I was born, September 4, 1944, in Wilmington Delaware, not far from Philadelphia, where my parents were then living. In 1950 we moved out to Chicago where my father (a bacteriologist) worked at the Rheumatic Fever Research Institute, and earned his PhD from Northwestern University. We lived first in Park Forest (a suburb some distance south of Chicago), then moved to Evanston, and later still to the Rodgers Park neighborhood on Chicago’s upper north side. But I went to high school in the far northern suburb of Winnetka (commuting back and forth by train until I earned my driver’s license).
North Shore Country Day School, which I attended for 5 years, beginning eighth grade there in 1957, marked a decisive turning point in my life. Up to that point I had been a “problem child” getting into all kinds of trouble in school, being bored, disruptive, and defiant of authority in general. North Shore’s teachers took a different approach. Instead of trying to shame me or coerce me into being a better student, they flattered and challenged me. One of them handed me back a paper with the comment “I’d accept this from some of the other students in this class–but not you. Do it again.” Another got my attention by throwing me out of her class for daring to openly read a book while she was lecturing. I admit it was incautious of me to have tried this while seated in the front row; but the book was Isaac Asimov’s Foundation and Empire, and I just HAD to know how Harry Seldon’s followers were going to deal with the Mule!
Those five years at NSCDS were some of the happiest of my life, and friends I met there I have stayed in touch with ever since; but college was a different matter.
I attended Williams College, where I started out intending to be an English major (at the time I aspired to become the American George Bernard Shaw). But when push came to shove in my sophomore year, I majored in German instead, where inspiring professors, and a growing passion for the works of Bertolt Brecht eventually won me a Fulbright Scholarship to the University of Munich. I was something of a loner at Williams, and remember my professors there far better than most of my classmates. For me, the highlights of those years were mostly summers–returning to Chicago the summer after my freshman year to play a lead in the first-ever midwest production of Gilbert and Sullivan’s last operetta The Grand Duke, produced and directed by my best friend (from high school) Jonathan Strong; and enrolling at Northwestern University’s drama school where I got a good grounding in theatre tech; then, after my sophomore year, spending a summer in Cambridge, Massachusetts, working in the Houghton rare book library at Harvard, where I had learned that microfilm copies of Brecht’s unpublished papers were stored.
On a whim, I applied to spend the summer following my senior year in a Williams-sponsored program designed to coach Chinese grade school teachers in Hong Kong on the finer points of everyday English conversation. I was accepted as one of six students (four new grads and two juniors)to go. I can’t speak for the others, but I know that I have never worked harder in my life than I did that summer in Hong Kong. Those Asian adults we were “teaching” (many of them twice our age or older) hung on every word we said with the same respect and awe that the children they would go back to teaching again in September hung on theirs. I sincerely hope we helped them–I know we really tried.
Did I mention that, in my senior year, I’d also applied for a job with the U.S. Information Agency, passed the State Department written and oral exams, and been provisionally hired with a year off first to complete my Fulbright studies in Munich? My original plan was to study there with a man named Hans Braun, who, so far as I knew, taught the only class in theatre criticism offered anywhere in the world. But professor Braun died while I was still in Hong Kong; so I had to quickly find another opportunity. By some miracle I still don’t understand, I was accepted as a trainee assistant to one of the city’s leading theatre directors, August Everding of the Muchner Kammerspiele. With a half-dozen others (all native German speakers) I sat in on rehearsals, took notes, listened intently, and now and then responded (when asked) with an opinion or even a thought-out plan for how a particular actor (all of them experienced professionals) might change what they were doing so as to be more effective in performance. I also attended lectures, but these were simple in comparison to the classwork I’d been asked to do at Williams, and I passed my exams with little difficulty.
Then, half-way through my Fulbright year, to top everything off, an ex-professor from Williams who had moved onto a post at Harvard, told me that if I applied to their PhD program in German, I stood a good chance of being accepted. Thus, in the spring of 1967, I was blessed/cursed with the need to decide between accepting a full-time job as an assistant director to Dr. Everding in Germany; returning home to begin a career in the foreign service as a USIS officer; or entering Harvard graduate school with a substantial scholarship and the expectation that I could complete my course work and my PhD dissertation both within three years. I loved the theatre, but didn’t trust myself to give up all other aspirations and interests and devote myself to it completely–which I think is the single element most necessary to success in all the performing fields: music, theatre, and film, even today. I asked the State Department to defer my posting for three more years; but they could only give me one. So I entered Harvard, where I earned both my MA and PhD, and graduated in 1970. This was only possible because, while in Hong Kong, one of my students had commented that Brecht’s play The Good Woman of Sezchuan showed that the playwright knew and understood China well, while I knew that he had never traveled there or even studied the language. That handed me my PhD thesis topic “Chinese Literature and Thought in the Poetry and Prose of Bertolt Brecht; and obtaining special permission from Brecht’s wife and son to consult the microfilmed documents covering all stages of his writing career that were housed in the Houghton rare book library right there on campus gave me the means.
I emerged in 1970 as a newly minted PhD with no intention of ever becoming a teacher. Instead I still planned on a foreign service career. I sat for the written exams again and passed, but this time flunked the orals–not once but twice! I’ve never known exactly what happened. It could just be that they wanted a different sort of foreign service officer in 1970 than I had seemed to be in 1966. It could also be that my two-year obsession with Brecht–including several weeks spent conducting research and interviews in East Berlin itself–made me seem less “all-American” perhaps even a secret Communist sympathizer. But I doubt that. No, I think I had simply changed–become a different person in those four busy years.
I did get a job working as an escort-interpreter for the Department of State; travelling around the country with distinguished German visitors to show them the sights, assist them at interviews, and, if possible, keep them out of trouble. It was fascinating work, but unpredictable (if no one was visiting, I got no pay). And so it wasn’t long before I turned to journalism, and eventually found my way to the World Future Society, where I worked as a writer and editor for almost forty years–the last five of them as managing editor of the society’s scholarly journal World Future Review.
From 1984 to 1990 I ran away to join the media circus, writing scripts and doing voice-over narration for SAI Productions in Annapolis, which filmed a number of documentary television shows that were broadcast on PBS and in Europe.
Since 1992 I’ve been the volunteer director of a weekly poetry program for Seniors at Friendship Terrace in Washington, DC.
In 1995, I was asked to serve as a translator and consultant for the Goethe Institut in Washington, DC, helping to set up websites and produce poetry-related projects in English, German, and Chinese. And from time to time I’ve also been asked by the German, Austrian, and Swiss embassies to give dramatic readings in English of works by numerous poets and writers from German-speaking countries at live events in the DC area.
As time permits, I will add to this bio note and say more about my literary writings, and especially the origins and aims of my books Satisfaction; Lineage; Fabrications; and Virtual Futures. But for now, lets stop.
If you need additional background in a hurry, consult my profile on LinkedIn.