RARA-AVIS: Re: half-time job for mystery novelist

From: Mark D. Nevins (nevins_mark@yahoo.com)
Date: 16 Nov 2008

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    Re: this thread:

    One of my most influential professors when I was an undergrad at Holy Cross (Class of '86) was Richard Rodino. Rodino was a highly regarded scholar of 18th Century English literature (his focal area of research was Jonathan Swift) but his interests were wide-ranging, including what we would now call "hypertextual" aspects of Rabbinical exegesis and the history and philosophy of science. He was also an early admirer of Robert Pirsig (ZEN AND THE ART OF MOTORCYCLE MAINTENANCE), and was, I believe, the first person to get Pirsig to return to the USA to talk about his work. In addition to being a true intellectual, Rodino was also a dedicated and brilliant teacher

    Rodino's wide-ranging interests also included crime and detective fiction--and he even taught an occasional course on the topic (not at all a common thing 20+ years ago on any campus, I think). Sadly, I didn't take that course because I had no interest in crime fiction back then. (I'd love to get my hands on the syllabuses he created.)

    To the point of this thread: Rodino also co-wrote a series of novels about a black PI in Newark named Ezell "Easy" Barnes: SNAKE IN THE GRASSES, PILLOW OF THE COMMUNITY, PIECES OF CREAM, and BEHIND THE FACT: the first was published in '87, the final one in '89, and I believe at least one was nominated for a Shamus. (I am now wondering: does "Easy" Barnes predate "Easy" Rawlin? Hmmmmm.) Anyway, Rodino wrote these books with his college roommate, whose name was Hilary Connors, I believe--I never met him. Connors had gone on from college into a career in law enforcement. The pseudonym they chose was "Richard Hilary," i.e., their first names. (Yes, they did use a pseudonym--not sure why, but pretty sure it was not out of embarrassment.)

    Rodino was a huge influence on my life. He had done his Ph.D. at Harvard, and I know he was instrumental in my being accepted there to do my Ph.D. Tragically, he died suddenly of a hereditary heart condition in 1989--and he has been greatly missed.

    For the record, I can think of at least one other highly regarded English professor who was also a fan of crime fiction: B.J. Whiting was an important scholar of medieval literature, especially Chaucer, who taught at Harvard in the middle of the 20th century. He was retired when I was there, and living in Maine, I think, but I did meet him once. In addition to the Middle Ages he was very interested in dialect and idiom, and wrote books on American proverbs and American slang. I understand he was a voracious reader of any and all "pulp novels," as he felt they were a great record of how people of various classes and geographies actually spoke. I got the sense he also really liked the stories.

    If anyone is interested in the above, I can do a bit more research--the notes above are just off the top of my head. Any if anyone has any of their own insights into or perspectives on Rodino/Hilary or Whiting, I'd be interested in hearing them. Has anyone here read any of the "Easy" Barnes book? (If anyone's interested, shoot me a line off-List--I may have some extra copies.)

    Best, Mark Nevins

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