Jessica Silsby Brater

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Jessica Silsby Brater


A written tribute from a former student.


Jessica Silsby Brater

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If it had not been for Dan’s melodrama course, in which I enrolled during my first semester at the Graduate Center, I probably would not be gesturing with heightened theatricality towards the completion of my dissertation today.  Dan made me feel welcomed and that I had something of value to contribute in a class filled with students who were already well on their way to graduate degrees.  He somehow convinced me that I should take myself seriously as a writer and a scholar. 

Dan taught me to value my own contributions to the field, budding though they are.  And he also taught me that melodramas—French, English, American, nautical, temperance, and penny dreadfuls all—are completely, irresistibly fascinating. Dan had the capacity to be both intellectually challenging and emotionally supportive to his mentees.  As his friend and colleague Frank Hentschker so aptly put it, Dan was able to see people not only for what they are at present, but for what they had the potential to become.  When it came to the people around him, Dan demonstrated a profoundly egalitarian spirit.  He orchestrated freewheeling introductions among scholars, artists, and students in the hallway outside his office and at Segal Center events, exuding the attitude that people at both ends of the exchange had something equally important to offer each other.

Dan was similarly non-hierarchical in his view about artists and writers deserving of academic consideration.  He reinforced my instinct to appreciate the potential for critical investigation in work that has been neglected or relegated to provisional positions in the field.  His own translations invited many previously unknown and overlooked plays to bask in the glow of theatrical interpretation and scholarly appreciation. 

I was honored to have the opportunity to collaborate with Dan when I directed a production just one such of his translations:  Pixérécourt’s Alice, or the Scottish Gravediggers, which I had first read in his melodrama class.  I had already discovered that Dan’s translations were especially lively and engaging, but it became apparent during the rehearsal process that he put words together in a way that was delightful for actors to say.  Dan’s generosity leaped out at us from the page.  Ever confident in the capability of humans to behave responsibly, he even lent me his folder of clippings on Alice and the historical inspiration for her gruesome, ripped-from-the-headlines story.

In addition to poring avidly over his file on all things Burke and Hare, I was particularly enchanted by Dan’s Symbolism course.  Each class meeting revealed untold wonders of the art of the psychic realm.  Dan’s enjoyment of Symbolist spirituality's eccentricities was quite contagious.  My favorite memory from this class, and one I know has risen to the heights of popular lore among fellow students, is the day that Dan appeared in our over-crowded seminar room with a small birthday gift bag filled with books on theosophy and Madame Blavatsky, which he dubbed his “little black bag of the occult.”  I don’t know whether these books were periodically refiled on Dan’s shelves, but I like to think that they remain together in the bag, possibly transmitting invisible waves of bewitchment to anyone who comes within a prescribed radius.

I feel deeply grateful to have known Dan.  He was a true friend to me in the good times and the difficult ones during the roller coaster of graduate school.  He motivated me to become a better writer, a more passionate scholar, and more adventurous in the pursuit of research.  I hope to find, by the time I become a mentor to my own students, that he has also imparted to me a modicum of his luminously generous spirit.


Jessica Silsby Brater




Jessica Silsby Brater, “Jessica Silsby Brater,” The Daniel Gerould Archives, accessed December 18, 2018,