Oberlin Alumni Magazine

Summer 2011 Vol. 106 No. 3 OAM Home | Oberlin Online


Romulus Linney

Romulus Linney '53, hon. '94, was a playwright known for a diverse output, "running from rural dramas about hillbilly homicides to lush meditations on Lord Byron's ghost and Frederick the Great," according to New York Times critic Ben Brantley. Mr. Linney earned an MFA in directing at the Yale School of Drama but began his writing career with prose fiction and published a number of novels. He wrote more than 30 plays, including adaptations from a wide range of sources, including his own novel, Dickens' A Christmas Carol, and a Chekov short story that he set in 1920s North Carolina. Considered a leading light in off-Broadway and regional theater and a "writer's writer" among playwrights, Mr. Linney taught writing at Columbia, Princeton, the University of Pennsylvania, Hunter College, and Brooklyn College, among others. At Oberlin, he delivered the 1994  Commencement address, also receiving an honorary PhD from the college. "Playwrights do not dwell on the joys, opportunities, rewards, earthly fulfillments and spiritual epiphanies that may lie before you," he said in that speech. "That is better accomplished by other artistic languages, such as music and dance, which express joy so well. Good plays, which I learned to love passionately at this school, are about other things: ironic outcomes and basic emotions, sudden reversals and spilt blood, all rising out of human conflict." Mr. Linney died of lung cancer on January 15, 2011, in Germantown, N.Y., leaving his wife, Laura Callahan, and two daughters, actress Laura Linney and Susan Linney.