Bookmark and Share

Dr. Deryl Johnson

Deryl JohnsonDeryl Johnson believes storytelling is a way of preserving cultures while celebrating their similarities and differences.

"One of the things that binds us all together is the use of the story" he says, "and while each of our stories is unique, there are certain themes that run through all cultures."

When Johnson is not teaching, he is busy working on plays, books and other projects that help communities tell their stories for the generations. A few years ago, Johnson wrote Centralia, a play about the Pennsylvania mining town where a fire has been burning underground for more than 40 years. The play was performed in 1998 and resurrected in 2002 for the 40th anniversary of the fire's beginning.  Article on the play Centralia.   Book on Centrailia.

Because of his play, Arcadia Publishing of Dover, N.H., a publisher of local and regional history, asked him to do a pictorial history of Centralia for its Images of America Series. The book on Centralia, which will be available before Thanksgiving, will have about 180 photos of the town that Johnson has collected from residents and taken himself.

As Johnson did with his play, he is donating all the proceeds from the book to the Centralia Fire Company and the library in the nearby town of Mount Carmel,which he hopes will be a repository of the history of Centralia,which has only a few buildings and about a dozen residents left.

Johnson also is working on a book based on an oral history of the Imperial Court System, an international social and fund-raising organization whose members represent every aspect of society-lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgendered and heterosexual. Jose Sarria, America's first openly gay political candidate, who ran for supervisor in San Francisco, founded the court, which has 72 chapters across the United States, Canada and Mexico, in 1965. The book is to be published for the organization's 40th anniversary.

Johnson is also active in Perforum, serving as advisor with colleague Lisa Weckerle.

The club sponsors a variety of performances-in traditional and nontraditional styles - as well as trips to Broadway. Through the theater, students are involved in productions both on- and off-campus and travel to intercollegiate festivals across the country each semester. It also has an outreach program designed to offer students the opportunity to volunteer time and talent to local community nursing homes, Head Start programs, women's centers, and libraries by providing various services or performances.

Typical of his style and commitment to culture, Johnson also was a founder of KU's DiversityFest, an ambitious three-day campus program of speakers, performances, films and workshops organized by professors and volunteers. Last September's festival was the largest of the three DiversityFests held thus far. More than 100 different performances and exhibits were included in the program.

"We had thousands of people participate in some aspect of it," Johnson said proudly.

Inspired by the area's widely attended festivals around such themes as music, Irish heritage and Pennsylvania German culture, Johnson thought, "Why not a festival to celebrate diversity?" Anything dealing with diversity can find a venue at the festival, says Johnson, who sees himself and KU as a central element in enriching the region's culture through the written and spoken word.

This material first appeared in the Tower: Kutztown University Magazine, Summer 2004,written by Beth Orenstein.