Anderson University professor puts on performance as Henry David Thoreau

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Kevin Radaker professor of English at Anderson University performed a monologue composed from different works by Henry David Thoreau in the Christel DeHaan Fine Arts Center on Wednesday, Oct. 25. Radaker has portrayed Thoreau more than 400 times since 1991, at universities, colleges, libraries, state and national parks across the United States.

“He [Thoreau] is considered, and I think rightfully so, one of our most eloquent writers in American Literature,” Radaker said. “I very much identify with and still feel thrilled by his passion for the natural world. He is considered by many the father of the conservation movement.”

Thoreau was a poet, writer, abolitionist and scientist who put out many works in his life, including the political essay “Civil Disobedience,” many poems that were done with his friend Ralph Waldo Emerson and his 1954 masterpiece, “Walden”.  

Radaker portrayed Thoreau using a New England accent, because he said most audiences, especially in the Midwest, expect and enjoy an accent of some sort. Radaker said that he thinks it is more likely that Thoreau spoke with a New Hampshire accent that uses softer R’s rather than a strong Boston accent, but he did admit no one knows for sure how the author sounded, because his voice was never recorded.

Radaker does many different Thoreau monologues, he said the one he performed at UIndy specifically showed Thoreau’s passion for nature. The monologue was part of a direct request from the executive director of the Thoreau Society who lives in Concord, Massachusetts, where Thoreau is from. The director asked Radaker to serve this year as a Thoreau Society Ambassador and perform what Radaker calls the “green Thoreau”. In the monologue, Radaker weaved parts of “Walking,” “Walden” and “The Journal, 1837-1861.”

“Thoreau is still popular, but he’s more popular among people your age [college age] who have an environmental slant, and that’s ok, that makes sense. The green Thoreau is the most popular Thoreau right now,” Radaker said. “But in my day, it was a mixture of what we now call the green Thoreau and the political Thoreau. Because in my day – see, I finished high school in 1974 – so the remnants of the 60s were still alive and well. People were protesting the Vietnam War right up until I my senior year. And so his political thought was much more well-known than now.”

Radaker said he thinks Thoreau would be happy with some of the ways the world has changed, specifically in the cessation of clear cutting by the lumber companies and the environmental protections for some tree species.

“He would be right in there I think, with some of the most dedicated and passionate environmentalists,” Radaker said. “On the other hand, if he were to suddenly awaken now as opposed to when he died in 1862, I think he would be impressed and pleased with some of the ways we have advanced as a society in appreciating the environment.”

Freshman creative writing major Katie Ulrich said she liked how much Thoreau stressed the importance of self reflection, especially in nature she said.

“I really enjoyed how he mentioned having one day of toil and six days of Sabbath,” Ulrich said.

Thoreau was an animist, a person who believes that matter itself, especially living matter has a spirit and even though these aren’t as popular of beliefs now, they can still teach us a thing or two Radaker said

“One thing that’s important I think for our students, maybe students all across the country, is to understand that a spiritual view, let’s say of the world we live in, can be actually very ennobling and empowering,” Radaker said.

Radaker started portraying Winston Churchill last year, and performed for the first time at UIndy last year, when he portrayed C.S. Lewis, a character he started doing in 2009.

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