Introduction: “Opening and Interpreting Lives”
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Introduction “Opening and Interpreting Lives” E. Patrick Johnson Most institutions of higher learning prioritize three areas in which its faculty must excel: research, teaching, and service. These three areas are often the sites where administrations make faculty accountable at the time of tenure and promotion. Rarely, however, do any of us excel in all three without making some kind of personal sacrifice or succumbing to burnout. Before tenure, teaching might suffer so that we can work on a book manuscript or produce a string of “paradigm shifting” articles. After tenure, the research may wane due to being overextended on committees . The road to full professor may take yet another toll on our teaching as we work on the second or third book manuscript. Whatever the case, ours is a constant negotiation of priorities and balancing acts in which we aspire to be good citizens of the academy. I know of no other person who excelled at all three as adeptly and gracefully as Dwight Conquergood . His life and his legacy stand as academic benchmarks. Lorne Dwight Conquergood was born in 1949, one of five children, to the late Daniel Conquergood and Dorothea Conquergood in Thunder Bay, Ontario. At a very early age his family moved to rural Indiana and lived on a farm. It was during his formative years as a farmhand alongside his father, with whom he was very close, that Dwight’s sense of social responsibility and the valuation of life began to emerge. “I hated when it was time to kill the animals,” he once told me. “I became very attached to them and I would be depressed for days after they were slaughtered . I was inconsolable.” Thus, from an early age he was committed to the conditions of the disenfranchised and dedicated himself to a life of advocacy. Undoubtedly, his working-­ class background and modest upbringing impacted his intellectual interests as well. Not wanting to travel too far from his family for college, Dwight attended Indiana State University in Terre Haute. There he double-­ majored in Speech Communication and English, which not only would 2  cultural struggles prove to be instrumental in his effectiveness as a skilled rhetorician but also helped him become an adept writer who cared almost as much about how a message was communicated as about the message itself. He went on to receive a master’s degree in Communication in 1972 at the University of Utah where he worked under the tutelage of Mary Strine, a fierce theorist in her own right who encouraged Dwight to pursue a PhD. After looking at several programs, he decided to apply to and was accepted into Northwestern’s Department of Interpretation (now Performance Studies) and worked with Wallace Bacon, a Shakespeare scholar trained at the University of Michigan who founded that department at Northwestern in the early 1940s. Landing at Northwestern was a boon for Dwight. The department was a part of the School of Speech, which housed four other departments—­ Radio, Television, and Film; Theater; Communication Studies; and Communication Sciences and Disorders. This unique combination of related disciplines proved instrumental in Dwight’s own intellectual development as an interdisciplinary thinker. His work in the departments of Communication Studies, renowned for producing some of the best scholarship in historical rhetoric and oratory , and Radio, Television, and Film, which had a very strong production emphasis, provided Dwight the skills to hone his rhetorical chops and gave him the basic tools for film production. Undoubtedly, it will come as a surprise to many to know that Conquergood ’s dissertation topic was the use of the boast in Beowulf. But, as Joseph Roach notes in his essay in this volume, for those who read his later published work his beginnings as a medievalist was critical to Dwight’s careful attention to the “voice” of others—­ and his own. It was also in the graduate program at Northwestern that he began to understand more fully the triumvirate of theory, method, and practice because it was fully a part of the departmental culture. Indeed, it was during this period that Robert Breen developed “Chamber Theater,” a theory of how to adapt narrative for the stage, and also that Wallace Bacon published articles about the “sense of the other” through the performance of literature . Intellectual promiscuity was Dwight’s trademark, and this hotbed of creative and theoretical energy was just the kind of environment for him to forge his own critical voice—­ and he did so with abandon. After graduating from...