- The Theatre Journal Auto/Archive:George Woodyard
Growing up as the youngest of nine children in a monolingual family (with substandard English) on a farm in central Illinois was culturally challenging, to say the least. Because one-room country schools were infinitely flexible, I was accelerated through elementary school and entered high school when I was eleven, eagerly starting my first foreign language study. From about the age of six, I was fascinated by the concept of other languages, primarily because of an older sister who taught me words and phrases in Spanish and French. After studying Latin, Spanish, and French in high school, followed by a major in Spanish with minors in Latin and German in college, I started an MA in Spanish in Las Cruces, New Mexico in January 1954.
Barely nineteen years old, I had, astonishingly, never met a native speaker of Spanish or seen a professional theatre performance. The year in New Mexico changed all of that. My very first night there, in neighboring El Paso, I saw the traveling company performance of John Brown's Body, little suspecting that I would spend the greater part of my life in northeastern Kansas, where John Brown launched his abolitionist crusade. Further, my New York roommate regaled me with tales of a theatrical world beyond my imagination. When I took my first teaching job in a suburban Chicago high school the next fall, it was not long before I had an airplane ticket (my first) to New York to see live theatre on Broadway. On that first visit I saw Flower Drum Song, which I was happy to see again a year ago in revival in New York. In the 1950s teachers were subject to military conscription, but I had the good fortune to be assigned to Puerto Rico, where there was good theatre—not to mention the superb Pablo Casals music festivals. My greatest regret was missing the 1958 premiere of René Marqués's Los soles truncos (The fanlights), a play that I have taught countless times through the years.
After the military and several years of teaching (both high school and college), I was grateful for the National Defense Education Act Title VI foreign language fellowship that allowed me, in summer 1963, to return to graduate studies in Spanish at the University of Illinois, one of the finest programs in the country. The combination of my experiences in New Mexico and Puerto Rico inspired me to study theatre; my major professor, Merlin Forster, taught a pilot course for three of us that year. The plays we [End Page 547] read convinced me of the rich potential of this field, and I went on to write a dissertation on Latin American theatre under Forster's direction. After two years, I was appointed to a tenure-track position at Illinois, but the following year I could not resist an invitation from Kansas. One week after I graduated from Illinois in June 1966, I was teaching a summer graduate course in theatre at the University of Kansas. Less than a month later I had met Fredric Litto, a KU professor of theatre, at a cocktail party, where—perhaps well lubricated and in a festive mood—we conceived the notion of a specialized publication. Through the good graces of John Augelli, then director of the Center of Latin American Studies, we delivered a manuscript in fall 1967 with 1/1 on a designer cover and the title Latin American Theatre Review. My coeditor, whose guidance and insights were crucial in our formative years, neglected to return to Kansas after a visiting appointment at the Universidade de São Paulo, leaving me to handle the journal on my own.
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Now completing its thirty-seventh year of publication, the journal has been the center of my academic life. It was not always easy, and many times I felt a bit like a juggler in the circus, trying to keep everything in the air at once. For over twenty years I worked in central administration at KU, which culminated in an appointment as dean of international studies. We raised millions...