Sy Kahn was born in 1924 in New York City and attended public schools there through high school. He studied at the University of Pennsylvania, the University of Connecticut, and earned his doctorate in American and English Literature at the University of Wisconsin in 1957. His doctoral dissertation was the first critical biography of author Glenway Wescott, and it included consideration of the American expatriate writers of the 1920s.

He taught for 37 years at various colleges and universities in the United States and Europe. As professor of English and Drama at the University of the Pacific, he founded the Drama Department as an academic discipline in 1970.

For many years he chaired the department and also from 1970 to 1984 served as Executive Director of the summer repertory program at Fallon House Theatre.

Located in Columbia, California, Fallon House served as a significant and intensive training experience for drama students from throughout the United States. In a period of only five weeks, the company developed every aspect of five productions, usually four plays and one musical. The remainder of the summer, students performed all five productions in rotation to virtually sold-out houses. (Some of Sy's students recently held a reunion at Fallon House. See photos.)

Under the auspices of the United States Information Service (USIS), the UOP Drama Department performed in Germany, Austria and Yugoslavia each winter term from 1972 through 1975. He directed and led these tours of contemporary American plays and improvisational theatre, giving 74 performances in 46 European cities.

He retired from the University of the Pacific in 1986, and received the "Order of the Pacific," the university’s highest academic honor in 1987. At that time the Fulbright Commission cited Dr. Kahn as a “sensitive and judicious American” for advancing international understanding during his tenure as professor of American literature with four Fulbright grants to universities in Greece (1958-9), Poland (1966-7), Austria (1970-71) and Portugal (1985-86).

He was Associate Editor of the Beloit Poetry Journal, author or co-author of seven books of poetry, and co-editor and contributor for the book Interculture which is a selection of essays and poetry by Fulbright scholars, and editor of Devour the Fire, a selection of poems by Harry Crosby. He has published over 35 scholarly articles and essays in literary journals, encyclopedia, and books of literary criticism. He wrote three produced plays and directed more than 350 productions for academic, civic and commercial theatres.

His book Between Tedium and Terror: A Soldier’s WWII Diary, 1943-45 was published by University of Illinois Press in 1993. One of the few published WWII diaries, since keeping a journal was forbidden by military regulations, the diary documents life during four campaigns and over 300 air attacks in the South Pacific. It describes the 244th Port Company's backbreaking work of loading and unloading ships, the suffocating heat, the debilitating tropical diseases, and the relentless, sometimes terrifying bombings, accidents, casualties, and deaths. A record of the daily cost of war, the journal also reflects the author’s increasing maturity and his personal coming of age, representative of thousands of young Americans who served in World War II.

After his retirement from Pacific, Sy Kahn continued to direct plays, lecture, teach, perform and write. He was a guest professor twice at the University of Wales, Swansea, and at Justis Liebig Universitat in Germany. For the past 15 years, Sy Kahn and his wife Janet live in Port Townsend, Washington, where he also served as President of the Key City Players, as a member of the Port Townsend Arts Commission, and was awarded Port Townsend’s “Angel of the Arts” in 2003.

Dr. Kahn’s son David and his wife Kathy live in Oakland, California, and David, who received his doctorate in Theatre Arts at the University of California, Berkeley, is now Professor and Graduate Coordinator at San Jose State University in the TV-Radio-Film-Theatre department. Grandson Daniel graduated in American Studies from the University of California at Santa Cruz in 2006, and grandson Jeremy, following in the theatrical tradition, is now a junior in the Acting program at the De Paul University Theatre School in Chicago. Sy Kahn was previously married to Marion Belefant Kahn and Nancy Dennis Casazza. Janet Baker Kahn was his wife and partner of 31 years, from 1976-2007

Below, Sy Kahn Then and Now, during World War II and also in a more recent photo.

© 2007-08
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