Meet Kathleen McGookey - Writer Extraordinaire & Alum of the Month

Each month, we feature one of our amazing alumni whose career path was influenced by study abroad. Our first featured alum is Paris '87 alumna, Kathleen McGookey. Read about how her study abroad experience in Paris influenced her career choice as a writer

IES Abroad: How did studying abroad influence you in your career as a writer?
Kathleen McGookey: I realized I wanted to be a writer while studying in Paris.  I remember standing in the Shakespeare and Company bookstore, reading a book in English and feeling like the writer was talking only to me.  I wanted someday to make that connection, a connection across the page with someone I had never met.

Also in Paris, I felt acutely the limits of what I could say in French.  I had studied French for eight years before coming to Paris, but I still felt limited and sometimes I couldn’t say exactly what I wanted to.  I deeply wanted to express myself as precisely as I could, which I could only do in English.

During my study abroad experience, I kept a journal.  When I came home, I began writing short stories and poems.  Many sensory details and images from my study abroad experience found their way into the poems in my first book.

IES Abroad: What does your current job involve?  What would you consider to be highlights of your career?
KM: I’m a writer and a parent.  The highlights of my career as a writer are publishing a book of poems, Whatever Shines, a chapbook of poems, October Again, and a book of translations, We’ll See (On Verra Bien), which is my translation of French poet Georges Godeau’s fourteenth book of prose poems. 

I received a Hemingway grant from the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs for my translations.  I’ve also received grants from the Arts Fund of Kalamazoo County and the Irving S. Gilmore Foundation. 

As a writer, I’ve been honored to present readings at places including Interlochen Arts Academy, Michigan State University, Central Michigan University, Ferris State University, Hope College, the Associated Writing Programs Annual Conference, and my daughter’s first grade classroom.  And truthfully, I was equally honored when my mail carrier asked me to write a poem in memory of her father to print on the obituary page of the local newspaper.  The highlights of my career as parent are my children, Charlie and Lucy, who are 10 and 7 years old.

IES Abroad: How did your study abroad experience influence you on a personal level?
KM: Even though this is cliché, I learned that people across the world are more alike than different.  I became more open to learning about other cultures and traditions.  Studying abroad also gave me specific people I cared about in other parts of the world to hope were okay when the daily news reported natural disasters or troublesome events. 

IES Abroad: What were some of your most memorable study abroad experiences?
KM: I remember how kind many different French families were to me and how they invited me into their homes.  A French friend’s family invited me and my parents over for an eight-course meal in their home when my parents visited me from the United States. I think his mother and sister washed every plate between every course!  This same friend zoomed me around Paris on his motorcycle when we went out. 

Another French couple had me over for Sunday lunch many times during my study abroad, and these were elaborate lunches with elegant desserts.  Yet a different French family had me over to their house to celebrate my birthday along with their daughter’s birthday, complete with a delicious cake from the patisserie. 

My host family took me to their country home, Paraclet, for the weekend, and told me that the story of Heloise and Abelard took place there.  I wrote a report about this for one my classes, and thought my host family might like a copy, which they did, but the grandfather returned my report with all the mistakes corrected.  (I think he thought he was helping me, but I had already turned the report in.)

IES Abroad: What is the most valuable lesson you learned from studying abroad?
KM: I learned independence and self-reliance.  I learned I could function and thrive in another culture and language.  Looking back, it seems incredible that I did it.  At the time, it didn’t strike me as unusual.


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