Robert D. Sutherland



     Born in Blytheville, Arkansas in 1937, in 1941 I moved with my family to Wichita, Kansas, where I attended elementary and high school. In 1959, I graduated from the University of Wichita (now Wichita State University) with a B.A. degree in English, having opted out of a declared major in chemistry in my junior year. (Having wanted to be a chemist since eight years of age, I concentrated in science and math courses in high school and the first two and a half years of college. But, after General (inorganic) Chemistry, Qualitative and Quantitative Analysis, and one semester of Organic Chemistry, as well as Analytic Geometry, Differential and Integral Calculus, I grew tired of measuring things (including my ever-diminishing grade point average) and came to the sad and traumatic conclusion that Chemistry wasn’t for me. I converted to English and, in the space of one summer and three semesters, satisfied the 40-hour requirement for the major. In July of 1959, I married Marilyn Neufeldt, who’d recently graduated from nursing school, and moved to Iowa City, Iowa for graduate study at the University of Iowa, where I obtained a Ph.D. in English in 1964.

     With our two small sons (David, 2; Allan, 6 weeks), Marilyn and I then moved to Normal, Illinois, where I joined the English faculty at Illinois State University and taught in the areas of Linguistics, Creative Writing, and Literature until my retirement as Professor of English in 1993. I particularly enjoyed teaching courses in Descriptive Linguistics, History of the English Language, semantic theory, and Old English (a two-semester sequence, the second half devoted to Beowulf). I particularly did not enjoy teaching Traditional and Non-Traditional Grammars and (after the first five years) freshman composition.

     In teaching the writing of poetry and prose fiction in workshop formats, I encouraged students to read widely, hone their critical skills to become the best editors of their own work, develop a keen sensitivity to the sounds of language (speech rhythms and the affective interplay of vowels and consonants), and, when creating line-breaks in poetry, always to be mindful of the integrity of the syntactic phrase. I told them that while I might stimulate or jump-start creative processes, I could not teach them creativity; at most I could aspire to teach them rhetoric, the art (and science) of effective expression in particular situational contexts.

     In 1977, James Scrimgeour and I founded Pikestaff Publications, a not-for-profit corporation which published two literary magazines, and, under the imprint of The Pikestaff Press, books of poetry and prose fiction. From the outset we resolved that Pikestaff would be a press “with a difference.” Requiring agreement of both editors for a piece to be accepted hopefully would help to assure that the quality of published work would be consistently high. Further, it would be editorial policy to respond to every submission with a written critique explaining the basis for the editors’ decisions, and offering helpful suggestions as to how a piece might be improved. Pikestaff would invite submissions from established and non-established writers, welcoming both traditional and experimental works. It would remain eclectic in its tastes, subscribing to no specific “school” of poetry or fiction. It would be particularly interested in providing launchpad exposure to new writers and to those who might have difficulty in getting a hearing. Its published CREDO reads: “We believe that good writing communicates intense, basic human experience which is conductive of change and growth, and that such communication, when achieved, is as plain and as pointed as a pikestaff.” For nineteen years (until 1996) we edited The Pikestaff Forum, a tabloid-format magazine of national distribution, which gained an excellent reputation for the quality of its poetry and prose fiction. In 1996, we ended the Forum’s run to concentrate on publishing books.

     Since 1981, Marilyn and I have traveled extensively in various parts of the world, and, since the late 1960’s, have worked diligently to promote peace, social justice, civil liberties, and preservation of the natural environment. Since 1969, we have been active members of the American Civil Liberties Union working to defend the U.S. Constitution and Bill of Rights against encroachments by the government (broadly conceived).

     My published books include two novels and a scholarly work, Language and Lewis Carroll (1970), a definitive study ascertaining the degree to which the author of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, Through the Looking-Glass, The Hunting of the Snark, and Symbolic Logic was self-consciously a nineteenth-century philologist exploring linguistic concerns in his fictions for humorous effect.

     The first novel, Sticklewort and Feverfew (1980), was written for children, adolescents, and adults. It works simultaneousy on multiple levels, and was pilot-tested with all age groups at every stage of its nine-year composition. I illustrated it with 74 fully rendered pencil drawings, teaching myself to draw in the process. The book received the 1981 Friends of American Writers Juvenile Book Merit Award for author/illustrator.

     The second novel, The Farringford Cadenza (2007), explores the consequences of illusion and self-delusion, the many faces of deceit, and people's ethical responsibilities with regard to art and cultural values. As a vehicle for accomplishing these aims, the book takes the form of a suspenseful, humorous literary mystery which subtly skews generic conventions to continually surprise readers with reversals of their assumptions and expectations.

     In addition to my books, I have published poetry, short fiction, articles on literature, education, and small-press publishing, and essays on political issues. (see My Writings).

     My favorite literary authors include Dante Alighieri, the Shakespeare of Macbeth, King Richard II, Julius Caesar, and Measure for Measure. Chaucer, Henry David Thoreau, Lewis Carroll, Katherine Anne Porter (the short stories), J. R. R. Tolkien, Raymond Chandler, Jane Austen, Rainer Maria Rilke, the later Hermann Hesse, Lucia Cordell Getsi, William Maxwell, Muriel Spark, Isabel Allende, and Ray Bradbury (the period 1950-70), I also have enormous respect for the literary work of Arthur Conan Doyle (the Sherlock Holmes canon), Henry James, Emily Dickinson, George Orwell, Kate Chopin, Alexander Pope, Edward Albee, Elinor Wylie, Lillian Hellman, Ingmar Bergman, Agatha Christie, Anton Chekhov and Jerome K. Jerome (Three Men in a Boat).

     Classical music is one of my main interests and pleasures in life; and my favorite composers are Frederic Chopin, Telemann, J. S. Bach, Mozart, Beethoven, Brahms, Bruch, Dvorak, Faure, Ernst Bloch, Granados, Rodrigo, and Alan Hovhaness. I also have enormous respect for the music of Schumann, Saint-Saens, Stenhammar, Berwald, Stravinsky, Farringford, Prokofiev, and Shostakovich. My other hobby and leisure interests include the history of motion pictures and techniques of cinematography (particularly the conventions of film noir), reading, walking, travel, the nature of “metaphor”, the function of names in establishing referentiality and twisting truth, and the obstacles that language itself presents to communication through vagueness and lexcial/syntactic ambiguity.

     Guiding principles:
     I am opposed to: war; censorship; hypocrisy; personal or corporate greed; exploitation of other people; destruction of the natural environment; the intentional and wilful putting of stumbling blocks in someone else’s path; discrimination against any person or group on the basis of race, gender, ethnicity, age, religion, physical appearance or disability, and actual or perceived sexual orientation.

     I am committed to the defense of the United States Constitution and the freedoms enunciated in the Bill of Rights and Fourteenth Amendment. I believe in peace, social justice, honesty, equality of opportunity, preservation of the natural environment, sound and creative education, meaningful work, generosity, open-mindedness, the importance of humor, coalitional and cooperative efforts, and nurturing/encouraging the young.

     Marilyn and I have two grown sons: David (m. Jennifer), Allan (m. Bhavani), and four grandchildren: Ana (D & J), and Brenden, Arjun, and Robert (A & B).     

     I am available for (and enjoy) participating in writing workshops and literary publishing discussions, and for giving talks, readings of my work, and interviews as my schedule allows.


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