By Edward Shanahan
E.M.(Monty) Beekman's curriculum vitae (resume) is
a mere 15 pages in length, because, of course, it is only a precis
of a rich academic life of teaching, research and writing.
But all of
those pages and pages listing his published works - scholarly,
fiction and poetry, articles, translations - as well as chronological
details of his lectures and fellowships appear to be dwarfed by
his current task.
who lives in Northampton and has taught at the University of Massachusetts
since 1968, is in the process of translating into English from
the Dutch the herbal of tropical plants - Ambonese Herbal - originally
produced by George Eberhard Rumphius in the17th Century.
work ran to seven volumes of text in folio pages, which are twice
the size of what we regard as a normal page. Beekman estimates
his translation with annotations will be "a huge work," perhaps
as many as 10 modern volumes.
who within the last year as been under treatment for cancer, says
the "botany community is rooting for me; they want it done" because
the work has never before been published in English.
the daunting challenge, Beekman and his wife, Faith Foss, are
now residing in Florida where for a year he will be a scholar
in residence at the National Tropical Botanical Garden in Coconut
Grove. As McBryde Professor, Beekman (and Foss) live in a guest
house in the middle of the sprawling seven acre tropical garden.
special field is Dutch colonial literature, language and culture,
although at UMass he has been a member of the English department,
comparative literature and Germanic languages departments.
Born in Amsterdam
in 1939, he came to this country at age 17 with his family and
settled in New York as had Dutch immigrants for many generations
before them. By 1962, Beekman became a U.S. citizen and did not
retain any claim to Dutch citizenship, something he sometimes
wished he had not given up.
in the U.S. Navy and then began what would become a long and distinguished
career as a scholar, first as an undergraduate at Berkeley, then
as a graduate student at Harvard where he received his doctorate
year, he came to UMass as a member of the English Department and
has taught there ever since, ranging over several departments
and academic disciplines. In 1999, Beekman was named Distinguished
Faculty Lecturer and Recipient of the Chancellor's Medal. His
list of honors is dazzlingly long, - for example, Knighthood bestowed
in the name of Queen Beatrix of the Kingdom of the Netherlands
in 1997 - but Beekman, an often gruff, bear-like man, does not
convey self importance. or pretense.
than 25 scholarly texts, Beekman has written two novels - 'Lame
Duck' and 'The Killing Jar' - both published by Houghton Mifflin.
He collaborated with artist local Barry Moser to produce a book
of poetry, published by Pennyroyal Press with illustrations by
Moser. Those broadsides, he says "are now worth a fortune," because
of the Moser illustrations.
years I have come to know Beekman as a visitor to the bookstore,
and he did his best to conceal the range of his erudition. Only
when I bought a quantity of books from him did I discover that
his passions included natural history with a special interest
in bears, literary criticism, religion, modern fiction and poetry,
the history and lore of pirates, the literature of the detective
novel, and word play.
on a visit not long before he headed off for his year in Florida,
Beekman dropped off a questionnaire he had gotten in the mail
which sought out his opinions about the increase in immigration
to the U.S. The survey tipped its hand when it warned that "rapid
influx of immigration has already severely impacted educational
facilities, social services, welfare rolls, Social Security and
Medicare costs, tax bases, crime rates, property values and job
opportunities in many regions of the country."
was headlined: "Immigration Impact Survey, Northampton, Massachusetts
"When I first
got the mailing," Beekman said: "I thought: Hell,. there must
be something wrong with my status, then I said No, No, No."
that the mailing probably was based on a mailing list from a far-right
wing organization, similar to the politically virulent anti-immigrant
groups active in Britain, France and Germany.
of excessive patriotism, Beekman said he found it shocking that
such anti-immigrant opinions flourish in this country, which is
made up almost entirely on people who came here from elsewhere.
Of the mailing
and survey, he said: "It's nasty, it's subversive and really dangerous."
He said the average citizen becomes scared, even paranoid, about
immigrants as a result of such incendiary mailings, at a time
the country, based on fresh census information, is becoming even
more a nation of immigrants.
Why he was
targeted for such a mailing is a puzzle. "I'm not associated with
anything remotely political," says Beekman. "I hate politicians.
I think they are the lowest form of life."
a spokesman for the Washington-based Immigration Control group,
told downstreet.net that tens of thousands of surveys were sent
out to recipients whose names did, indeed, come from mailing lists
of various organizations. It is possible that only Beekman, among
all Northampton residents, received a survey.
there is such irony in American Immigration Control Inc. believing
that Eric Montague Beekman, native of Amsterdam and U.S. citizen
for nearly 40 years, would be fertile ground for stirring up fear
Beekman is much too busy with the far more important task of publishing
a massive scholarly work about tropical plants that are useful
to man because of their medicinal qualities.