I like to take a break from the news when I’m on vacation, which is how I missed learning that Don D. Moore had died in July at 83. The only comfort in his passing is the chance now to get a word in. Don was one of life’s great talkers — a man who regarded conversation as a casting assignment in which he, quite reasonably, should have the starring role. He was a lovable ham, which suited him for his three great callings: teaching Shakespeare at LSU, working in community theater and hosting a weekly show, "The Spoken Word," on Baton Rouge public radio.
Don saw teaching as theater, using his signature baritone to bring the Bard of Avon’s masterpieces to life. Don bragged about being the best bearded Juliet for miles, and he won numerous awards for his work in the classroom. Even beyond campus, Don remained a teacher at heart. “The Spoken Word,” which featured readings by local authors, as well as Don’s dramatic interpretations of favorite poetry and prose, was a kind of classroom, too, for both his listeners and his guests.
Parting the bedroom curtains last weekend on the first cool Saturday of September, I noticed…
Not long after I began writing columns, Don invited me to appear on his show and read some of my work. As a lowly newspaperman, I felt out of place on a program devoted to literary affairs.
But Don loved writing in all its forms, and he was just as likely to cite a clipping from The New York Times or some local scribe as a sonnet from Shakespeare or a passage from Edgar Allan Poe.
Before I taped the first of several “Spoken Word” readings I would do over the years, Don eased my anxiety by telling me to be myself. I did just that, speaking into the microphone with the same plodding pace that my friends and loved ones know as my natural speaking voice.
I soon noticed tiny slips of paper being dropped over my shoulder. Each one, scribbled in Don’s own hand, bore a single word: “Faster!”
What Don had meant to say was that you should be yourself — but more exciting. He was a great believer in the idea that language should be a performance. Don took to heart Shakespeare’s notion that life is a stage.
In reading my work aloud on Don’s show, I came to see more clearly its limitations — how what was written for the eye fell short when aimed at the ear. Don embraced the truth that all language, even the kind recorded on a page, was, at its best, a creature of the tongue. It’s why, I gathered, he loved Shakespeare so. The Bard’s plays and sonnets represented for him the ideal of literature as talk, the best conversation anyone could have.
On the night before Labor Day, as our family gathered in the backyard to catch a few more mo…
In the wake of Don’s death, I’ve turned to his old friend Shakespeare. “Every one can master a grief,” the great playwright wrote, “but he that has it.”
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