Frequently Shep said that, “I’m an entertainer.” Yeah. And he was lots of other stuff on a rather high level of achievement, but was never as acknowledged as he felt was his due. I think that most of us (especially those who heard him in their youth) have felt that he helped them carry on despite adversity and be better at anything/everything than they might have been without him. This certainly included such luminaries as U. S. Poet Laureate Billy Collins, and comic Jerry Seinfeld. Probably not many Shepherd enthusiasts realize that besides entertaining us, he was often telling us something about life–often a bit ironically and always somewhat shy of total happiness. (One might remember the Mark Twain/Mississippi River/ Morse Code story he told about how, no matter how good one is, there is, somewhere, someone lots better! (For a partial transcript and some discussion of this, see my Excelsior, You Fathead! pages 357-360).
Probably only a tiny portion of Shep’s fan-base know that several of his stories have been reprinted into schoolbook anthologies for reading and study in English composition. More of these anthologies continue to be discovered. These textbooks usually contain “questions for study and discussion” and ”writing topics” for student essays. Considering his reverence for the written word, especially in books, Jean Shepherd must have been delighted. One such example is Shep’s “The Endless Streetcar Ride into the Night, and the Tinfoil Noose,” that was reprinted in this college text:
Typical of such schoolbooks as this Outlooks and Insights, the collection concludes each contribution with a “Questions for Study and Discussion.” Among the topics for Shepherd’s story are:
7. What do you know of the narrator from the story he tells? What do you learn of his appearance? His personality?
8. To what extent does Shepherd use figurative language in his essay? Cite several examples of metaphors and similes. What do these figures add to his style?
And even fewer people know that Shepherd claimed in one of his broadcasts that he had given lectures in communication at New York University.
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And even fewer people have known that Professor Quentin Schultze, PHD, of Calvin College (Grand Rapids, Michigan), has taught courses in Jean Shepherd’s art of communicating his ideas and stories. Through my earlier contact with Professor Schultze, I told Nick Mantis about him and Nick recently interviewed him for his forthcoming documentary on Shepherd.
Professor Schultze, who teaches communication within a religious context, has studied Shepherd’s work in all media, and even had Shep participate in some of the class sessions. He got to know Shep about as well as anyone could. Schultze understands Jean Shepherd’s image of himself as a philosopher of everyday life (in America) and the common people, who carry on despite their problems. Schultze explains that Shepherd would look at everyday culture and pull stories out to illustrate his themes, showing in his stories how people live through the craziness of everyday life and survive it all.
Professor Schultze sees Shepherd as a “secular preacher,” and indeed, considering Shep’s rather negative views on life and people’s foibles, Schultz refers to him as a “Calvinist” secular preacher. One might note that Calvin had a rather negative view of the human soul.
I abide by Nick’s stricture that I not quote directly from the nearly hour-long raw-footage of the dialog, as much as I would like to have been able to record here large blocks of this fascinating interview. We must wait for Nick’s documentary and hope that a lot of Professor Schultze’s extended comments are included.
The interview clarifies, confirms, and greatly extends what we know of Jean Shepherd’s art and philosophy.