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Published:April 3rd, 2007 11:27 EST
The Journey of Mariela Griffor

The Journey of Mariela Griffor

By Garrett Godwin

Mariela Griffor defines feature writing as a writer’s profession.  She also has her own definition of who she is in the field of journalism.  “I’m a writer that happens to be writing poetry,” states the 45-year-old.

Mariela Griffor was born in the city of Concepcion in southern Chile on September 29, 1961.  Her family then moved to Santiago, the capital of Chile, where Mariela enlisted at the university there.  She thought about journalism at a very young age and wanted to be a broadcast journalist, and travel around the world.  Though knowing she needed a lot of training, Mariela did not know what to do with her writing at the time.  In 1984, she lived in Brazil for a year and studied journalism at the Catholic University of Rio de Janeiro.

A year later, on September 15, 1985, Mariela’s engineer husband, Julio Carlos Santibanez Romera, was part of the “Patriotic Front”-- an organization opposed to the tactics of Chile’s dictator, Augusto Pinochet, who disagreed with the country’s politics.  This led to Julio being murdered, forcing Mariela to leave Chile at the age of 23.

In 1986, she found political refuge in Sweden, where she had a sister who took care of her.  That same year, Mariela’s first daughter, Javiena, was born.  The new mother did not have citizenship for her child, but the Swedish government granted Mariela double citizenship of both Chile and Sweden.  “It was tremendous,” she remembers of her years in Sweden.  “I learned Swedish after three years of school.  They opened the doors to all the refugees of Sweden.”

It was during her twelve years in Sweden that Mariela met, fell in love, and married her second husband-- acclaimed mathematician Edward Griffor, who is both American and a Detroit native.  After her remarriage, she gave birth to her second daughter, Elena.  In 1997, over a decade passed, Mariela returned to Chile with her family.  A year later, they came to the United States; but Mariela had her reservations.  “I never had the dream of coming to America”, she states.  “It was a big issue for me to come over here.”

However, as time went on, Mariela learned to speak English.  “Slowly”, she continues, “I started to move into the English language.  My husband, who is very sensitive, said to me, ‘What is the big deal?  Language is just a tool’.  Every language is different.  For me, English is an emotional thing.  It allows you to be free and speak, which is what I like.”

Mariela and her family later returned to Chile, where her eldest child, Javiena, was reluctant to go, but later on wanted to.  The youngest, Elena, now 15, enjoyed going to Chile, where not only did she want to learn Spanish, but also never wanted to leave the country.  Still, according to Mariela, her children enjoy the cultures of both America and Chile.  “My daughters,” she said, “have adapted to this country [America] and also being part Chilean, part American.”

Mariela applied and was accepted to Wayne State University, where her daughter Javiena is now studying criminal justice.  She took Feature Writing taught by Metro Times columnist Jack Lessenberry, survived the ordeal and graduated in 2002 with a bachelor’s degree in journalism and a master’s in media studies.  Mariela realized that studying journalism goes far beyond books and the classroom.  “Everything we learn here [at Wayne State University] is not enough,” she states.

Following her graduation from Wayne State University, Mariela knew what she wanted to do.  “We all dreamed about working for a newspaper,” she said, “and that is what I wanted to do when it got out of here [Wayne State University]”. 

Mariela went on to write for different newspapers and magazines, including the Detroit Free Press, where she worked from six in the evening to midnight, but she did not make the cut for an internship at the newspaper.  Working there for less than a summer, Mariela said that the Free Press was a “worst time” for her.  “I really had a tough time with that”, she remembers.  “I was used to writing a different way.  I’m more of a fiction writer than a journalist.”  Mariela also states the environment at the Free Press was fast-paced, intense, and stressful, and she learned an important lesson in journalism, “You have to be good, and you have to be fast”, she responds.

Mariela is now the founder of Marick Press, a non-profit publishing company that is “looking for groundbreaking fiction and poetry”.  “Writers have a big ego,” she said, “no matter what field they’re in.  As a publisher, you are looking for talent, and looking to expose that talent.  The publishing world is part of the writing world.”  Her company will publish three books next month, such as A Complex Bravery, a collection of poems written by Robert Lipton.  Next spring, Marick Press will also be releasing four national writers that are located in Boston, New York, Los Angeles, and Alaska. 

It has been a long road for Mariela Griffor, who describes herself as “a very practical person”.  Living in Grosse Pointe Park since 1998, she has founded secure income as a writer, but she also founded stability with her husband and two daughters.  Mariela Griffor leaves another lesson she learned about journalism.  “If you want to be a writer”, she said, “be annoying, be obnoxious.  Do whatever you have to do.  Just do it.”