Arts and Entertainment

Scholar conjures images of ‘Home’

For author and scholar Hazard Adams, “Home” is both an anarchist commune and an English department.

Adams’ novel “Home,” from which he reads Feb. 21 at Eagle Harbor Books, moves between the 19th century Puget Sound commune of the same name and a contemporary university – much like the schools where Adams himself has taught for a half century.

Adams learned about the anarchist commune from Harstine Island neighbor and Northwest historian Murray Morgan.

The commune’s “live and let live” philosophy alienated neighbors, who objected to activities like nude sun-bathing and subjected the group to intense pressure after the assassination of President McKinley in 1901.

Adams traced the story in material found in University of Washington archives; he also discovered that a collection of Home documents at the Tacoma public library had been donated by Sylvia Retherford, granddaughter of one of Home’s three founders, George Allen.

“I found out she was still living on the site of Home, so I visited her,” Adams said. “I started thinking about a history of Home – and I was seeking for a way to complete my trilogy about academic life.”

UW professor Adams combined the two plots, contrasting the travails of the short-lived commune (1894-1920) whose members came together to live cooperatively without government – with academic in-fighting.

“I didn’t want to press parallels, however,” Adams said. “I wanted to suggest rather than to insist.”

“Home” is the third in a trilogy of novels chronicling academic life during the five decades Adams has taught – from “The Horses of Instruction,” set in the 1950s, when teaching jobs were so plentiful that faculty loyalty to any single institution faded, to “Many Pretty Toys, ” which takes place during the turbulent 1970s when Adams, then Vice-Chancellor for Academic Affairs at University of California at Irvine, received death threats and bailed students out of jail.

Adams’ latest effort tackles the contemporary merging of academia and technology he deplores.

“I saw the entrepreneurial spirit generated by the alliance of government and the universities change the notion of academic life,” Adams said. “Humanists began to ape their scientific colleagues, seeking grants.”

Adams, whose distinguished career has included leading scholarship on Yeats, Joyce and Blake and founding UC Irvine’s English and Comparative Literature department, penned the first book of his trilogy to understand fiction from the writer’s perspective.

“I felt that to teach literature, I should at some experienced at writing it,” Adams said.

Adams notes that growing up in a literary family may also have contributed to his own desire to write.

Adams’ father, Robert S. Adams, headed Seattle’s Lakeside School from 1934 to 1950 and also wrote poetry. Adams still owns a copy of Joyce’s “Ulysses” his “intensely literary” mother, Mary Thurness Adams, annotated.

Another formative influence on the young Adams was renowned literary critic R. P. Blackburn, whom Adams met as an undergraduate at Princeton.

Later, when Adams was at his first teaching post at Cornell University, he edited the school’s literary magazine, “Epoch.”

“I read a lot of fiction and poetry by people just getting started,” Adams said, “and that made me think about the act of writing.”

“Home” closes Adams’ academic trilogy with blunt warnings about the future of the humanities, pointing to shrinking state funding, and increasing use of graduate students to teach over-large classes.

Over time, the problems of academic life often make teachers embittered, passive and fearful, Adams says.

One shield Adams has used against the corrosive influences is a well-developed sense of humor.

His own wit tends to the wry and understated – as witnessed by the class he teaches called “The Offense of Poetry,” in counterpoint to the long history of essays defending poetry.

He savors the irony of former colleagues upset because they do not appear in his novels.

“I think that one should become a little bit of a curmudgeon,” Adams said. “One needs to cultivate that.”

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Hazard Adams reads from “Home” 7:30 p.m. Feb. 21 at Eagle Harbor Book Co. He shares the podium with Rachel Bard, who reads “Queen Without a Country” and Joshua Ortega, who reads from his futuristic novel, “Frequencies.” Call 842-5332 for more information.

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