Wilfred Cude
The Ph.D. Trap R E V I S I T E D
Copyright © Wilfred Cude, 2001 | Click here to buy!

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The Daily News

A publisher by principle
The Daily News [Dartmouth, N.S.], 7 July 1996, page 48

by Phil Milner

Philip Milner is author of The Yankee Professor's Guide to Life in Nova Scotia, and teaches English at St.F.X.

Wilfred Cude is an independent man of letters. When asked a question, he puts his head back and speaks carefully. His words are precise, forming sentences and paragraphs with short and long pauses where semi-colons and commas and periods would go if he were writing instead of talking. His good eye lights up and thoughts flash across his face. He occasionally strokes his neat salt-and-pepper beard when he reaches for a word, but otherwise his arms usually remain crossed over his chest.

Cude runs a small publishing company, serves as an editorial consultant to various publications and individuals and teaches occasional English courses at St.F.X. or UCCB. He also writes books, book reviews and articles. Like many eastern Nova Scotia intellectuals, he once ran for parliament for the NDP. He's affiliated with no university, magazine, or newspaper. There is not much demand for independent men of letters these days, and rural Cape Breton seems a particularly unlikely place in which to find one.

"Mary Pat and I originally moved to the Loch Bras D'Or (a few miles from St. Peters) because we could live here economically while I worked on my PhD dissertation," Cude explains. "I built the house during the summer of 1972. Excepting two-year teaching stints at the University of British Columbia, at the Coast Guard College in Sydney, and at Concordia University in Montreal, we've lived here ever since."

The Cudes also keep bees, sell honey, make a locally famous mead (honey wine), and, like many of their neighbours, work the pogey as best they can.
Cude just finished helping a neighbour write and publish a book. George Grinnell, a retired professor of the history of science and technology at McMaster University in Hamilton, moved to River Bourgeois in 1994. Cude met him when both were fighting a plan to establish a used motor oil reclamation centre near their homes.

"We were both opposed to locating an oily soil reclamation facility on Sporting Mountain in Richmond County," Cude, who was born in Montreal, remembers. "Over the course of our association, George told me the about his canoeing adventure. He had been writing about it for 40 years. I offered my services as a professional editor. George accepted, and 'Death in the Barrens' was published this spring."

In 1992 Cude's Medicine Label Press published "The Promised Land" by Tessie Gillis, an unknown writer who wrote short stories about loneliness, alcoholism, poverty, and spousal abuse in a rural Cape Breton Scottish-Catholic community in the 1950s.

"Wilf recognized Tessie Gillis's talent while other publishers hedged," says Jim Taylor, a St. F.X. English professor who edited Gillis's short stories for publication. "He played a vital role in publishing an important writer whose work might otherwise have been lost to the reading public."

Memories are long around Glendale, and readers recognized real life prototypes for Gillis's blighted characters. Sales were spurred by this unexpected notoriety. Taylor also attributes the book's sales "to Wilf Cude's flexibility and energy in promoting it."

Cude became a publisher reluctantly. His second book, The Ph.D. Trap, was accepted for publication by the James Lorimer Publishing Company in Toronto. But an editor pointed out that the book would "attract the fire of academic heavyweights," and Lorimer reneged.

"I decided to publish it myself," Cude said. "I drew out the maximum cash advance from my VISA card, went to City Printers in Sydney, and had 500 copies printed. It was reviewed favourably in the Globe and Mail and elsewhere. It sold out in two months. The second edition, aided by my appearance on CBC's Fifth Estate, also sold out."

Cude completed his PhD course work with distinction at the University of Alberta. His thesis, on the literary values of several Canadian writers, was published by the University Press of America before he defended it. For this and other breaches of university protocol, the thesis was never granted a formal examination. He found himself among the 60% of students in PhD programs who never receive their degree.

In The Ph.D. Trap, Cude tells about Theodore Streleski, a doctoral candidate in math at Stanford University in California. After 19 years of work toward his PhD, his marriage had collapsed, he was near financial ruin, and still had no PhD At that point he took a hammer and bludgeoned his thesis supervisor. When police opened his briefcase, they found the hammer and a list of names that included his thesis supervisor, the department chairman, the dean, the president of the university.

"Stanford University took 19 years of my life with impunity, and I decided I would not let that pass," Streleski said.

Cude says, "Though we agree the system is unjust, we certainly differ on our methods of dealing with it. Streleski used a hammer, I use a pen." Cude is finishing a sequel, The Ph.D. Trap Revisited. It updates the information, and draws on the letters Cude has received from fellow victims and other critics of PhD programs.

I should introduce a personal note. In 1989, Wilfred Cude and I began sharing an office in St. Martha's Convent. The Convent, nestled under St. F.X.'s smoke stacks, seemed like the right place for two crotchety teachers who couldn't get along with anybody, and weren't wild about each other. Cude saw me as a hustler out for myself. I saw him as an injustice collector who would soon be embroiled in one unwinnable fight or another.

But he taught his two quasi-remedial freshman courses with real dedication. He marked student papers meticulously, insisted his students rise to his standard, helped poor writers clean up their grammar and find their voices. One day, I showed him a sheaf of essays and stories I'd written over the years, and he helped me see how they might become my first book.

Cude persists in a romantic notion that if you insist on fairness and justice, you will achieve it. I was little help to him in his battle with the university power structure. Be that as it may, his seriousness in the classroom and his quixotic fearlessness in the face of institutional power helped me effect a change in my own teaching and writing.

For these reasons I am sorry I do not share his enthusiasm for A Death in the Barrens, which tells the story of a fatal canoeing expedition. Sports Illustrated magazine published a version of the canoe trip in 1956, and if Grinnell had stuck to that, he'd have had a good book. But Grinnell goes into his grad school experience, his stormy relations with his father, his Ryerson teaching career, his marriages. Two of his sons drowned on a canoeing trip he organized. He divorced his wife ­ the boys' mother ­ and married a former student. It almost seems as though Grinnell understands his canoeing adventure better than he understands his wife.

Turning this material into a book must have been an editor's nightmare. My qualms notwithstanding, the book has sold out. A second edition is projected. Cude's editorial judgement is vindicated.

Wilfred Cude  

Chapter One
Time's Toll

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