Very often, we focus on alumni of the English Department who have made headlines in one way or the other. Seldom do we talk to graduates of the department who have developed their love of literature in less high-profile ways. Peter Garland, who received his BA in English from Berkeley in 1977, is an example of someone who has consistently followed a love of and commitment to literature through a myriad of diverse endeavors. Indeed, he is proof that being a student of literature is a life-long pursuit – and a pleasurable one at that.
On graduating from Berkeley, Peter spent almost fifteen years as an aircraft program analyst for the Naval Air Station in Alameda, CA. The skills in critical thinking he had developed in his literature classes at Berkeley (courses on Keats and Chaucer remain his favorites) served him well in locating and clearing up problems on the aircraft line. In the meantime, though, Peter was writing poems and articles for the naval base’s publications and even had an article on liquid oxygen published in the U. S. Navy’s Mech Magazine, his first national publication.
From here, Peter left the Navy and focused on writing and research full-time. He developed his own business giving walking tours of many of the public statues in San Francisco and published a fourteen-page article in The Argonaut about Haig Patigian (1876-1950), one of San Francisco’s great sculptors. He also wrote and performed a one-man comedy show at the Marsh in San Francisco, entitled “How to Make Love to a File Cabinet.”
He decided to switch careers again, however, and became a teacher in the public schools of East Oakland. He had an exciting fifteen years teaching English, writing, French, journalism, yearbook and drama. His last four years were at Castlemont High School where, on his last day as a teacher, students performed, in costume, his “A Visitor from Africa,” a play based on the life and poems of Phillis Wheatley. He reports that he had plans to teach at a community college but was struck by severe arthritis: “it fell on me like a ton of bricks,” he says.
The arthritis has not completely stopped him, however. With the help of the North Beach library branch manager, Robert Carlson, he still runs the Sitdown Readers’ Theatre there each month. (In fact, he’d be delighted to hear from anyone interesting in participating in the performances; his email is firstname.lastname@example.org.) A co-worker of his at the theatre, Mike Misch, recently introduced him to what has become Peter’s latest literary pleasure: a game developed by John Ahlbach, an English teacher at Riordan High in San Francisco, called “That is the Question” (pictured right). He gets together with John and other friends at Caffe Greco in San Francisco on most weekends to play it. Played with a die, this board game tests your knowledge of Shakespeare with questions about the life, times and plays of the Bard along with some about famous productions and adaptations of his works. The questions range from the extremely detailed to the more general. For example, you could receive either of the two following questions:
1. What was the name of Juliet’s nurse’s man?
A) John B) William C) Peter
2. Who played the Gravedigger in Kenneth Branagh’s Hamlet?
A) Billy Crystal B) Robin Williams C) Danny Devito
Peter feels the game is appropriate for college English undergraduates and above – for anyone, really, who has a love for Shakespeare and continues to read or see the Bard’s plays. The game even has its own website: www.thatisthequestion.t83.net or you can email John Ahlbach directly at email@example.com.
Peter’s success with playing the game comes in part from what he calls “the joy of my life,” namely the U.C. Berkeley libraries. He joined the Alumni Association soon after graduating specifically to have access to the libraries and has made very good use of that privilege. The superb collections, in several languages, are an essential part of his life. His lifetime membership in the Alumni Association has proved one of his very best investments. His lifetime commitment to literature seems to have been one too.