Jaimy Gordon ’66, a professor of English at Western Michigan University, has taught creative writing for more than 35 years, published six novels, and won NEA grants. Interestingly, when her novel Lord of Misrule won the 2010 National Book Award for Fiction, the press called her a "completely unknown" writer. "It was disconcerting," she said in a recent interview. "On the other hand, it made a narrative and got me so much press—I got a whole lot more press for a National Book Award finalist, or even an awardee." Lord of Misrule is now out in paperback and Gordon is currently on a book tour.
What brought you to Antioch College? What was your major? English, of course! And of course, at that time, you couldn't take more than one course in creative writing a quarter. You know, from a family in Baltimore that was upper middle class, Jewish—everyone went to college. I was attracted to the co-op job system, even though it would mean five years instead [of four]...It was the real world. A real job doing real things. The average college student of any school is longing for the journey, and I loved the idea of travel. I really didn't care about the quality of the job.
On professors who influenced her: Nolan Miller was there. I loved Nolan. He was kind to me, but my work at the time was a little bit...self-concious? Other English professors were extremely important to me. Larry Edrige—he was a medievalist. My first novel [Shamp of the City-Solo] is dedicated to him. We still stay in touch! His daughter, Kristy, was my graduate student for her MFA. We came full circle!
On her favorite co-ops: I had one newspaper job...Dayton Journal—I wish that I had been a little more mature and made the most of it! I went so young—I started Antioch in June of the year I graduated—I was sixteen! I didn't know how to do my laundry, I couldn't lose my innocence fast enough. The female protagonist of [Lord of Misrule] all shares this. The co-op job system was a little restrictive, once I found my calling.
Thoughts on her education at Antioch College: I got a better education at Antioch than at Brown. Antioch taught me how to think, how to analyze, how to write a paper. . . I finished at Antioch--I was allowed to do a final year in absentia. I technically got my degree in 1966, but I was in California the entire time! Antioch will always listen to reason, if you present a good enough argument!
Antioch at the time was influenced by both ivory tower formalism and John Cage/Marshall MacLuhan "medium is the message." I'm very sympathetic to the [formalist] argument. . . I did love Antioch as a physical space. I got lost in Glen Helen for an entire day!
Will you be coming to Reunion this year? I've thought of it at times. I usually am traveling so much already. I just haven't been able to. I'm hoping to come and read!
Any words of wisdom for the independent Antioch College? Antioch will always manage as long as it finds a mission. By not doing mainstream, it has a little bit of a niche. [Once] the students are there, they feel that Antioch has something to offer, Antioch will go forward.
On the National Book Award: It was disconcerting to be called "a completely unknown writer." I've won grants from the NEA, I've been teaching writing for 35 years, I have other novels and poetry collection. But they were all published by small presses--unless you have a big book from a New York trade press, part of the literary establishment doesn't admit you exist! [However], it made a narrative, and got me so much press--it meshed so neatly, so deliciously with the subject matter of my book, it being the sport of kings--the most luxurious of human activities but at its low end. It fit so well with my end biography--I got a whole lot more press for a National Book Award finalist, or even an awardee.