I was born in Canton, Ohio on March 31, 1951, one precarious day away from April Fool’s, perhaps accounting for an attraction to the tradition of “Rebels, Tricksters, and Anti-Heroes in Mythology and Literature,” the title of one of my courses.
My roots are in that part of the working class that managed to climb precariously into the lower middle class under the favorable conditions of the 1950’s and 1960’s . My Italian and Polish grandparents were immigrants: farmers, coal miners, carpenters, factory workers. I have written an as-yet unpublished memoir called Banish Misfortune (the name of an old pipe tune), in which my parents become co-authors: it contains excerpts from my father’s (illegally kept) diary of life in the Navy onboard Destroyer Escorts during the Pacific campaign of World War II, and also from my mother’s memoir of growing up during the Depression on a farm outside New Philadelphia, Ohio, a farm without electricity or plumbing.
These excerpts are available on the website Bonney Family History: A Century of Diaries and Family Photos, along with materials deriving from the family history of my first wife, Bonney Harnish, especially the diary of Bonney’s great-aunt Elinor, whose narrative of Depression-era survival is intense and compelling. These Bonney and Dolzani family histories are a version of the real epic of the United States, a “secret history” quite different from the narratives of American exceptionalism that so often pass as history.
I received my MA and Ph.D. from the University of Toronto. My doctoral dissertation was titled Unending Lightning: Dylan Thomas and the Theory of Metaphor, which began as an essay for Northrop Frye’s graduate course in Literary Symbolism. It won the A.S.P. Woodhouse Award at the University of Toronto for outstanding dissertation completed in the year 1987.
I began as Northrop Frye’s student, taking all his graduate courses and auditing his undergraduate courses, then became his research assistant for 11 years, ending only with his death in early 1991, and after his death became an editor of his work for the Collected Works of Northrop Frye project. For the Collected Works, I edited three volumes of Frye’s unpublished notebooks, co-edited a fourth with Robert D. Denham, and edited the Collected Works edition of Frye’s second book on the Bible and literature, Words with Power.
My scholarship for the thirty years before The Productions of Time largely revolved around the work of Frye: a list of my articles about his work appears in the section on him elsewhere on this website. While still a graduate student, I created a Teacher’s Guide for the filmed version of his undergraduate lectures on the Bible, a project headed by Bob Rodgers, who went on to write a novel about (among other things) his own days as Frye’s student, called The Devil’s Party: Who Killed the Sixties? (Those Bible lectures are now available on YouTube). I am interviewed by Patrick Watson of Great North Productions in his documentary about Frye for the Canadian History Channel, titled Northrop Frye: A Love Story (2000). I was one of five Plenary Speakers at the Centenary Conference on Northrop Frye at the University of Toronto in 2012.
I taught my first course, on a part-time basis, at Canisius College in Buffalo, and for five years taught courses at most of the smaller colleges there. In 1989, I returned to Baldwin Wallace, where I had been an undergraduate, beginning what turned into a 32-year career there in the English Department, with a seven-year stint as Chair. Over time, I won all three awards for faculty achievement: the Strosacker Award for Excellence in Teaching, the Bechberger Award for work with students outside the classroom, and the Gigax Award for scholarship. I also won an Excellence in Education Award from Ohio Magazine in 2003.
My undergraduate performance of Paradise Lost was an early indication of a strong performative tendency that characterizes my teaching style (for better or worse). I am no actor, but did take part in several college productions, most notably as the mad, murderous old man in Yeats’ play Purgatory. The theatrical impulse has impelled me to organize and participate in several non-professional performances over the years of Dylan Thomas’s play for voices, Under Milk Wood. I have also joined with pianist Marjorie Lord in a series of performances for narrator and piano, including Enoch Arden, by Richard Strauss and (our big hit) Babar the Elephant by Francis Poulenc.
I retired from Baldwin Wallace in the summer of 2020 but immediately taught a course in fall semester on a part-time basis. I hope to continue teaching part-time, because I both love it and thrive on it. A great deal of The Productions of Time originated in one or other of my many and wide-ranging classes. Despite its complexity, it is what Northrop Frye described his Anatomy of Criticism as being, a teacher’s book.
My “retirement” is clearly just a cover story. I am as busy (and behind) now as when I was full-time faculty, a condition that is obviously going to be permanent, as I am interested in part-time teaching, occasional lecturing, blogging, podcasting, who knows? I am open to suggestion, and welcome any questions, reactions, or challenges—academic or non-academic—from readers of The Productions of Time or visitors to this website.