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In the Beginning Is the Word…: Ron Perrier Welcomes Storytellers

By Lavender June 5, 2008

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As humans, we’re all about Word: our personal story; our family, cultural, religious, and national stories. Attuned to this living thread, local academic and author Ron Perrier has gathered two volumes of story and remembrance that further our understanding of two groups: participants of World War II, and young males growing up in our present society.

For Growing Up Male in America, Perrier conducted 30 interviews, with 16 ending up in the final volume. The young men, guaranteed anonymity, were remarkably candid about their feelings, sexuality, fears, and confusions. Their occupations and professions include plumber, bartender, dentist, police officer, actor, and social worker. According to the author, eleven men were heterosexual, five gay or bisexual.

Sense of Honor’s respondents were involved directly and indirectly in the War. Two well-known local figures interviewed were Charles M. Nolte, actor, playwright, and longtime Professor of Theater Arts at the University of Minnesota; and Roy H. Saigo, an American citizen of Japanese ancestry who, at 18 months, was interned with his family for three years through President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s Executive Order Number 9066. Later President of St. Cloud State University, Saigo remains a strong foe of all forms of discrimination.

Perrier, Professor Emeritus of Theatre and Film Studies at St. Cloud State University, and the author of five other texts on film and theater, recently discussed his work with Lavender.

How did you decide to undertake these books?

Having written several textbooks, as I approached retirement, I thought I’d write on subjects that interested me personally. Studs Terkel’s oral histories fascinated me, and I wanted to explore the immediacy of the interview.

Why Growing Up Male?

Perhaps because I’m a gay man, and always felt like an outsider growing up, I thought I’d like to interview young men, and hopefully discover why men tend to be so guarded and “closed” about showing their emotions. The human male has always been thrust into the role of strength—the macho creature without feeling. In the modern world, the only place to demonstrate his macho self is on the athletic field or on the battlefield.

And Sense of Honor?

Because 2005 was the 60th anniversary of the end of World War II, I thought it would be appropriate to get the remaining vets’ stories recorded and written. Over 1,000 vets are dying each day, so I wanted to capture their thoughts, memories, experiences, fears. It was not difficult to find subjects. Most were referred to me by their relatives or neighbors.

I tried to get representatives of major battles and major events within the context of World War II. Also representatives of various branches of service. Plus, a survivor of the Auschwitz Camp. And, for a little odd twist, a joint interview of identical twins, age 23, who had just returned from service in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Why did these people “open up” to you so easily?

The interviews were conducted in the subjects’ living room or in mine. I told them to forget that the tape recorder was running, and if there was anything they did not want to talk about, that was OK with me. All subjects for both books had “final cut rights” on the edited manuscript, which would be in the book.

What do you want the reader to take away from these books?

World War II is ancient history to many people living today. To hear the words of these men and women who were involved in that history is important. To read the personal stories of men in their 20s in Growing Up Male allows the reader to see the interior of a generation of young men who rarely expose their “tender” or vulnerable side.

In a sense, the two books are each about young people. The vets were late teenagers/early 20s when they were drafted or enlisted in the early 1940s. The young men I interviewed for Growing Up Male are living at the dawn of a new millennium. Fears, frustrations, wonderments abound in both generations—but slightly different ones.


For more information, visit www.archiepub.com. These books may be ordered directly from Archie Publications, P O Box 50154, Minneapolis, MN, 55403. Each book is $24.95, postage paid—receive a discount with a mention of “Lavender.”

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