual AWP Conference with any regularity, you've probably seen Kirk Nesset. He's memorable because he carries his mini-Pomeranian everywhere. I read with him for a literary journal panel a few years back, and we've always been on friendly terms; I admired his tenacity in creating opportunities for students to travel.
Beasley's good opinion seems to have been widely shared. A professional acquaintance of Nesset's who preferred to remain anonymous told Gawker that she knew Nesset and that she was "stunned" at the news. Asked to describe him, she said, "He is very outgoing and kind. Strange looking and just... he seems STRANGE. But he was always nice to me."
A few writers took to Twitter to share similarly shocked and horrified reactions.
Holy crap. This Kirk Nesset news is just so sad. I'm speechless.
— Salvatore Pane (@SalPane) October 2, 2014
How deep it goes: Kirk Nesset, prof of English @ Allegheny College, faces fed child porn charges. According to FB, we've 234 mutual friends.
— Rachel McKibbens (@RachelMcKibbens) October 2, 2014
As a student in Allegheny's English department, I was told Kirk Nesset was a poet, but I saw him instinctively as a creep.
I worked at a childcare center one floor down and to the left of Kirk Nesset's office, and I only hope those kids never learn about it.
I'm sad for anyone who considered Kirk Nesset a friend, but I'm not sad for the man himself. Some fight their sickness; it seems he did not.
In an odd social-media-age twist, Nesset's Twitter profile seems to be set to automatically tweet out posts to a Facebook profile of a writing seminar he was to teach at this summer, so he ended up tweeting out criticism of himself, inadvertently.
I am stunned and horrified by the chid porn charges against writer and teacher Kirk Nesset, and I hate to have to... http://t.co/79aDY4XOXe
— Kirk Nesset (@knesset1) October 2, 2014
Nesset's arrest comes in the midst of what can be called a bad week for the collective reputations of Men in Writing as accusations of harassment, rape and abuse have proliferated. This stuff happens everywhere, of course. But this small rash of cases simply confirms that a way with words is absolutely no shield against gross, reprehensible, and occasionally criminal behavior.
[UPDATE, 7:48 P.M.]: Roma Panganiban, the student who tweeted that she believed Nesset was a creep, wrote the following in an email to Gawker:
Although I see you've already gone ahead and quoted from my Twitter feed, I felt I should still make clear that my opinions do not, in any way, represent some sort of Allegheny alumni consensus. Though I was an English student, I never took any classes with Nesset, and my experiences with him reflect only an outsider perspective.
If you happen to know anything more about this situation and these charges, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.