John Antush, Ph.D., a former chair of the Department of English and Fordham professor through five decades, passed away on Aug. 29 in New Canaan, Connecticut.
Antush died of natural causes after an extended battle with Alzheimer’s, said his wife of 45 years, Phyllis Antush.
A noted scholar of Puerto Rican theater, Antush brought broader attention to Latino theater at a time when there were few—if any—specialists of Latino studies in English departments nationwide.
“In a broad sense one can say that he was connecting with a cutting-edge area of research that has since become, in the age of Lin-Manuel Miranda and In the Heights, much recognized,” said Arnaldo Cruz-Malavé, Ph.D., director of the Latin American and Latino Studies Institute and professor of Spanish and comparative literature.
Antush edited several volumes on the subject, including Street and Other Plays an anthology of plays by Edward Gallardo (Arte Publico Press, 1989), Recent Puerto Rican Theater: Five Plays from New York (Arte Publico Press, 1991), and Nuestro New York: An Anthology of Puerto Rican Plays (Penguin, 1995).
“He was one of the only white academics who was doing this at the time, and he became close friends with the playwrights,” said Philip Sicker, Ph.D., professor of English.
Sicker said that before Antush discovered Puerto Rican plays, he was taken with “canonized literature” and modern plays. His teaching expertise ranged from the plays of O’Neill, Albee, and Miller, to experimental European drama and the Theater of the Absurd.
“As far as I can remember he never had a summer off and usually he taught both summer sessions,” said Sicker.
During the summer months Antush also worked with young people in Fordham’s Higher Education Opportunity Program (HEOP), which provides educational support for students of limited academic and economic means. He also spent two semesters teaching in a Fordham partnership with the University of Ghent in Belgium.
“With a schedule like that you might think there’d be haste or frenzy when talking with him, but he never appeared to be in a hurry,” said Sicker. “He always held a measured, delightful conversation.”
Born in Tacoma, Washington, in 1932, Antush initially set out to become a Jesuit priest. After spending 12 years with the Jesuits, he found his true calling in raising a family and in teaching modern American drama. He earned his doctorate in English literature at Stanford University before moving to New York to teach at Fordham in 1964.
“That whole seven year process as a novice formed his life in terms of values; he really wanted to help people,” said Phyllis Antush.
“He had a sense of mission about him and he never lost that,” said Robert Himmelberg, Ph.D., professor emeritus of history. “He was not in this business just to make a living.”
“He never burned out, right into his seventies,” said Sicker, adding that Antush once advised him to “never retire.”
Sicker also recalls an avid tennis player with a penchant for breaking from the game in the middle of a point to discuss students’ understandings of poet Robert Frost.
“He really did get to know his students as more than intellectual entities,” he said.
In addition to his wife, Antush leaves behind his son John Antush, his daughter Kristin Calve, their spouses, and four grandchildren.
His wife said he once told her what he wanted most for his children: “I want Kristin and John to go through life with the enthusiasm of a 7-year-old child,” he said.