Native sound

Published: April 2006

On his new spoken-word album, Freedom: America’s Literary Voices (2006), John Mahoney, the Rattigan Professor of English Emeritus and author or editor of 11 books, reads short works by American writers on the theme of freedom. Mahoney, a legendary classroom master who taught literature of all kinds for nearly five decades, was celebrated for his classroom recitations, described this way in a 1994 Boston College Magazine profile by editor Ben Birnbaum:

John’s is not an actor’s instrument—it’s got too little polish and too much Boston in it. Nor is it a siren’s call. Too much straight-ahead power. What it is is a rhetorician’s tool, a relentless under-scoring machine, whether for stage direction (“‘and all that mighty heart is lying still.'”), croaky disdain (“Poetry is not a visual aid.”), or simple instruction (“Imagine Pope sitting in his study with quill in hand. ‘I want to write a new epic.'”). As John inhabits his gestures, so does he the words he speaks, and never more than when he recites a poem, whether from memory or from the page, interpolating as he goes, improvising an interpretation that’s half color commentator’s shorthand and half response to the poet’s call.

In the introduction to Freedom, Mahoney says, “America has a rich literature on the theme of freedom. From our earliest days, men and women, in both prose and poetry, have expressed a faith in the power and the beauty of freedom: the sacrifices it entails, the dangers it brings, and the triumphs it celebrates. Here are some of those voices.” @BC presents 10 excerpts from the album.

This feature was posted on Tuesday, April 18, 2006 and is filed under Audio.