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Kingston-born writer Daniel Griffin, whose first collection of stories has won critical raves, is emerging as one of Canada’s bright young literary talents.
Daniel Griffin, Artsci’94, Ed’95, still has vivid memories of the moment in 1995 when he decided it was time to move on from Queen’s and Kingston.
“I was on campus and could see Frontenac Street, where I grew up. I could see Victoria School, where I went to primary school, and just beyond that, I could see where I went to high school at KCVI. It struck me at that moment that it was time to move on, to expand my world,” says Griffin.
He has done that and a lot more. Griffin’s work in sales and marketing for a technology company has taken him around the world. He has lived in France, Germany, India, and Guatemala, where he met his wife. The two of them settled in her native San Francisco, until children came along. Griffin and his young family now live in British Columbia.
Through it all, it’s now clear that Griffin’s Kingston years, with their limestone-solid foundations of family and learning, have fostered his creative pursuits and have shaped him as a writer. He’s fast making a name for himself in the literary world.
His first book, a collection of short stories called Stopping for Strangers, was a runner-up for the Danuta Gleed Literary Award, given annually by the Writers’ Union of Canada, and has been shortlisted for a ReLit Award, which honours the best offerings from independent publishers.
Griffin’s stories penetrate the complexities of relationships and place. The title story tells of a sibling relationship that on the surface appears simple and straightforward: A brother and sister are driving to Kingston to visit their ailing grandfather. But sibling relationships are seldom simple, as Griffin demonstrates with clarity and economy. He reveals a depth to the brother-sister dynamic and, with an unexpected turn, leads one character to a crystal-clear moment of self-discovery.
Another of the stories in the collection, “The Last Great Works of Alvin Cale,” was a finalist for the 2009 Journey Prize. It is a compelling tale about a father and his dying son. Set in the B.C. forest, the story peels back layers of family history, uncovering a profound rivalry, betrayal, and ultimately love, expressed in the paintings of both father and son.
“Families fascinate me,” says Griffin. “We have no choice over our parents and siblings, and yet we develop intimate relationships with them.”
Griffin’s own family has deep Tricolour ties. His father, Malcolm Griffin, PhD’65, is a retired math professor; his mother, Sharon Thompson, Arts’65, BFA’83, returned to Queen’s as a mature student to earn her degree in fine arts. The Griffins still live in the family home on Frontenac Street. Elwood Thompson, BSc’33, Griffin’s maternal grandfather, prior to his 1995 death, held the distinction of being one of the University’s oldest living alumnus.
While Daniel Griffin is and has always been an avid reader, he believes his study of history at Queen’s ignited his passion for stories in a way that studying literature could not have done. And a single drama course with playwright-professor Maurice Breslow, now Professor Emeritus, taught him the value of writing dialogue when developing characters.
“For me, dialogue brings characters to life, and theatre is all dialogue. I learned a lot from that drama course and from Professor Breslow,” he says.