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  • Kevin Elliott

Kathleen Pfeiffer

Oakland University professor and Rochester Hills resident Kathleen Pfeiffer has been recognized for her scholarly books, critical essays and academic work, but her latest piece of writing, "Ink," is earning her praise in the creative, non-fiction category.

Described as an "artfully woven tapestry of emotions and events drawing on personal recollections and historical research," by the Michigan Writers Cooperative Press, "Ink" is a personal memoir that chronicles Pfeiffer's memories of her brother Gerry, who died at age 11 after a seven-month battle with brain cancer. Pfeiffer, who was 13 at the time, has used the memoir to make sense of the grief, loss, faith and hope she felt then, and later in life.

The book was a winner of the 2018 Michigan Writers Cooperative Press Chapbook Competition, which receives submissions from writers throughout the country. Winners receive publication and marketing support.

"It stemmed from a seed of an idea that really started in 2010 described in the end of the book. I had been ghosted by a friend from the past who was someone who was very close and a helpful friend, who had also lost his brother," Pfeiffer said. "I started writing to make sense of that and control the story. That lead me to writing about my brother."

The book, which consists of three personal essays, also is a story about particular times and places, including growing up in the late 1970s, going to college in the mid-1980s, and forging a career as a writer.

"I did always know I wanted to write," Pfeiffer said. "One of the things I did in doing the research for 'Ink' was dig up some old projects I was writing before graduate school, and I was surprised at how creative some of the writing was."

Born and raised in Trumbull, Connecticut, and teaching at Oakland University since 1997, Pfeiffer's research took her to different times and places in her life. Her research also included revisiting pop culture of the time, going through old yearbooks, cards, notes, old newspapers and speaking with friends and family to see if her memory matched the reality of the times.

"Memory is often different than historical fact," she said. "To me, it's intellectually and creatively a fascinating situation when you have a memory to be absolutely true, then you discover it didn't happen the way you remember it.

"There wasn't anything I found that was that dramatic as a disconnect. But, generally speaking, there was an order of events I remember clearly that wasn't always present in the historical record. That was an interesting discovery."

Pfeiffer was honored on June 10 by the Michigan Writers Cooperative Press – a cooperative venture that helps emerging writers – at the Interlochen Center for the Arts. In 2012, Pfeiffer was named a Kresge Artist Fellow. Her previous work includes "Brother Mine: The Correspondence of Jean Toomer and Waldo Frank," "Race Passing and American Individualism," and several critical essays and academic work, often focusing on race and personal identity.

"I'm interested in race, racial identity, and also identity as a concept, particularly in American literature," she said. "American culture is so fascinated with individualism. The idea that anyone can reinvent themselves, that's a national myth that I'm interested in. If 'Ink' connects to my academic work, it's that shared interest. Taking that question and turning it on myself."

Photo: Laurie Tennent

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