Interview with author and radio host Glen Grant (1999 – a J!-ENT Classic Interview)
September 30, 2008 by Dennis Amith
Many of my friends are fans of the late Glen Grant (Feb. 23, 1947-June 19, 2003), a Hawaiian historian, author and folklorist. I knew him strictly for his “Chicken Skin” audiobooks that dealt with “obake” (ghosts or the supernatural).
His talent of setting up a story (based on interviews he has had with local Hawaiians) and then suddenly scaring the living crap out of you.
Grant’s storytelling literally gave me goosebumps or “chicken skin” as I commuted long distances late at night.
I literally shared his audio books with friends who also became fans of his work and the stories he told were interesting, highly enjoyable and at times, could get quite scary.
In September 1999, I really wanted an interview with Glen Grant for our October issue of Asian Pacific Review (APR) and I assigned the article to Hiroshi Endo, who used to live in Hawaii and also a big fan of Glen’s work.
Because we tried to get this out by Halloween during that time, we weren’t sure if Glen would get back to us with our tight schedule. But due to our tight editorial schedule for that issue, the interview never came out on APR during that October. But it was posted on J!-ENT back in 1999 and I believe published on APR much later.
But with Halloween 2008 coming up, what a fitting time to bring back this classic interview from a decade ago with “Chicken Skin” author and radio host Glent Grant.
I hope many of you can check out his audio books because you’ll be hooked.
J! (HIROSHI): Could you please tell your readers a little background about yourself?
GLEN: I was born and raised in Los Angeles, California and came to Hawaii to attend graduate school in 1970-71. I was at the University of Hawaii in Education (MEd) and American Studies (PhD) which i got in 1982. I have worked for Kapiolani Community College where I helped establish Interpret Hawaii, a statewide cultural tourism training program and then went to Hawaii Tokai International College where I am an instructor in American Studies and the Dean of Academic Services. In 1992 I helped form Honolulu TimeWalks, a walking tour, cultural tourism business which offers tours, books, tapes and other cultural experiences in Hawaii’s history and ghostlore.
J! (HIROSHI): How did you get in to collecting obake stories?
GLEN: I started collecting ghost stories as a child when I became fascinated with the tales of spirit return. After moving to Hawaii, I expanded my academic interest to include ghost stories, which slowly began to envelop my life so that know i guess I’m best known as a collector and teller of ghost stories.
J! (HIROSHI): What kind of research you do before collecting and publishing a story?
GLEN: Many stories are shared with me by persons who are sincere in their experiences. As a folklorist, i think my obligation is to retell the story as accurately while keeping anonymity for the teller and in some cases the place, as possible. In some cases, a story will be of a specific site. By going to Hawaiian language and folklore sources, the modern day occurrence has then a startling legendary connection that the teller of the tale did not know.
J! (HIROSHI): What are the most common type of stories that people come to you with?
GLEN: Hawaii has so many “common type” of stories. They range from tales of sacred stones and burials, to choking ghosts, nightmarchers, phantom hitchhikers and interesting creatures or spirits such as menehune or “faceless” ghosts. If you review the “Obake Files”, i tried to group these types of ghosts in their various categories, recognizing that the tales often reflect what the teller believes is a deeper supernatural truth.
J! (HIROSHI): Hawaii is such a small place… So why does there seem to be so many ghost stories when compared to the mainland?
GLEN: It is an island. If you look at island societies (i.e. Japan, the Caribbean, United Kingdom, Ireland) you discover that the intensity of life experiences on these ocean surrounded pieces of earth seem to intensify
supernatural belief and experiences. In Hawaii, hundreds of years of concentrated living, the remains of the dead placed in vicinity to the living, has kept the spiritual connection alive. In addition, the multicultural people of Hawaii each bring a strong supernatural tradition to the mix so that this helps to keep the stories alive.
J! (HIROSHI): Do you have a particular story which you like the most?
GLEN: I always get “chicken skin” when I hear any story told sincerely. I am turned off by the performance type storytellers who try to show you how scary they are by the way they tell the tale without concern for the truth of the matter. The most matter of fact story to me is the scariest and my favorite because it reflects the sincerity of the teller that this phenomena, inexplicable as it may seem, did happen.
J! (HIROSHI) :Have you ever had any exceptional experiences in your search for obake?
GLEN: Searching for obake usually is uneventful except for the dormitory story in “Obake: Ghost Stories of Hawaii” which is still very unsettling to me. Most of my experiences have happened while I was not looking for obake… Such as the fireball I saw at Makapuu Cliffs on Oahu or the chanting I heard coming literally from the stones of the Mookini Heiau on the big island.
J! (HIROSHI) Have you solved or debunked any stories?
GLEN: I’m not a paranormal investigator, so every story has value to me. Certainly, however, the Morgan Corner stories about the “boyfriend, girlfriend” is often seen as true, as we have demonstrated, the story is
told exactly the same way in places all around the world. Distinguishing an urban legend from a true supernatural event isn’t always easy, but can be done.
J! (HIROSHI): What are some future or current projects that you are working on?
GLEN: Actually, I’m working on several books: a biography of Justice Masaji Marumoto with Dennis Ogawa and Claire Marumoto, a pictorial history of Hawaii for 2000, a Mcdougal murder mystery novel and another collection of chicken skin tales for 2000 that welcomes the new century with stories of aumakua or guardian spirits.
J! (HIROSHI): I am from Hilo, do you know any good stories from there other than from Ms. Pele?
GLEN: In the Obake Files, I retell the story from the 40′s of the haunted house where the huge spirit assaulted a carload of men; also the faceless woman who appeared in the Wailoa tourism area. She was in the ladies restroom at a Japanese restaurant. She had no eyes, no nose and no mouth.
J! (HIROSHI): What do you think is the draw so many people?
GLEN: Ghost stories are the modern glimmer of the contest between faith and science, between facing death with assurance of an afterlife and the doubt of nothingness. As long as we mortals don’t have a strong faith in the survival of death, we turn to ghost stories as a popular explanation of what happens to us. Each new generation as they taste their mortality, also taste the hope of survival which every ghost story contains in it no matter how frightening the encounter. Thus we will always have ghost stories, as well as the people so fascinated with death and afterlife that they spend their lives collecting, researching and retelling of these
encounters with mystery.
J! (HIROSHI): Any last words for your readers or fans of your work?
GLEN: If you want more information, visit www.chicken-skin.com. Keep the stories alive.