For more than 50 years, Kent State University-Ashtabula English Professor Roger Craik kept a hidden manuscript tucked away with his most treasured possessions.
The book is a facsimile of Robert Browning’s “The Pied Piper of Hamelin,” illustrated by Craik’s parents, Tom and Wendy Craik, and given to him on his 6th birthday in 1962, when he was considered old enough to enjoy it.
However, his parents created the book some years earlier. His father described the circumstances to his son as follows and described in the foreword of the book:
In September 1958 I went to New York to teach for the academic year at Queens College (CCNY), and Wendy accompanied me. (You remained in England, at Kingston, with Rita and Gary.) (Roger’s maternal grandparents). During the day, while I was teaching, she pursued her research on Jane Austen’s novels in the New York Public Library. We were living in East 58th Street.
In February 1959 we used the break between semesters to visit Williamsburg, Va., where we bought the attractive traditionally-bound book in handmade paper which now contains “The Pied Piper of Hamelin.” Our idea was to create a present for you on our return. I calculated the length of the poem and the space available, and in the evenings of about a fortnight wrote it out and drew the pictures, which Wendy coloured in watercoulour. We returned to England in May 1959.
Of course, Roger Craik remembers nothing of this, being only 3 years old at the time, but he does remember enjoying “The Pied Piper” being read to him, and sensing his parents’ relish in reading aloud and their pausing to point to the illustrations.
Only a handful of people, visitors and friends have seen the book since it was written in 1959. A few years ago, with his parents’ permission, Craik made a copy of the treasured book in Nottingham, England and began sending it out to friends as an email attachment.
“Everyone who has seen the book, loves it,” he said. “The book shows the love of a young couple (my parents), and their young son from whom they were separated a year.”
Tom Craik penned Browning’s words, nothing added or deleted, but the illustrations come entirely from Tom and Wendy Craik’s imaginations. They were 32 and 25 years old at the time.
Editor and Publisher Geoffrey Gatza of BlazeVOX (books) said he was taken by the story of the book as much as the book itself.
“This was one of those golden moments for a book publisher, where you can instantly see a worthwhile project and say yes in a minute without ever having to worry, and just focus in on its potential success,” Gatza said. “I am a fan of Robert Browning’s poetry and this poem in particular has a significant place within our culture. This matched with the blithe drawings by Roger (Craik’s) father, you can see the gentle hand that lies behind the pen.
“The blending of talents in the parents’ artwork making an object for their son, who they are separated from by an ocean, makes this book more poignant. It all comes together in a lovely book that I think will become a cherished item in anyone’s bookshelf.”
Craik said he is very excited about the book, which he tried to get published as a gift to his parents.
“I am far more excited about this book, which is for my parents, than I am about my own book of poems, ‘Down Stranger Roads,’ which will come out later this year,” he said.
For the 2013-2014 academic year, Craik is teaching English at Oradea University in Romania having been honored as a Fulbright Scholar. He is teaching poetry writing and literature to Romanian students and is enjoying it very much.
Traveling to faraway places to share his creativity and knowledge is nothing new for Craik. Two years ago, he spent two weeks as a poet-in-residence at Al Ain University in the United Arab Emirates. There he presented his latest poems and taught a poetry writing class at both the men and women’s colleges. A professor from the AAU English Department translated for him. Craik read the poem in English, and then the professor would read the poem translated in Arabic.
Craik said it was a very memorable trip.
English by birth and educated at the universities of Reading and Southampton, Craik has worked as a journalist, TV critic and chess columnist. Before coming to the U.S. in 1991, he worked in Turkish universities and was awarded a Beinecke Fellowship to Yale in 1990.
He has written three books on literature, including an edition of John Donne, with his father, as well as a host of academic articles and scholarly notes, and six books of poetry.
Craik is widely traveled, having visited North Yemen, Egypt, South Africa, Tibet, Nepal, Japan and Bulgaria, where he taught during spring 2007 on a Fulbright Scholarship.
His father was born in Warrington, Cheshire in 1927, and educated at the Boteler Grammar School there, from which he won an Open Exhibition in French and English to Christ’s College Cambridge, where he studied under F.R. Leavis and Enid Welsford.
He taught English at Leicester University College (later Leicester University), Aberdeen, Dundee and Durham, where he was Professor of English from 1977 until his retirement in 1989. After “The Tudor Interlude” (1958) and “The Comic Tales Chaucer” (1964) he devoted himself chiefly to the critically editing of the plays of Shakespeare and his contemporaries.
His mother, Wendy Craik, was born in East Finchley, North London, in 1934, and evacuated to the countryside in World War II.
After receiving a Ph.D. at Leicester University College, supervised by Monica Jones, she worked as a schoolteacher before entering academia.
She was Reader in English at Aberdeen University, and Professor of English at the Middle East Technical University in Ankara, and has written four books on the 19th Century novel.
Today, the couple resides in England.