Spanning the Generations — This past Saturday, I performed a puppet show for the children’s part of our Center City Literary Festival. As I assembled the stage, took my marionettes out of their box, and tried to remember the show’s dialogue, I realized that 40 years had elapsed since I launched my puppetry career.
I was in my early 20s at the time and living in Madison, Wisconsin. Like Geppetto from Pinocchio, I took an interest in carving marionettes from wood. After designing and carving a half dozen marionettes, I decided to try my hand at performing. I built a stage, making sure that it wasn’t too big to fit in my decrepit VW Beetle. I then wrote a show called “The Kangaroo’s Tail,” the very same show that I performed at the Center City Literary Festival, and I started doing shows at libraries, schools, day care centers, and birthday parties. I eventually wrote several more shows and began doing some television work. Now I am in my early 60s, and my son is currently the same age that I was when I made my living as a puppeteer.
During my performance on Saturday, I felt as if I were traveling back in time. I not only reconnected with a part of my personal history, but I also reconnected with the ancient art of puppetry. I am pretty sure that I am the only member of the English Department with puppetry connections, but I am certainly not the only one whose work involves the spanning of generations. Our linguists span countless generations when they teach students about the origins and evolution of language. Our faculty teach courses on the history of the book and the changing nature of communication technologies. Our literature faculty members cover the history of literary traditions and the development of genres. Our creative writing faculty members help students make creative use of their memories of past events. In many ways, this type of time travel is how culture is created and perpetuated.
At the end of my performance on Saturday, I brought out my alligator marionette whose name is Big Mouth. I asked the children if they wanted Big Mouth to bite their fingers, and they all said yes. As Big Mouth interacted with each child in the audience (and some parents, too), I had a sense that the children were connecting in a tangible way with a character, with a story, and with a cultural tradition that spans many generations. It seemed like magic to me.
Kudos — As you know, I like to use my Monday Missives to share news about recent accomplishments by members of our department. Here is the latest news:
Beth Gargano recently gave the following two presentations at the Northeastern Modern Language Association Conference in Baltimore: “The Commonplace Book in the Wilderness: Embedded Narrative in Charlotte Bronte’s Shirley” and “The Male Gaze in the Girls’ Garden: Interrogating Masculinity in Bronte’s The Professor.”
Eileen Jakaway, one of our honors students, received a Ertegun Scholarship to study at Oxford University. Please click on the following link for more information:
Quirky Quiz Question — Does anybody know who wrote Pinocchio?
Last week’s answer: Adam Savage
In teaching her graduate class on the history of modern science writing, Heather Vorhies drew inspiration from an experiment televised on a program called MythBusters. One of the original hosts of this program was Jamie Hyneman. Does anybody know the name of the other original host?