The Knox Student: Where are you from?
Orna Shaughnessy: I’m from California.
TKS: Where did you go to college?
OS: I have been in school a long time. UC Berkeley is where I did my doctorate work, and I was in Japan at Ryukuku Day Ako for four years—that’s in Kyoto—and was at the National Institute of Japanese Literature in Tokyo for two years.
TKS: Why did you choose Japanese studies? Did you major in that?
OS: Not as an undergrad, but I really like literature and as a teenager I liked the sort of new wave Japanese films from the ’60s, like “Woman in the Dunes.” I liked some of the translated novels, and I like Anime and I liked pop culture. My godfather—someone close in the family—was Japanese American. He was a really cool guy, just all around. So I was just interested in Japan.
TKS: How did you find out about Knox?
OS: The search for this position was a national search. So they broadcasted in all the conventional scholarly venues, and then I had the pleasure of meeting Matsuda Sensei, [or] Mat. He is just so charismatic and really seemed to be a wonderful representative of Knox College.
TKS: How do you like Knox and the town of Galesburg so far?
OS: I like it. I arrived after the heat wave so I got the nice end of summer. You know it feels wonderful, and you’re walking around in a T-shirt; and then I really love fall and it’s kind of crisp fall weather now and so I’m having a great impression. I did interview here though, last year right after that terrible blizzard in February, so I saw that end too. So I’ve seen both sides. I love the historical nature of all this, in Galesburg and in the cafés and in the restaurants and then on campus and in Knox too. California is very new compared to Illinois and all the history around here, so I’m really having a lot of fun with that.
TKS: Who is your inspiration?
OS: Franz Kafka. He’s a writer, a tech writer and just known for a certain kind of aesthetic sensibility. He worked all his life as a bureaucrat and had this incredibly rich inner creative life as well.
TKS: What is your favorite quotation?
OS: I don’t know, maybe something from Dr. Seuss. I have a daughter, and [Dr. Seuss] seems very astute about life whenever I read.
TKS: What is the last movie you watched?
OS: I watched a film about Gaudi, who is a Spanish architect and artist. He’s dead now, but he built and designed an incredible cathedral in Brussels and a lot of other amazing work. The film was by a Japanese filmmaker, Teshigahara. The film is really beautifully done about this very famous artist and I think the particular way the director did the film is really beautiful, really kind of weird and beautiful.
TKS: What is the craziest thing you have ever done?
OS: Study Japanese. I love it, and I’m teaching Japanese now, so now I really feel with the students. It’s an incredible thing to take on this language with different alphabets and different grammar. So it’s just really rewarding.
TKS: Are you a dog person or a cat person?
OS: I’ve had dogs all my life, and we have a dog that we left behind in California with my family, but I like cats too. I’ve never owned a cat, but there are some stray cats close to my apartment complex and they’re really darling. I’m not against cats; I’ve only always been a dog person.