Meet the Kirklands, the creative couple getting people reading classic literature
From Dracula Daily to myriad other fun projects, the Kirklands are proving the value of indulging your creative side
In 2021, Matt Kirkland, a web designer based just outside of Kansas City, started a daily online newsletter based around Bram Stoker’s epistolary novel ‘Dracula’.
We all know the titular character synonymous with all vampiric imaginings, yet comparatively few people these days have read the original 1897 book. To Kirkland, who re-read it in 2020, reproducing the novel through bitesize chunks via a daily newsletter made perfect sense. The novel is, after all, written through a collection of letters, articles and diary entries all dated between 3 May and 10 November.
The genesis of the idea was Matt’s daughter, who he kept up to date with the book during his re-read. “She’s still subscribed to the email newsletter,” he says proudly.
For anyone who’s signed up to Dracula Daily over the last three years, they’ll be familiar with Matt’s casual and witty style. He sends out a new email to correspond with any day featured in the original novel. Alongside the relevant section of the book, Kirkland includes funny observations and fan-made artwork.
The near 10-month long experience breaks down the novel into digestible chunks and has amassed fans far and wide. Dracula Daily has more than 230,000 subscribers at this point and Kirkland has turned the venture offline, producing his own book of the newsletter – internet comments included.
Matt’s fun idea has appealed to both Dracula devotees and vampire virgins. It’s no doubt introduced a classic piece of literature to countless people who may have otherwise shunned reading such an old book. “I think the small digestible bits are a big part of it,” Matt says. “‘Dracula’ is already in this great format.”
“So many people have never read the actual ‘Dracula’ book but they know the character. People say ‘Oh, I should read that’, but they’re never going to get around to it, until there’s this social pressure to do it, or this easier way.”
While touring the book edition, Matt encountered loads of people who told him “this got me back into reading”. It’s an impressive accomplishment in the smartphone era.
Dracula Daily is a sweet passion project that cuts through to create something positive in people’s daily lives. As a side project for Matt alongside his full-time job as a designer, you might assume that it takes up enough of his time but Dracula Daily is just what Matt’s most known for. Enter the creative world of Matt and his wife Erika’s home, you realise it’s just a drop in the ocean.
In fact, the pair have been dedicating their spare time to eccentric passion projects for decades. Among shelves lined with books, globes and other tchotchkes in their rustic home office, Matt and Erika spoke to Euronews Culture about how they first started sharing their love of silly projects.
“In college, when we were first dating, we would go to grocery stores late at night and build installations in the aisles, and then disappear real fast,” Erika recalls stacking cans of beans into interesting structures. “Just for fun!” she adds. Erika’s work is usually more craft-based while Matt prefers technology and designing websites.
Sometimes the ideas come from a practical inspiration – Mighty Oak, an essential oil blend that Erika created is the perfect antidote to the various itchy skin bites from the bugs of a Kansas summer. Other times, it’s slightly more idiosyncratic – Matt has an entire online project dedicated to cataloguing the 16th century German woodcarver Tilman Riemenschneider, well regarded by those aware, unheard of to everyone else.
“Erika would always be making something crafty. I live on the internet too much so make dumb websites,” Matt confesses. “Then, when we do something together, we try and find ways to bridge the physical and the digital.”
“We really feed off each other,” Erika says. Their most recent joint project, Local Crush, is a roving penny press. You know the kind. Those machines in the corners of arcades at tourist traps that, via an elaborate gearing system, will contort spare change into a small work of copper art.
The twist on the penny press in Local Crush is that the Kirklands’ machine isn’t relegated to a beachtown pier. Instead, they move it from location to location, bringing people the opportunity to get “the last affordable souvenir”. “This is something that already exists, you’re just making it into a new format. You’re not making and putting some new junk into the world,” Erika explains.
Every month it changes location, and the Kirklands pass the funds it generates to a different charity. Matt rushes to make the record clear, Local Crush was one of Erika’s ideas. “It ties into [her] goal of building community through projects,” he says.
As the Kirklands explain more and more of their projects, you marvel at the earnest whimsy of their lives, gleefully following through on their passion projects with gay abandon.
“We’re fed all this terrible news all the time,” Erika says. “But when you look at the world in front of you, it’s so goofy and surprising.” She points out how you might get fascinated just by the bugs on your window.
Matt relates how, although he studied design at university, he never took classes in art or history. “I’m discovering stuff a person with a more well-rounded education would have already heard about. But I’m getting excited about cuneiform clay tablets, and it’s just my way of sharing that excitement.”
Matt and Erika have two children and both are taking after their parents in their creative habits. “They are makers in their own right and will far surpass what we’ve done,” Erika says. “Kids are incredible. They don’t have filters in the same way.”
It’s an inspiring picture. While Dracula Daily has garnered press columns, the intention is just to follow what interests them. While influencers try to monetise every possible pastime, the Kirklands’ home studio is a refreshing break.