Voices from Russia

Friday, 22 August 2014

A Partnership of Language and Love: Reflecting on the Life of Dick Dauenhauer

00 Dauenhauers. 22.08.14

Nora and Dick Dauenhauer at St Nicholas Russian Orthodox Church

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Russian Orthodox funeral services are pending for former Alaska poet laureate Richard Dauenhauer who died on Tuesday. Dauenhauer had worked in many areas, including poetry, translation, and teaching. He was also the husband of Tlingit scholar and Alaska writer laureate Nora Marks Dauenhauer. For more than 40 years, they had a partnership of marriage and scholarship. In the early 1970s, Dick Dauenhauer taught folklore at Alaska Methodist University

, that’s when he met student Nora Marks. Her friend Rosita Worl, now president of Sealaska Heritage Institute, was also a student. Worl remembered, “She and Dick just hit it off. I think they had the same kind of sense of humour as I recall. That was when their work started”.  Dauenhauer and Marks married on 28 November 1973, she was 15 years older than he was. World told us, “They became quite a team. He had the technical knowledge of languages and stories and he was an educator, and she had all the traditional knowledge of Tlingit and it was a great combination”.

Born in Syracuse NY in 1942, Dick Dauenhauer was a linguist for most of his life. He earned degrees in Slavic Languages and German. He translated poetry from Russian, Classical Greek, Swedish, and Finnish. In 1969, he moved to Alaska to teach at Alaska Methodist University (now, Alaska Pacific University). Dauenhauer and Marks spent a few years at the Alaska Native Language Center at the University of Alaska Fairbanks. In 1983, they moved to Juneau. Throughout the 1980s and 1990s, they worked at Sealaska Heritage Foundation in Juneau, now known as Sealaska Heritage Institute. They co-authored Tlingit language books and developed teaching materials. With the publication of Beginning Tlingit, Worl credits the couple for popularising the language’s written form, saying, “What he and Nora did was to bring the orthography into everyday use. They made that available to the students of the language”.

They collected hundreds of recordings documenting Tlingit history, culture, and language. They co-edited a four-volume series, Classics of Tlingit Oral Literature, and received American Book Awards for two volumes. Juneau playwright and screenwriter Dave Hunsaker based his play Battles of Fire and Water on the tri-lingual volume, The Battles of Sitka, 1802 and 1804. He noted, “However, really, the book Tlingit Oratory was, to me, stunning. By that time, the Tlingit had adopted me. I lived here in Juneau for 30 years and I felt like I knew a lot about the culture and when that book came out, I realised I didn’t know anything about the culture”. Hunsaker said that the Dauenhauers revealed the complex and poetic oral tradition of the Tlingit culture through the translated speeches of Tlingit elders, “They recognised that these aren’t charming campfire Indian lore stories; these were world literature. They treated them as world literature. The way they rendered them, and the way that they’ve been published so we can all now read them forever, by God, they are world literature”.

Between their joint books and separate volumes of creative writing, Dick and Nora Dauenhauer produced an abundant body of work. Nevertheless, their partnership held much more. Hunsaker related, “It’s one of the great love affairs of any life that I know anything about. They never got past the hand holding stage”. Hunsaker was friends with the Dauenhauers for about 40 years. Throughout that time, he said that they always acted like newlyweds, “In spite of age difference, in spite of their incredibly different backgrounds, I just saw them be always fascinated with each other”.

In 2005, Dick Dauenhauer became President’s Professor of Alaska Native Languages and Culture at the University of Alaska Southeast. Chancellor John Pugh said that the couple spearheaded the creation of the programme, “They just were really the heart and soul of the Alaska Native Language programme”. Pugh said that up to that time, other UA faculty members had studied the language, but the Dauenhauers wanted to make sure that people spoke it. Pugh pointed up, “That was the real change in terms of not being an academic language, but trying to actually think about how we might have the speakers that we presently have and have them really be able to transfer the language to younger people who’d carry the language forward, so that it could be a living language, continue as a living language”. Assistant Professor Lance Twitchell now heads the Alaska Native Languages degree programme at UAS. He said that it’s been an honour to know and work with Dick and Nora, “and see how they operate just as poets and artists and linguists and anthropologists and just wonderful human beings. I had the chance to tell both, ‘If I’m one-tenth of what you are, I’m pretty happy with the way my life went’”.

When Dick Dauenhauer passed away on 19 August at the age of 72, he and Nora were nearing the end of a multi-decade project… a collection of Tlingit Raven stories.

22 August 2014

Lisa Phu

Alaska Public Media

http://www.alaskapublic.org/2014/08/22/a-partnership-of-language-and-love-reflecting-on-dick-dauenhauer/

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