More About the Author
Born in Brooklyn, I grew up during and after World War II in a Park Slope completely different from today's gentrified, writer- and artist-filled neighborhood, a working-class, blue collar world where the parents of my childhood friends and playmates had pronounced Irish, Italian, German, or Greek accents, and the floors and stairways of their somewhat decrepit brownstone houses were rich with the odors of garlic, tomato sauce, and cabbage. In the last two years of my primary school education I came under the influence of a truly great man, Sidney L. Brown, Principal of P.S. 9, who worked tirelessly to inculcate in a very varied student body a tolerance and embrace of cultural and ethnic diversity. In my last year at a technical high school, another great (if eccentric) man, my senior English instructor, awakened in me a delight in literature and a curiosity about the past which have motivated me ever since. After an undergraduate education in Columbia College which exposed me to great books, great teachers, and the joys and mysteries of the European Middle Ages, two more undergraduate years at Oxford University exposed me to a civilization where the traces of those medieval centuries were everywhere evident (a situation, I must add, not always beneficial), and prepared me for the PhD at Columbia that followed them.
I taught at Columbia for forty-five years, retiring at the end of the 2005-2006 academic year after having seen the nature of my profession and the institutions that sponsor it undergo vast changes (and having observed at very close range the great Columbia uprising of 1968). Though trained as a medievalist, specializing in English, French, and Latin texts and their cultural contexts, I also taught Renaissance subjects (including, with my colleague, the distinguished art historian David Rosand, an ongoing undergraduate seminar in the art and literature of the Renaissance) and became particularly enamored of Boccaccio and Ariosto, masters of Italian comic writing. In the last seventeen years of my career I taught a course on "race" and ethnicity in American literature that I developed in response to a nasty racial incident on the Columbia campus. With this course, I began to repay my debt to Sidney L. Brown.
Both my religious convictions (I'm a liberal Catholic deeply suspicious of the Church's all too human institutions) and political views (very much those of a left liberal New Yorker) undergird my activities in retirement, which center (as they have for the last decade) on preparing for eventual college entrance adults who never finished high school,are currently earning their GED certificates, and want to continue with education's life-changing experience. My "college prep" course is sponsored by Columbia's community service organization, Community Impact, on the Board of Directors of which I also serve.
The book I have just published, *Serious Play. Desire and Authority in the Poetry of Ovid, Chaucer, and Ariosto* (Columbia University Press, 2010; based on the Thirteenth Leonard Hastings Schoff Lectures at Columbia University) is a warm appreciation of my three favorite comic poets, who laughed at, but sympathized with, the follies of lovers, and liked nothing better than to expose, through humor, the shortcomings and absurdities that mark most forms of cultural and political authority. These poets spoke comic truth to power, and I've tried to discuss their writings in a way that will make my readers want to read them, instead.