Marc L. Ratner should not to be confused with that other guy in another state who helps put on fighting championships. Ashland's version has had a lifetime of teaching and travel.
He taught two years in Prague, Czech Republic, set up three programs in American literature in Brazil, lectured in Paraguay and Argentina, and spent two years in London in an exchange with a British professor.
His last foray into foreign academia was with his wife, Marjorie, who bravely accompanied him into what he calls a surreal year in Bucharest, Romania.
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He and Marjorie moved to Ashland 11 years ago from the San Francisco Bay Area where they both taught English — she at Concord High School and he at California State University, East Bay. He has taught at Osher Lifelong Learning Institute for 10 years.
What drew you to Ashland?: Originally, the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, but we both became involved in the Solir classes, later renamed the OLLI program. Through that venue we have made many friends and acquaintances and that has made our years here a true pleasure.
Anything else you like about Ashland?: We both find the open countryside and the nearby mountains a tonic for the spirits.
What sent you on a path of adventure and academics?: I grew up on the West Side of Manhattan Island. My father, who was an immigrant from the Ukraine, loved New York and told me that if I crossed the Hudson River I would find nothing but Indians. However, after two years in the military that took me away from Manhattan, I discovered that he had been pulling my leg.
Before the Army I had been at the Bronx High School of Science and when WWII ended I was discharged in 1946. With the help of the G.I. Bill of Rights, I began studies at Fordham University. I graduated in 1950 and began working on a master's degree at the University of Pennsylvania. From there I went to New York University for my doctorate.
Give us a few highlights from your varied career: In 1955, I had completed all my work except for my dissertation on Scandinavian influences on American writing. That fall I began teaching as an instructor at the University of Colorado in Boulder. I taught in the English Department and in the honors program for five years.
Then in 1960, I was offered an assistant professorship at the University of Massachusetts in Amherst. Because I wanted to do research in Europe on America-Scandinavian literary connections, I applied for a Fulbright but was offered instead a teaching grant to the Goethe University in Frankfurt.
I lived there with my first wife and three children for two years, and then returned to Amherst. However, the next year UMass asked me to help create a program in Atlantic studies at the University of Freiburg.
I accepted the post and spent another year in Germany. During the summers in Europe, my family and went to Italy where I gave lectures at the University of Urbino.
Don't leave us hanging. Then what did you do?: While I was in Freiburg, I was offered a full professorship at California State University, East Bay with a substantial increase in salary. I accepted and moved to El Cerrito, Calif. During my years there, I participated in a number of European and South America programs with the Fulbright Commission.
What do you enjoy about teaching here?: I immensely enjoy teaching at OLLI since I usually have a receptive audience and no papers to grade. I have taught Dante's Divine Comedy (all of it, not just "Inferno"), both parts of "Don Quixote," Ovid's "Metamorphoses," "The Odyssey," "The Iliad," Machiavelli (my hero), "The Aeneid," Greek drama and more.
Why the classics?: I emphasize the humanity of the characters, the universality of their experiences and the manner in which their behavior reveals the society in which they live, its values and ideals.
How do you introduce yourself to your students?: I usually begin by introducing the subject and why it is of significance to me. If I can, I relate the connection with the contemporary world.
What else do you do in your spare time?: I enjoy film, fishing, bird-watching in the backyard and gardening, in that order.
What's on your to-do list?: Continue teaching, enjoying friends and sitting in the garden.
Anything else we should know about you?: I have a collection of nine narratives entitled "Crossings" that was published in July.