Gail Griffin, the Ann V. and Donald R. Parfet Distinguished Professor of English, came to Kalamazoo College in 1977 to teach English, but shortly thereafter a second passion played a major role in her professional career. The English subjects she teaches include nineteenth-century women’s literature, British literature, creative nonfiction, and autobiography. Her second key interest—the role of women in the world—led to Griffin’s tenure as the College’s first director of its Women's Studies Program, from its inception in 1980 until July of 2000. Griffin came of age in the ’60s and describes herself as an irreverent rebel. She’s a poet and essayist whose works have appeared in many literary magazines and journals. She is the author of two books of personal essays. And in 2010 she published the landmark work, The Events of October: Murder-Suicide on a Small Campus, which explores the 1999 tragedy that occurred at Kalamazoo College and its relationship to violence against women, student depression and suicide, and gun control. After a 35-year teaching career at “K,” Griffin will retire this June and hopes to spend more time on her writing career. We couldn’t let her get away without doing the BeLight “Lighten Up” interview.
What is the best song ever recorded?
“‘Layla’ – it was the best record ever recorded, but not necessarily the best song.”
What’s your favorite childhood fairy tale or story?
“‘Beauty and the Beast’ – the original, not the Disney version. I was sick at the end when it turned out the beast was really a prince.”
If Heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the pearly gates?
“‘You were right’ or ‘You’re just in time – the Beatles are warming up.’”
What’s your favorite word?
“‘Intense.’ It describes everything I love, and most things about me. Or ‘Fierce.’”
What’s your least favorite word?
“‘Slut.’ It’s the worst obscenity in the world.”
What turns you on?
“Johnny Depp, great music, great acting, great writing, a fabulous hour in the classroom”
What turns you off?
“Bigotry…probably a million other things. Bad writing”
What sound do you love?
“The sound that the wind makes in tops of really tall pine trees”
What sound do you hate?
“Trucks grinding up through 28 gears”
What profession other than yours would you like to attempt?
“Actor, or Rock and Roll singer”
What profession would you not like to participate in?
What’s been a GREAT MOMENT in your liberal arts learning?
“Wow, that moment’s been 50 years long! The most important was the period when I first discovered women’s studies because all the doors flew open. I never got it in school, so I didn’t have a clue. It was a new way to look at the world and understanding the questions you ask. It made a big difference. It really taught me what critical thinking is, not to mention saving my own personal sanity. I think it was through women’s studies that I figured out what teaching is about, too.”
Who’s the person, living or dead, with whom you’d most like to spend a lunch hour?
“Harriet Tubman or Queen Elizabeth I”
What memory from childhood still surprises you?
“How clearly I understood how unhappy my parents were together.”
What is your favorite curse word?
“Shit. It feels good to say it. It’s useful and expressive.”
What is your favorite hobby?
“Johnny Depp. I know everything about him and I stalk him online.”
What is your favorite comedy movie?
“Arthur – the original movie (1981 with Dudley Moore)”
What local, regional, national or world event has affected you most?
“The Civil Rights Movement”
If a cow laughed, would milk come out of her nose?
“No, milk would come out of her udder.”