January 6 2019
Rick Salutin was interviewed by Anna Robinson-Sweet on January 6, 2019 at Salutin’s home in Toronto, Ontario. Salutin begins the interview describing his early life in Forest Hill Village, an affluent Jewish suburb of Toronto, in the 1950s. An eager student with an interest in Jewish studies, he recounts enrolling at Brandeis University in Waltham, Massachusetts, to pursue an undergraduate degree, through a connection at his local synagogue. From Brandeis, Salutin moved to New York, pursuing a joint degree at the Jewish Theological Seminary and Columbia University, in Jewish studies and religion, respectively, as well as doing graduate work at the Union Theological Seminary in Morningside Heights. The majority of the interview is dedicated to describing the evolution of his political consciousness across the 1960s. Entering the seminary, Salutin describes his impression of politics as “shallow” vis-à-vis philosophy and theology. By the mid-1960s, with growing antagonism towards the Vietnam War, student protests, and sessions in psychotherapy, he remembers losing interest in rabbinical studies and his marriage, dropping out of school and divorcing his wife. He recounts a protest he participated in at Columbia University in 1965 organized by the Students for a Democratic Society (SDS.) In 1967 Salutin enrolled at The New School to pursue a doctoral degree in philosophy, under the encouragement of Hans Jonas, who he met through Emil Fackenheim, a prominent Jewish scholar. It was at The New School that Salutin became more involved in political activism. Salutin recounts his participating in a confrontation with Harry Gideonse, chancellor at The New School for Social Research, who was an ardent anti-Communist. Salutin describes the pluralistic character of activism at the school. He recalls a cohort of student activists he describes as having a “Maoist” disposition, the Students for a Democratic Society (SDS), and a radical set of SDS members, including Naomi Jaffe, who Salutin knew from Brandeis, and David Gilbert who would go on to join The Weather Underground. He also describes the various antagonisms between students and faculty, and the student strike of 1970, which culminated in an injunction against the students and the arrest of dozens of strikers, including Salutin. After a court hearing, Salutin remembers moving to Quebec City and taking up playwriting. He returned to New York, briefly, finishing his comprehensive exams. The last part of the interview includes Salutin’s description of his return to Toronto, the political climate in Canada in the 1980s, and his ongoing activism. He describes his work throughout these years as a playwright, his involvement in local union organizing, and his ongoing work in journalism.
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