Tribute to Daniel David Moses (by Annie Smith and Lib Spry)

August 5, 2020

Playwright and poet, Daniel David Moses, was born on February 18, 1952. Moses, who was Delaware, grew up on a dairy farm on Six Nations of the Grand River in southern Ontario. He died on Monday, July 13. He was 68 years old.

Annie:  As I ponder the legacy of this wonder-filled human being, I feel his gentle presence over my shoulder.  Daniel was a Writer, bringing to life through his words, characters and images that are often troubling in their complexity.  His plays (9 published) have made me uncomfortable and his poetry (4 collections published) has made me examine my own relationship to moments that could flee easily because of inattention.  Rob Appleford[i] asserts: “Moses’s work poses a fundamental challenge to those who would ask for images free from the legacy of colonial oppression and distortion.”  For all of Daniel’s unassuming manner, his writing challenges his viewers and readers. 

My first opportunity to hear Daniel speak was at the Performing Turtle Island Symposium, convened jointly by the First Nations University of Canada and the University of Regina in 2015.  He generously shared his fascination with the work of colleague Basil Johnson and the memoir he was adapting into a play, Crazy Dave Goes To Town.  His boyish enthusiasm for mixing cultural stories with science fiction was contagious.  When I was asked to review the collection of essays about his work, edited by Tracey Lindberg and David Brundage[ii], I was honoured to have the opportunity to delve more deeply into his writing and to realize the impact of his work in Canada and internationally.  When I proposed to interview Daniel for a book chapter in the forthcoming collection arising from the Performing Turtle Island Conference[iii], I was grateful to have my friend Lib Spry vouch for me and to have Daniel, just beginning a six month sabbatical, agree to two telephone interviews during the summer of 2016.  The conversations we had and the subsequent emails clarifying the piece were a lot of fun.  I continue to be in awe of Dan’s curiosity and his way of linking ideas and cultural tropes.  In our last email correspondence in June, he shared some of what he was working on and his loneliness at being so isolated with the COVID-19 restrictions while having to go through chemotherapy.  At the end of my book review for UT Quarterly I stated:  “Moses is a writer at his maturity; to examine the oeuvre of his work to date is to anticipate the wealth of his work to come.”  I mourn his life cut short and the work we will not get to read and see performed because of his passing.  But my last words to him were – “nothing is ever lost” and I hold to that promise in honour of his legacy to us all.

Lib:  Daniel was a close friend and colleague for almost thirty years. He was such a lovely person, usually quiet, a master listener, but when he did speak, you listened. I had the pleasure, and the honour, to direct his seminal play Almighty Voice and His Wife twice, the world premiere at GCTC in 1991 and again for Theatre Kingston in 2017. Each time I was amazed by the depth of his analysis of colonialism, the beauty and cleverness of his writing, and his use of humour as a critical tool, all wrapped up in an astonishing theatrical concept. The second time around David Deleary, the musician on both productions, and I would look at each other, shake our heads, and agree that we had missed a particular clever piece of writing the first time. There are so many layers to that play! It was a gift having him in rehearsals. He was appreciative, helpful and supportive. His comments were always spot on, and hearing his distinctive laugh meant we had found a good solution to a particular moment. He got great pleasure watching his own plays. The 2019 Soul Pepper production, directed by the original White Girl Jani Lauzon, delighted him. I am so happy that it was produced before Covid -19. As well as Almighty Voice and His Wife, he wrote eight other plays including Brebeuf’s Ghost, The Indian Medicine Show, the 1996 Buller Memorial Award winner, and Coyote City, a 1991 Governor General’s Literary Award nominee. He was not only a playwright, but a poet, dramaturge, editor, an essayist, a scholar and taught playwriting at Queens University from 2003 until he retired as Professor Emeritus in 2019. Delicate Bodies, The White Line, Sixteen Jesuses and a CD, River Range, Poems with original music by David DeLeary and A Small Essay on the Largeness of Light and Other Poems are his published collections of poems. His essays are collected in Pursued by a Bear: Talks, Monologues and Tales. Once he returned to Toronto after he retired I missed our regular meals together, filled with talk or satisfying silences. The last time I saw him we spent the day together in Toronto, catching up on our news and seeing a matinee of Aluna Theatre’s The Solitudes. He said he was working on some poems and preparing to write a new play about the Peacemaker despite dealing with ongoing treatment for cancer.As a writer he is a great loss, as a human being he will be missed for the kind and generous man he was.

A brilliant writer,

Wise, funny, sweet, wry, caring.

A man of such grace.

[i]  Appleford, R. “Daniel David Moses: Ghostwriter with a Vengeance”, in Daniel David Moses, Spoken and Written Explorations of His Work, eds. Tracey Lindberg and David Brundage. Toronto:  Guernica Editions, 2015.  p. 269.

[ii] Daniel David Moses, Spoken and Written Explorations of His Work, eds. Tracey Lindberg and David Brundage.  Toronto: Guernica Editions, 2015.  Review in UT Quarterly Volume 86, Number 3, Summer 2017. pp 306-308.

[iii] “Conversation with Daniel David Moses, August 2015”, in Performing Turtle Island: Indigenous Theatre on the World Stage,  eds. Jesse Rae Archibald-Barber, Kathleen Irwin, and Moira Day.  University of Regina Press, 2019, pp 73-96.

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