Professor Emerita of English Gail Griffin is a fan of Kate, a chemistry major who, Gail writes, “took on an English major very late in her career.” Kate’s putting both majors to work as a science writer, and Gail spotted one of Kate’s stories in a recent Atlantic Magazine online. “How Ancient Coral Revealed the changing Length of a Year” describes how coral layers (a byproduct of the organism’s daily living that marks a year’s growing seasons and days in a process somewhat akin to tree rings) show that the number of days that composed an earth year was much higher eons ago–420 days rather than today’s 365-6. She accounts for the difference in the dynamics of gravity, oceans and the moon’s distance from the earth, a gap growing incrementally and infinitesimally. Turns out Shakespeare’s Juliet had it right in more ways than she might have guessed when she implored Romeo to “swear not by the moon, the inconstant moon, / That monthly changes in her circled orb.” The circled orb grows imperceptibly more distant, a centimeter or so a year. (Eventually–in several million years–the moon will be too distant to cause a solar eclipse.) With her two majors, Kate is more likely to know the science in the literary reference. Kate’s K experience also included study abroad in Scotland.
Elizabeth, a professor of English and American literatures at Middlebury College, has written and published the book Defoe’s Major Fiction: Accounting for the Self (University of Delaware Press). According to the publisher, “The book focuses on the pervasive concern with narrativity and self-construction that marks Defoe’s first-person fictional narratives. Defoe’s fictions focus obsessively and elaborately on the act of storytelling—not only in his creation of idiosyncratic voices preoccupied with the telling (and often the concealing) of their own life stories but also in his narrators’ repeated adversion to other, untold stories that compete for attention with their own.” At K Elizabeth majored in English and studied abroad in Bonn, Germany. She earned her M.A. and Ph.D. from the University of Virginia.
Retirement, or “retirement,” can be as alive and crackling as the mind is curious and courageous. So it is with Gail. Her recent writing is incandescent. Her poem, “Devastated,” appeared in the Southern Review last spring. Her essay “Gloria,” was published in PHOEBE. “That essay,” Gail wrote, “is about a ‘colored’ baby doll I was given as a little girl, about the suburban relationship to Detroit, and about white racial confusion and anxiety.” Gail is a trenchant and powerful essayist. Her essay, “A Creature, Stirring,” won the New Ohio Review’s nonfiction contest, judged by Elena Passarello. The essay is part of Gail’s just finished memoir, Widow’s Walk.
Gail keeps busy in other ways besides writing. Last month she became chair of the YWCA-Kalamazoo Board of Directors. She has offered several writing workshops locally, on generating memoir (at Kazoo Books and two branches of the Kalamazoo Public Library) and on writing from life’s thresholds (at the Great Lakes Commonwealth of Letters in Grand Rapids). She also co-facilitated three workshops on building white anti-racist allies for the local organization SHARE–headed by alumna Donna (Coleman) Odom ’67. Last November Gail co-facilitated a fourth workshop, with local poet/activist Denise Miller, at the Summit on Racism.
Bruce, a professor of English and upper-division writing coordinator at North Dakota State University, has been recognized with the IEEE Professional Communication Society’s top prize for teaching. He received the Ronald S. Blicq Award for Distinction in Technical Communication Education in October. Bruce is the co-founder and coordinator of the Trans-Atlantic and Pacific Project, known as TAPP. Started during the 1999-2000 academic year, the project links writing, usability testing and translation classes via collaborative documentation projects at 28 universities in 15 countries in Africa, Asia, Europe and North America. The award was conferred at IEEE’s annual ProComm conference at the University of Texas in Austin. As an award winner, Bruce delivered a plenary address titled “Examining the Cult of Monolingualism.”
Today Con is that silence, a life now part of a “mystery at the center” into which words will penetrate insufficiently at best, the way sunlight beneath the surface of a deep ocean shimmers a few meters at most then disappears.
Con died on January 11, 2017. Several weeks previous, his daughter, Jane, wrote that her father had written to her that he planned to “make his exit” after Christmas but wasn’t sure he could endure that long. He endured and then died from complications of cancer and pneumonia. He was 88 years old.
Con earned his B.A. at Oberlin College, his M.A. and Ph.D. at the University of Wisconsin. Attracted to “the promise of a college that was willing to try things,” Con was recruited to Kalamazoo College by Larry Barrett, a colleague in the English department and later a dear friend. Con started his career at K in 1962, the first full year of the bold and quirky curriculum called the K-Plan. He retired in 1998. In between, countless students of all majors and liberal arts inclinations fondly recall his literature and writing classes and especially his poetry courses. He wrote 11 volumes of poetry. His latest, Until the Full Moon Has Its Say, he wrote in his mid-eighties, and many of its poems are villanelles, a demanding form Con seemed to execute with ease. Like his friend and colleague Larry Barrett, whom he eulogized in 2002, Con was “in business right to the end.”
His prolificity as a poet sometimes obscured the fact that he was a marvelous writer of prose, author of the genre-bending creative nonfiction piece, Luke Karamazov, and countless essays and chapel talks, often on poets such as John Donne and Galway Kinnell, two he particularly loved, though there are many many more. Con loved to illustrate with poems the ideas he articulated in his prose as if to remind us that poetry (as he once said) can be a brief and invigorating elevation from the “lowly ground” of our inward selves–not that such ground is bereft of beauty and mystery, only that our souls seek a glimpse of something abundant beyond our own inwardness. Con often found that abundance, “a pool of meaning,” in the ordinary.
He was a remarkable teacher, entirely and joyfully at home in the “arches and vaults” of the liberal arts, created when the seemingly separate disciplines lean together and conjoin. He continually sought inspiration for his own work (both his teaching and his poetry) in the subject matters of his colleagues and friends in biology, mathematics, religion, philosophy, physics and psychology, to name just a few. Often he’d audit courses in different departments as grist for his imagination, for example John Spencer’s seminar on Alfred North Whitehead and David Evans’s class on ethology. What he learned in those classes found its way into his poems, intentionally or not. Most of all he loved K students, and the effect on them of the K-Plan: their genius, he wrote, “for combining academic work and off-campus experience in just the way to allow themselves the most dramatic growth.”
In 1995, three years before his retirement, he began teaching night classes in poetry at the Stryker Center. These he continued for some 15 years, and many of his ex-students and members of the greater Kalamazoo community attended. Con helped poets make and publish their poems, and the list of these writers is impressive, including, among others, Susan Blackwell Ramsey, Corey Marks, Gail McMurray Martin, Marie Bahlke, Kit Almy, Gail Griffin, Rob Dunn, Hedy Habra, Marion Boyer, Bonnie Jo Campbell, Jane Hilberry, Amy Newday, and his lifelong student and friend, Pulitzer Prize finalist Diane Seuss. His beloved wife of 60 years, Marion, who died on April 8, 2008, often joined him in these classes.
In an essay he wrote on Galway Kinnell, Con described the opposition between poems and the notion of the final word. Comments on poems we perceive as “right on certain points and wrong on others,” he said. “But no one sees [those comments, even if they are the author’s] as the last word, equivalent to the poem itself. We always assume there is more to be said as the complexities of the poem take different configurations from other readers….Whenever a reading is taken as final, the poem is diminished.”
He managed his classes like that, starting things off, then sitting back to listen and provide space for students’ voices–for that peculiar confluence of text and the texture of readers’ lives, from which arises meaning. “I just need to choose the right books,” he once said. “Then the students notice things about the poems, and they teach each other.”
He was a poet and teacher of the people, deeply involved in the city of Kalamazoo’s Poetry on Buses program during its heyday. Often, with fellow poets (and friends) Herb Scott and John Woods (English professors at neighboring Western Michigan University) among others, Con would bring poetry into public middle schools, somehow managing to engage that always potentially intractable audience into the “best poems,” which Con considered an ineffable harmony of vividness (which the junior high students loved) and wholeness (where, often, the work began). He served as an editor of the Third Coast anthologies of Michigan poets and seemed to be a friend to every writer therein.
In his teaching prime Con’s presence was unforgettable, especially his red hair and ready smile. His limp and the rattle of his bike always suggested some past accident that had had no effect on his love of biking steep grades, celebrating gravity. And why not celebrate the force that holds us in what he called our “borrowed dust” for our short while on earth–the best, the only place for love.
In his last chapel talk (2001), using a line from a poem by Stanley Kunitz, Con said, “I have walked through many lives, some of them my own.” Indeed, Con contained multitudes.
Near the end, when Con was in the hospital, before he came home for hospice care, he said to his daughter, Jane, “I still have some talents left. One of them is sleeping. Another one is laughing.”
So like Con: able to sort by scent the smoke of sleep and laughter. He was, to the very end, the poet of the ordinary’s miracle.
It begins with a lie. A good one. The author, after all, is an expert liar. He disarms you for only a moment when he admits it, his expression unchanged.
Andy Mozina, an English professor at Kalamazoo College since 1999 and author of the new story collection, Quality Snacks (Wayne State University Press, May 2014), makes his admission, or confession, on air in a recent interview for the Arts and More program at the WMUK radio station, Kalamazoo’s NPR affiliate. Yes, he lies, he says.
As do all fiction writers, and Mozina is fast gaining notoriety as such. Quality Snacks is Mozina’s second story collection. His first, The Women Were Leaving the Men, also published by Wayne State University Press (2007), won the Great Lakes Colleges Association New Writers Award and was a finalist for the Glasgow/Shenandoah Prize for Emerging Writer. His fiction has appeared in numerous magazines, including Tin House, Ecotone, Fence, The Southern Review, and The Missouri Review, and has received special citations in Best American Short Stories, Pushcart Prize, and New Stories from the Midwest. His critical work, Joseph Conrad and the Art of Sacrifice, was published by Routledge in 2001.
On the morning of his radio interview Mozina enters the studio breathless. He abandoned his car, he says, realizing that he was running late. The car was beached like a whale on the grass, he says, with hazard lights blinking and doors swinging open as he tore up the campus in his race to the studio.
Really? Not quite. As it turns out, Mozina’s car is parked in its parking spot, squared between the yellow lines, doors locked, lights off, engine cool.
Mozina grins, just a little. This is how he tells stories, building on near nothing, embellishing, adding twists and surprises and horseshoe turns on every page. He says he often begins his story idea with the twist, then builds the story around it.
Quality Snacks is a collection of 15 stories, each one with Mozina’s signature sense of wry humor. The stories, for the most part, are built around the efforts of middle-aged men struggling with relationship issues.
Santa Claus as a baseball player may not qualify as middle-aged in the final story, “No Joy in Santa’s Village,” but he nevertheless struggles with deteriorating relationships with his elves, who have come to resent him for what they consider Santa’s shortcomings. In fact, the elves in the dugout are showing a dark side as they clamor for Santa flesh in retribution for those long winter nights.
“His dugout was filled with elves. Some never moved, some never sat still—whittling a piece of wood into a bat, whittling the bat into baseballs, whittling the baseballs into tiny bats, which were whittled into still tinier baseballs. Some were incontinent, some respired entirely through their pores, like plants. Some rooted for Santa, some cast spells against him. At each game they created a locked-ward atmosphere in the dugout. Last year, one or another of the elves would occasionally streak onto the field in the middle of a game, tear up a piece of turf, and retreat toward the bench, gibbering hysterically, holding the turf aloft.” (Page 184, “No Joy in Santa’s Village”)
As for Doritos, a popular snack by Frito-Lay, Mozina says he once had an addiction for the chips, but, happily, has been able to conquer it. His title story, “Quality Snacks,” is a story of a team of Frito-Lay employees brainstorming new and vitamin-fortified flavors for the snack (burrito, chicken quesadilla, enchilada, refried beans), perhaps even marketing them as a main meal rather than just a snack.
Mozina won’t admit to a fear of dogs, but his opening story, “Dogs I Have Known,” begs to differ. He’s convincing. In one mini-story after another, the narrator describes dogs that have made an appearance in his life, none truly vicious, yet Mozina manages to make even the nicest pup at least a little unnerving with toothy potential.
The banker and the college professor meet over sandwich wraps and keep on meeting into what warms and then sizzles into “My Nonsexual Affair: A Tale of Strong and Unusual Feelings.” Lines are not exactly crossed but toed and danced upon with increasing insistence, and Mozina manages his signature effect on the reader once again.
That effect: to make us see ourselves at our nerdiest, geekiest, weakest, most vulnerable and so also most human. Even as we wince and sigh, glad that’s not me…we have to admit, some of it is. The silly human condition, the offbeat element of truth that is stranger than fiction, unless it’s Mozina’s fiction.
Todd is an associate professor of English at Indiana University of Pennsylvania, and he recently was awarded a Distinguished Faculty Award by IUP’s University Senate. At K Todd majored in English and studied abroad in Madrid, Spain. He earned his M.F.A. in writing (School of the Art Institute) and his Ph.D. in American literature (University of Illinois at Chicago). His recent publications include the book The National Joker: Abraham Lincoln and the Politics of Satire as well as a number of articles, editions, and book chapters. He recently was awarded a Peterson Fellowship, an archival research residency at the American Antiquarian Society.
Welcome home, Andy Miller! The proud Kalamazoo College alumnus—class of 1999, English major, music minor, creative writing concentrator, Michigan-certified secondary school teacher (English and music), and K intramural softball phenom—has returned to his alma mater. He’s worked here before. Following graduation he was associate director of LandSea, a program he loved as both participant and patrol leader. He also worked to help the Stryker Center liaison with the greater Kalamazoo business community. Former K president Jimmy Jones recognized great talent, and when he became president of Trinity College (Hartford, Conn.) in 2004 he convinced Andy to go east for a decade. At Trinity, Andy created the Quest Program, which became that college’s outdoor orientation program for first-year students. Simultaneously Andy worked for Trinity’s advancement office—in major gifts, planned giving, alumni relations, and parent giving, making him one of the great five-tool players (think whatever corresponds to speed, power, contact, glove work, and a cannon arm) in the world of advancement. Andy and alumna Mary-Katherine Thompson ’06 married in 2009. They first met on LandSea. This past August Andy came back to K to serve as the College’s executive director of development. Why the return? “It’s a perfect fit,” he says. “It’s coming home.” And we think it’s great to have him home!
And now his answers to the questions we’ve all been eager to know.
What’s the best song every recorded?
“Apologies to the Beatles, Stones, Dylan, Petty, Guns N’ Roses, and especially Springsteen’s ’Jungleland,’ which comes in second, but I’m going to have to go with ’Layla’ by Derek and the Dominos.
What’s your favorite childhood fairy tale or story?
“’Peter Rabbit’ by Beatrix Potter.”
If Heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the pearly gates?
“’You did a good job down there.’”
What’s your favorite word?
What’s your least favorite word?
“Irregardless. People use it all the time, but IT’S NOT A WORD!”
What turns you on?
“Autonomy…challenge…the opportunity to create things…and, of course, my wife.”
What turns you off?
“Hate, prejudice, and close-mindedness.”
What sound do you love?
“The electric guitar. Specifically, a Fender telecaster coming through a Vox amp.”
What sound do you hate?
“I absolutely love dogs…but I have two at home who bark like maniacs every time another dog is being walked outside our house, which is regularly. Training remains a work in progress!”
What profession other than yours would you like to attempt?
“Professional rock and roll songwriter.”
What profession would you not like to participate in?
“Accounting. My lack of interest would pretty much assure my uselessness…and vice versa.”
What’s been a GREAT MOMENT in your liberal arts learning?
“There are two, both of which happened spring of my senior year and involved synthesizing my previous three-and-a-half-years worth of learning and developing. My Senior Individualized Project gave me the opportunity to do a deep dive into every ‘art’ I had any competency in–a manuscript worth of poems (thanks Diane Seuss), a related series of photographs (thanks Richard Koenig), and an album’s worth of music (thanks Tom Evans). On the more traditionally academic side, my English Comprehensive Exams required me to, between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. on a Saturday, write essays on three different questions, with each essay using three literary references drawn from a list of texts read over the course of my entire time at K. Handing in my SIP and my ’comps,’ admittedly at the absolute last minute in both cases, was so fulfilling to me because they truly served as twin capstone projects of my liberal arts learning.”
Who’s the person (living or dead) with whom you’d most like to spend a lunch hour?
“Neither is famous. It would either be my paternal grandfather, who died when I was very young, or my maternal grandmother, who died before I was born.”
What memory from childhood still surprises you?
“I remember very well burning my arm on the stove at the age of two on Valentine’s Day when I was reaching for some Campbell’s Bean with Bacon soup my mom was making for me. Somehow, despite being so young, I had managed to get my arm on top of the stove. My mom has never forgiven herself because she was out of the room preparing for a date with my dad to celebrate the birth of my cousin on that very day.”
What is your favorite curse word?
What is your favorite hobby?
“Songwriting and recording in my basement.”
What is your favorite comedy movie?
“Blues Brothers is a pretty solid go-to. I use the phrases ‘We’re getting the band back together’ and ‘We’re on a mission from God’ regularly.”
What local, regional, national, or world event has affected you most?
“Probably 9/11. I may remember it so distinctly because it happened when we were on LandSea in Ontario. Tom Breznau got a call from President Jones and we went to the one TV at the nearest one-street town to learn what was going on, which was unbelievable. And we had to figure out how to inform all the patrol leaders and participants scattered throughout Killarney. Then to live in the east for 10 years…9/11 has shaped a lot of what New York is like today.”
If a cow laughed, would milk come out her nose?
“Absolutely, unless she was drinking orange juice.”
Matthew was awarded the 2017 American Council of Learned Societies Fellowship and the 2017 National Endowment for the Humanities Summer Stipends grant to support the research and writing of a scholarly study, Unsovereign Bodies: The State and the Individual Subject in African Detective Fiction. The book traces the history of the detective genre as a mode of critique in Anglophone African writing. Matthew is a professor in the Department of Literatures and Cultural Studies at the University of Texas, Rio Grande Valley. At K he majored in English and studied abroad in Sierra Leone. He earned his master’s and doctorate degrees at UCLA.
Aaron won Tupelo Quarterly’s TQ5 Poetry Contest with his poem “St. Inside & Not,” About the winning poem contest judge Amaud Jamaul Johnson wrote: “I read the list of finalists aloud, alone, standing in my office. While there were many fine, well-polished poems, the music of Aaron Coleman’s ‘St. Inside & Not’ followed me out of the room. The use of anaphora, heavy alliteration and assonance, the quirkiness of the syntax, the image system, all kept me off balance. I was under the spell of this poem. A poem should possess its own logic; establish a unique authority over the reader. From the first line, the poem takes you by the throat and turns. Reading ‘Being midnight ripped / off the face of constellation,’ I thought of Dickinson’s ‘If I feel physically as if the top of my head were taken off …’ Of course, I’ve never been able to divorce this sentiment from my lingering fear of racial violence. But I know Coleman’s lyric shatters us into song. I know this is poetry!” Congratulations, Aaron! Aaron earned his B.A. at K in psychology, and he studied abroad in Caceres, Spain.