Archive for the tag 'Grant Goodman'

Living in the Shadow of Affirmative Action

January 24th, 2016

Perhaps because I am not Caucasian. some friends and colleagues have been asking for my opinion on the broiling brouhaha over the whitewashed Oscar nominations for 2016.  To one such query, I replied cryptically, “People should stop whining, and just get on with it.”   Not surprisingly, my politically incorrect response was met with uncomfortable silence.  Truth of the matter is, I have kept quiet about my own encounters with affirmative action for thirty years.  I have managed to “get on with it,” but I think perhaps the time has now come for me to tell my story.

Up till the mid-1980s, I was content to be a “lecturer” in the English department at the University of Kansas, because the half-time appointment gave me a lot of time to pursue my own writing.  However, being on half-time also meant that mine was not a tenure-track position, that there were only a limited number of courses I was allowed to teach, mostly classes in Freshman/Sophomore Composition & Rhetoric,  with “Introduction to Drama” occasionally thrown in as a reward.  This went on for a number of years, and then an opportunity presented itself in the mid-1980s.  There was suddenly an opening for a creative writing position in the department.

Although I was known at that time primarily as a playwright, having written nine plays, one of which had been presented at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C., and two of which had been produced Off-Broadway in New York, I had also already published a collection of my earlier, prize-winning short fiction.  Out of curiosity, I asked the chair of the department if I should apply for the creative writing position, because I could teach playwriting as well as fiction.  “Why not?”  he smiled amiably.  “You have all the right qualifications.  Besides, it would make Affirmative Action happy.”  Although I was startled by his remark, I tried not to dwell on it.  So I applied for the position, submitting all the necessary documents required—samples of my work, reviews from the press, student evaluations, letters of recommendations from peers and colleagues, etc.

Weeks went by. I heard that there were a lot of applications from all over the country, but that the committee in charge had narrowed down the list of candidates to six, who were all going to be interviewed at the MLA convention in December.  My name was not on the list, but I was told that I was still being considered.  “Should I go to the MLA convention in Chicago?” I asked.  “No need,” a member of the committee reassured me.  “We know all about you and your accomplishments, so there is no need for us to interview you.”

At the start of the spring semester in January, the department was told that two of the applicants who had been interviewed in Chicago were being invited for campus visits for further scrutiny and evaluation.  No more was said about my application, so I simply assumed, quite correctly, that I was no longer being considered.  The two candidates who were brought in were Carolyn Doty and Tom Lorenz, both of whom were novelists.  When their campus visits were over, the department was overjoyed to learn that the administrators in Strong Hall had been so impressed by both Carolyn and Tom, they had decided the department could hire both of them, even though only one position had been advertised.

Another couple of years went by.  After I turned 44 and had given up all hope of ever teaching anything beyond Freshman/Sophomore Composition & Rhetoric, with “Introduction to Drama” occasionally thrown in as a reward, K.U. had a new chancellor, Robert Hemenway, who was very concerned about the lack of diversity among the faculty.  He sent out word that anyone of color who was already on the periphery at the university, should be brought into the fold quickly, bypassing the usual national search.  The same English department chair who had encouraged me to make Affirmative Action happy, now took it upon himself to champion my cause with the new chancellor.  Thus, in 1989, I stopped being a “lecturer,” and became a legitimate tenure-track professor at K.U.  Another lecturer with whom I had been friendly, a lesbian from Australia who was also a novelist, confronted me at a party shortly afterwards and said drunkenly, “I may be the right gender, but my skin is the wrong color, and my eyes are the wrong shape.”  I don’t know how many others in the department shared her opinion.

So that’s how I was hired, in my mind not because I was good or because I had invaluable experience to offer my potential students in creative writing, but because I was a person of color whose presence on the faculty would prove that the University of Kansas was a colorful oasis.  Feeling very much like a second-class citizen, I was determined to prove my worth by working harder than anyone in the department.  In 1989, when all this happened, I convinced my good friend Grant Goodman to fund not only the first Asian-American Festival at the University of Kansas, bringing in an astonishing array of Asian-American artists and scholars for a week-long celebration the likes of which has never been rivaled at the university, but also the creation of English Alternative Theatre (EAT) to produce the plays yet to be written by my future playwriting students.  Sometime in the early 1990s, Carolyn Doty took me aside and said, “Stop doing so much.  You make the rest of us look bad.”  In the intervening years, even though I have won every single teaching award the University of Kansas has to offer, it never seems enough, because the feeling of being a second-class citizen has never gone away.

When I finally decided to retire in 2010, there was a great deal of controversy in the English department as to whether another playwriting teacher should be hired to replace me.  By then, Carolyn Doty had died, and Tom Lorenz argued very persuasively that there were more students interested in fiction writing than in playwriting, so it was more important to hire someone in fiction.  The new chair of the department was caught in a dilemma, and she asked me if I knew of any young playwrights of color who could be hired the same way I was hired back in 1989, bypassing a national search, so the department could have its cake and eat it too.  A former student told me about Darren Canady, a young African-American playwright originally from Topeka who had moved to New York but who still had strong ties to Kansas. I put forth his name, and he was hired after a whirlwind campus visit and interview.  Darren has not kept in touch with me since he was hired five years ago, so I have no idea how he feels about the way he was hired.

But, back to the broiling brouhaha over the whitewashed Oscar nominations for 2016.  I have yet to see Chi-Raq or Concussion, so I have no opinion about whether or not these movies or anyone involved with their creation should have been nominated for any Academy Awards.  Having lived all these years in the shadow of Affirmative Action, forgive me for thinking that the brouhaha is brouhohum.

Grant Goodman Exposes Sex Slaves

January 17th, 2016

Nearly two years after his death, Grant K. Goodman’s scholarly research on the subject of “comfort women,” a euphemism for the sex slaves working in the official brothels established throughout Southeast Asia by the Japanese Imperial Army for the pleasure of its soldiers during World War II, continues to provide key evidence that such atrocities occurred even though the Japanese government continues to deny the truth.  The most recent account of Grant’s role in exposing all the details of this lurid chapter in Japanese history appears on the front page of the The Lawrence Journal World on 17 January 2016 (

Another story which Grant frequently told, but which is not mentioned in the Journal-World article, is that Gen. Douglas MacArthur was believed by many Japanese to be a deity for having defeated the divine Emperor and the Japanese Imperial Army.  Thus, hundreds of young Japanese women wrote letters to Gen. MacArthur after the war, offering to bear his children because he was “a god.”  Grant translated all these letters, along with the incriminating documents about the sex slaves, and turned them over to the war office.  He kept a copy of “Research Report No 120: Amenities in the Japanese Armed Forces” locked up in his safety deposit box but, unfortunately, he did not keep copies of any of the letters.  But they are there, buried somewhere among the archives, waiting to be discovered by the next generation of historians and scholars.

5 January 2016: Checks and Balances

January 5th, 2016

Every year, on my birthday, Grant Goodman, who was an early riser, would call me at 6 in the morning and sing “Happy Birthday” most endearingly because it was also mostly off-key.  Later in the day, we would get together for a special celebratory lunch or dinner, just the two of us, after which he would give me my present.  Every year, on my birthday, he would hand me a cute card containing the usual birthday greetings, plus a check the amount of which would correspond with the number of years I’ve lived, starting with $25 in 1969.  This went on without much surprise, year after year

And so, on 5 January 2014, when he handed me the usual card with, presumably, a check for $70, I put the card aside, because that year I decided we would not eat out, that I would cook some of my favorite dishes from the Philippines, which required my full attention in the kitchen.  That night, after dinner, after Grant had long departed and all the dishes had been washed, I sat down for one last glass of wine and opened his card.  I took no notice of the check until I started to put it away, when I saw that he had written it, not for $70, but for $2,565.  There must be some mistake, I thought, so I called him even though it was past his bedtime.

He was still awake.  He had been waiting for my call.  “No mistake,” he laughed boisterously.  “That check should take care of all your birthdays until you turn 100.”

I turned 72 today, my second birthday without Grant because he died in April of 2014, six months shy of his own 90th birthday.  When my first dog (Imelda) died at 10 1/2 years old, and my second dog (MyKee) at 14 1/2 years old, it was only because Dr. Tom Liebl at Clinton Parkway Animal Hospital said “the quality of life has degenerated” and “it’s time.”  Did Grant subconsciously know he would not live to celebrate another birthday with me?  Did he suspect his time was up?

I don’t know that I want to live to 100, especially if my health should start to deteriorate and I’m no longer enjoying myself.  My only regret is, if my third dog (KeeWee) should outlive me.  But I’ve already made provisions for her in my will.  Checks and balances, that’s what keeps me going, for now.  I hope I too will know when “it’s time.”


14 December 2015: THE MERRY WIDOW(er)

December 14th, 2015

Although I had seen the Metropolitan Opera’s energetic new production of Franz Lehar’s THE MERRY WIDOW in its Live-in-HD series in movie theaters last year, I could not bypass the chance to see the same production live onstage this past weekend at the Lyric in Chicago.

Instead of Renee Fleming and Nathan Gunn, this time we had a more age-appropriate Nicole Cabell as the wealthy young widow, and Thomas Hampson as her reluctant lover.  It’s hard for me to decide who’s better, Gunn or Hampson, having been a big fan of both for a long time. But, comparing the two in the same role in the same production, I think Hampson was perhaps having more fun with the part.  The real winner, however, is Susan Stroman’s refreshingly innovative direction and choreography. She brings Broadway glitz and pizazz to this beloved operetta, and everything old is suddenly new and young and vibrant again.

Just as a side note, in the Metropolitan Opera production (now available on DVD and Blu-Ray), the non-singing comedic part of Njegus was played by University of Kansas graduate Carson Elrod, who stole every scene he was in with his rubbery face, his pitch-perfect line delivery, his clown-like agility.  In Chicago, the part was played by Jeff Dumas, who seemed to be channeling the fey and mincing spirit of Truman Capote.  Funny, yes, but the caricature was also vaguely disconcerting.

Finally, I must admit that I was a bit apprehensive about this past weekend in Chicago.  The last time I was in the Windy City was in March of 2014, with Grant Goodman, my friend and colleague for nearly 50 years.  We saw three operas at the Lyric on that trip, and also two concerts.  It was a wonderfully memorable trip, but Grant died unexpectedly a month after we returned to Lawrence.  I was afraid that, this time, without Grant, Chicago would be sad.  It also rained the whole time I was there.

In life, Grant Goodman took good care of me, always looking after my well-being.  In death, he continues to do so.  I think he would have been as disappointed as I was by BEL CANTO Saturday night, as rejuvenated as I was by THE MERRY WIDOW Sunday afternoon.  When I was sipping my complimentary glass of Proseco by the fireplace in the lobby of the tony Allegro Hotel yesterday evening before dinner, watching the bartender and all the subsequent uniformed waiters dancing in attendance around me, I could hear Grant guffawing because I was playing the part of “the merry widow(er)” in his absence, at his expense.

Here’s to you, Grant.  Thanks for all the memories.  Long may your archetypal laughter and joie de vivre remain in my collective unconscious!


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Farewell, My Lovelies…

May 10th, 2011

On the afternoon of 9 May 2011, the English Department of the University of Kansas gave a festive “milestones celebration” in the North Gallery of the Spencer Research Library for three of its new retirees, presided by Chair Marta Caminero-Santangelo, and organized by Administrative Assistant Robert Elliott.  The retirees (Mike Johnson, Jim Hartman and I) were expected to say a few words. Here’s what I prepared for the occasion.

Many, if not most, of the people here know me as, until recently, the one and only person who has been teaching playwriting in the English Department since 1989, the same year I founded English Alternative Theatre to nurture, develop and produce the plays being written by my students.  But, my history with the department goes all the way back to spring of 1969, and not many people here know how I came to be at KU, so I thought I might share the story with everyone present.

These days, if I am filled with feelings I cannot begin to describe when I’m watching the hit television series MAD MEN, it’s because I lived through the same exciting period in the 1960s as an advertising copywriter for J. Walter Thompson in the Philippines.  Many of the ad campaigns that I worked on had won various industry awards, and my colleagues in Manila thought I was “good enough” to make it on Madison Avenue in New York.

Thus, travelling on just a tourist visa, I left for the United States with my hefty portfolio in June of 1968.  To my disappointment, after they looked at my portfolio, the people at J. Walter Thompson in New York said that, ironically, I had too much experience.  They were only interested in hiring cheaper, beginning copywriters.  They suggested I try my luck with employment agencies, which I did, and they in turn told me that I could lie about my experience and start at $18,000 a year, or else I could sit and wait for a $30,000 job to open up at one of the ad agencies in the city.  Not wanting to sell myself short, I chose to wait.

Day after day, I sat by the telephone, waiting.  Nothing.  Six months went by, and I began to worry, because my tourist visa was running out.  I had only two options.  I could be deported as an illegal alien, returning to Manila with that damned portfolio, my tail between my legs, or I could exchange my tourist visa for a student visa.  And then I remembered that, back in 1964, I had met a peripatetic historian from the University of Kansas, who had been in the Philippines first as a soldier during World War II, then as a Fulbright scholar, then as a frequent visitor in the course of his academic research.  Although I did not have any of my college transcripts from Manila with me, I turned to Grant Goodman to convince the registrar at KU to accept me as a foreign student.  And, believe it or not, that’s how I ended up in Lawrence, Kansas.

As a side note, two weeks before I left the East Coast for the Midwest, the telephone finally rang, not once, but twice, with lucrative job offers from The Wall Street Journal and from Alka-Seltzer, both of whom were starting their own in-house agencies, and they were interested in someone with my background and qualifications.

Too late.

I had dropped out of school after two years of college in Manila because I was bored with my teachers, but now I felt I was ready to reenter the groves of academe.  Had I gone to work for either The Wall Street Journal or Alka-Seltzer in New York, I would not have had the joy of studying with, among many others, Ed Wolfe, Ed Ruhe, Ed Grier, Paul Kendall, John Bush Jones, Jack Oruch, Max Sutton, Hal Orel, Beverly Boyd, George Worth and Jim Hartman.  I would not have formed lasting personal friendships with, among others, such wonderful colleagues in the department as Carolyn Doty, Bud Hirsch, Mary Davidson, Mary Catherine Davidson, Jim Carothers, David Bergeron, Geraldo Sousa, Amy Devitt, Dick Hardin, Bill Scott, Bob and Dorice Elliott, Marta Caminero-Santangelo, Brian Daldorph and Phil Wedge.

When Grant Goodman himself retired from the History Department 22 years ago, he let it be known that he did not want to be presented with an autographed 8 x 10 glossy of then-KU Vice-Chancellor for Academic Affairs Judith Ramaley, a position which, incidentally, no longer exists in Strong Hall.  I’ve never met our new Provost, so I don’t think there’s any danger of my receiving an autographed 8 x 10 glossy from him.  Truthfully, I am quite happy with all the pictures in my mind’s eye, of everyone I’ve named, of everyone here today, to say nothing of all the wonderful student playwrights, actors and designers I’ve been fortunate to work with through English Alternative Theatre, to remind me that the journey has been worthwhile.  Indeed, it has all been more than worthwhile.

These days, given the economy, I’m thankful I never got into the habit of reading The Wall Street Journal, so there is no reason for me to imbibe the “plop plop, fizz fizz” of an Alka-Seltzer.  Actually, I’ve never in my life ever had an Alka-Seltzer, not even the mornings after the nights of heavy drinking after some of our more memorable and sometimes even deplorable departmental meetings.  I hope I live long enough to tell all the steamy stories on my website at

Thank you for the memories, one and all, everyone.  A special thank you, too, to all my friends and colleagues who have given so generously to the KU Endowment Association for the annual Paul Stephen Lim Asian-American Playwriting Award which has been established by the Kennedy Center American College Theatre Festival.

11 November 2009: How Deep Within Is The Enemy?

November 11th, 2009

When 9/11 struck, a collective sigh of relief was heard from among the Filipinos I knew in the United States.  “Thank God the perpetrators were not brown,” they cried, although I’m not sure what skin pigmentation they would assign to Osama bin Laden and the Al Qaeda terrorists in the Middle East.  If not also brown, then what?  Tan? Olive? Bronze?

I’m sure the Chinese in the United States felt the same way when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor during World War II. Except, in their case, they could not say, “Thank God the perpetrators were not yellow.”  But, how do you go about explaining to anyone willing to listen, that not all Asians are Japanese and, more importantly, that not all Japanese are kamikaze pilots?  Or, conversely, how would you feel if you were Japanese-American, and your remaining relatives in Japan blame  you for the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki? Prof. Grant Goodman, who served in Japan with Gen. MacArthur immediately after the war, writes in his memoir that he personally knew some Japanese-American soldiers who committed suicide while they were on active duty in Japan, because they were so unhappy about who they really were, and how they were perceived by the rest of the world.

The story about Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan and what drove him to do what he did in Fort Hood, TX is hard for us to comprehend.  That he was a conflicted Muslim living in the shadow of 9/11,  that he was an Army psychiatrist who had to deal with the gruesome stories being told by the walking wounded returning from Iraq and Afghanistan, that he was a physician who could not heal himself, turning himself into the very enemy he had been taught to fear and hate, is something no one will ever understand, not unless you’ve ever been ashamed of, or felt guilty about, the religion and/or the skin pigmentation which you just happen to share with “the bad guys.”   This time, the enemy within is really within—deep, deep within oneself.  I hope none of us ever have to go there.

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Naked Lunch in Lawrence, Part Two

June 26th, 2009

I was riding high in 1977, coming off, as it were, from the “success” of my first play, Conpersonas.  Marshall Fine, the Arts Editor of the Lawrence Journal-World, had somehow convinced the editor that the local paper should cover the invitational performance of the K.U. production of the play at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C.  Marshall filed stories and photographs every day about what the cast and crew were doing that week in the nation’s capital, and so we were all minor celebrities upon our return to Lawrence.

At that time, I was living in Grant Goodman’s house at 934 Pamela Lane, house-sitting for him while he was off teaching in the Netherlands.  The house has five bedrooms, much too big for one person, so I took in a roommate.  Charlie Williams was a student at K.U., a short, stocky, blond, blue-eyed, sweet-tempered kid from Texas.  I don’t remember now how I met him, but he was a fun roommate, always ready for new adventures.

I also don’t remember now how I met James Grauerholz, most likely through the K.U. English Department, because James wrote poetry at that time.  In any case, James turned out to be a good friend of William Burroughs, and when I heard that Burroughs was coming to visit Lawrence, to check out the scene to see if this was a place he would eventually want to live in, I asked James if I could give an evening cocktail party for Burroughs.  James gave the go-ahead signal…and that’s how The Naked Lunch Party came into being.

I remember having formally invited 70-75 people to the event, mostly friends and colleagues from the English, Theatre, and History departments, and a sprinkling of other assorted cronies. But word got around that William Burroughs was going to be at the party, so there were lots of gatecrashers.  I have no idea how many people were actually in attendance, perhaps over a hundred.

Right from the beginning, because of the notoriety of the “novel” by Burroughs, I knew I wanted to have an attractive young man as a centerpiece on the buffet table.  Charlie Williams was willing to be the centerpiece, but I needed him to be the bartender.  When I found the recipe for a cocktail called “Fallen Angels” in the Mr. Boston Official Bartender’s Guide, Charlie decided he wanted to dress up as a “fallen angel,” barefoot and bare-chested, with strap-on wings and a bowtie, looking like a beatific Chippendale outcast from heaven.

The food, as I recall, was mostly prepared by Mrs. Mildred Tryon, a devout Catholic housewife who lived at 1334 Pennsylvania in East Lawrence.  I never had any trouble finding her house, because she had a big statue of Our Lady of Fatima on her front lawn, arms outstretched in friendly greeting. Mrs. Tryon catered  many of my parties in the 70s and 80s , and people loved her fancy finger sandwiches, no doubt inspired by the BVM Herself.

Joel Gold in his humorous essay about the party, which first appeared in the Chronicle of Higher Education, and later anthologized in his book The Wayward Professor, says he wasn’t sure if William Burroughs was actually at the party.  He was.  As a matter of fact, Burroughs and James Grauerholz were the first guests to arrive.  But when Burroughs learned that Marshall Fine of the Lawrence Journal-World was going to try to interview him at the party, he escaped to the backyard and stayed there for quite a while until he heard about the disrobing centerpiece on the buffet table inside the house.

As I recall, the disrobing centerpiece was a law student I had met at some other party, who said he would “do it” for $20 but only if he could wear some kind of a mask, so people wouldn’t recognize him, and only if no photographs were taken of him in the nude.  The “glazed look” on the boy, which Joel Gold describes in his essay, is actually a translucent mask which I bought for 99 cents from a store called Fun and Games in downtown Lawrence.  I later used the same sort of masks for the two models in the poster for my play Homerica.

Meanwhile, back at the party, the plan was for the centerpiece to start discarding various pieces of clothing, every half hour on the half hour, and that he would be THE NAKED LUNCH in his full frontal glory at the stroke of midnight.  This did, in fact, happen.  It was really quite funny, to see all the faculty wives gathered within spitting distance around the centerpiece as the bewitching hour approached.

Joel Gold was right about the “Fallen Angels” being absolutely lethal.  For anyone who’s interested, here’s the recipe that Charlie Williams was supposed to have used:

Juice of 1 Lime or ½ Lemon
1 ½ oz. Gin
I dash Bitters
½ tsp. Crème de Menthe (White)
Shake with ice and strain into cocktail glass. Serve with a cherry

After the first couple of guests were served, I think Charlie abandoned the recipe altogether.  He had nearly a hundred people waiting impatiently to be served.  At one point, I saw him simply pouring everything unceremoniously into an old bucket, but no one seemed to mind…until the morning after.  Speaking of which, the morning after, I found three or four mismatched women’s shoes around the house and in the backyard.  I kept them around for a couple of months, dreaming of Barefoot Contessas, but no one called to claim them.

William Burroughs eventually moved to Lawrence in 1981.  He bought a house at 1100 E. 19th St., and lived there until he died in 1997.  Although William and I saw each other frequently in Lawrence in subsequent years, we never talked about  The Naked Lunch Party.  But James Grauerholz tells me the party helped to convince William that Lawrence might be a fun town to settle in.