Daily 49er

Former professor blended creative arts, sensory experiences

August Coppola inspired students to 'dig deep in their imaginations.'

Tim Lynch, Staff Writer

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August Coppola taught more than just literature at Cal State Long Beach during the ’60s and ’70s. He was also a man who taught others about life.

“It’s all right to get an F,” actor Nicolas Cage told the Press-Telegram in 1990 — advice he got from his father, Coppola. “You learn from your mistakes. That’s something for an educator to say.”

Coppola died Oct. 27 due to a heart attack. He was 75 years old and lived in Savannah, Ga.

He was born Feb. 16, 1934, in Hartford, Conn. He earned a bachelor’s degree in philosophy from UCLA, a master’s degree in English from Hofstra University and a doctorate in comparative literature and interdisciplinary studies from Occidental College before teaching at CSULB.

Coppola created the comparative literature department at CSULB with professors Thomas Hubble and Peter Carr. The department explored world literature, rather than only British and American literature, which was the common practice of comparative literature departments of the time.

He introduced classes on the weekends for students who worked full time, according to Roland Bush. He was also a California State University trustee.

He also helped found “Genre: An International Journal of Literature and the Arts,” a CSULB literary journal first published in 1967.

Coppola wrote the preface for “Genre 12: 1990, Muses: Words into Music.” In it, he wrote, “Our ‘awakening’ will be in the sharing and expression of what we always had to begin with — our music, our literature, ourselves.”

The magazine consisted of poetry, fiction, essays and graphic arts. The diversity of content was consistent with Coppola’s lifelong efforts to build bridges between the various arts.

“He made students dig deep in their imaginations,” said Roland Bush, a professor in the comparative literature department. Bush was a student of Coppola’s and eventually worked with him in the department and on “Genre.”

Bush said that one of Coppola’s strengths as an educator was that he always treated students as individuals.

“In the 1960s professors lived in one world, and students lived in another, and they didn’t really connect,” Bush said. “But he was the kind of person who was open and looked at people as individuals, and tried to get them excited about creativity and learning to make it a part of their lives.”

Bush said Coppola once told him at the height of the 1960s drug culture that he wanted to “get people turned on without the use of drugs or artificial stimulants.”

After Coppola’s role at CSULB, he went on to become the dean of creative arts at San Francisco State University.

At one point, he spent months walking around blindfolded to write a book titled “The Intimacy.” He even rode a rollercoaster blindfolded.

“I believe that the predominance of sight in our society has been used to produce thrills — artificial ones — and not bodily experience,” he wrote in 1990, years before the proliferation of the Internet and video games that is seen today.

Coppola designed the Tactile Dome at the Exploratorium in San Francisco. The original press release from 1971 describes the one hour, 15 minute experience as a chance for visitors to “feel, bump, slide and crawl through and past hundreds of materials and shapes, which blend, change and contrast.”

At the end of the maze, visitors would fall from the darkness through a chute, which Bush compared to a re-creation of being born.

Coppola had said of the idea behind the Tactile Dome, “As soon as we’ve stopped chewing our toes, the first commandment in life is given: ‘DON’T TOUCH.'”

He believed this led to people being uncomfortable with physical contact. The tactile dome is still an exhibit at the Exploratorium today.

He was not the only creative member of his family. His father was a composer, and his mother, a lyricist. He is survived by a brother, filmmaker Francis Ford Coppola; a sister, Talia Shire; sons Christopher Coppola, Marc Coppola and Cage; and six grandchildren.

 

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