Tony Schwab, who teaches writing at Rutgers University, was born in 1950 and grew up in Mamaroneck, NY where he got a good education. Growing up in a pretty educated family who spoke often about books, movies, art, and ideas, and receiving a subscription to the NY Review of Books when he was 14 from his maternal grandfather was Tony's starter kit for becoming an intellectual.
Tony was discovered to have a talent for acting, though, and did that seriously and with great joy throughout high school. He remembers fondly that his parents wanted him to play the Eli Wallach's lead role in Rhinoceros by Ionesco in his senior year, so they told him to suggest the play to his director; he did so, she accepted it and he played it. A memorable line was, "I will not capitulate!"
Tony went on quickly to play leading roles with the downtown Circle in the Square in New York in the early '70s and kept an eye on the career of his role model Dustin Hoffman as Dustin rose from off-off Broadway and PBS to Hollywood. But it wasn't for him. He tried to parley his acting credits into jobs in LA, but it was hard and not satisfying, so he eventually left the theater and started teaching drama to young people as well as writing plays of his own, all this time reading and reading...chiefly the nineteenth-century canon but also all of Bellow and Updike and a lot of Philip Roth. Once, after an audition, he sped to the LA library to pick up his reserved copy of Pope's An Essay on Man and another time he went to a business meeting holding Pride and Prejudice and not wanting to hide it.
Living as an intellectual requires passion just as strong as an actor’s but less obvious, less animated. But if one doesn't want to let it go it just grows. Reading all of Dostoevsky, Eliot, Austen, and Dickens sticks with us; in fact we go back for more throughout the years. All the news of the world starts to be filtered through the lens of what we have been inspired to think by reading these men and women. It changes everything.
Along the way Tony completed his Masters in phenomenology and its relation to teaching. He had become a high school teacher in 1989 in the public schools of the South Bronx, which was another revelation. How teachers experience kids and vice-versa was his thesis. Tony moved to teach English in Manhattan in 1996 and, to get a parking space on West 63rd St., he drove from NJ at 5:30 every morning, had waffles and strawberries in a very clean diner and read. Upton Sinclair, , Native Son and the wonderful Toni Morrison.
Tony retired in July, 2017 as Principal of the New Alliance Academy in Paramus, New Jersey, a high school for students with anxiety and depression which he had been able to shape from its start with his colleagues. Every morning before work he read, mostly from the nineteenth-century works, and in 2012 he read Martin Chuzzlewit by Dickens and was stunned by how different and troubled it was than the master's other writing. It seemed to be written with a hand tied behind the author's back. And when Tony read the critics they seemed like a swarm of bees all riled up over it. Something was wrong with this picture. So Tony wrote the essay, “A Bad Trip,” and then he wrote a two-character play about Dickens and his biographer John Forster called Dickens Loses His Way. Tony writes plays a lot and most of them have nineteenth century characters interacting with modern people and asking a lot of questions (there is a great opportunity here for hypertext in the printed versions). Tony paints a lot too using a host of google images and photos from his wanderings.
Once an intellectual, always an intellectual, and to find readers on the Victorian Web with whom one can speak is a joy. Tony lives in New Jersey with his wondrous wife Deborah. They have three grandchildren. The story goes on.
Last modified 11 October 2017