DANIEL DAVID MOSES
18 February 1952 – 13 July 2020
It is with great sadness that I share the news of the death of Professor Emeritus Daniel David Moses.
Daniel grew up in the Six Nations community on the Grand River, near Brantford, Ontario. He was a registered member of the Delaware nation and he maintained a strong relationship to the community in which he had grown up, frequently returning to Six Nations to visit his father and his mother until their deaths.
Daniel’s reputation as a writer was already fairly well-established before he joined us at Queen’s. He wrote as a poet first, publishing several volumes of poetry, including Delicate Bodies, The White Line, and Sixteen Jesuses. He brought that poetic sensibility into his writing for the stage with plays like The Indian Medicine Shows, City of Shadows, Coyote City and Brebeuf’s Ghost. His best known work was the probably the play Almighty Voice and His Wife, which was first produced in 1991, but has been frequently revived, including a recent Dora Award-winning production by Soulpepper Theatre in Toronto. The play was also included in the internationally published Norton Anthology of Drama. It is an astonishingly bold play, fusing together a first act which presents a relatively realistic historical romance about the two title characters with a second act that is a sort of grotesque parody of a minstrel show. Daniel’s work was always intellectually challenging and aesthetically innovative. Critics wrote of the “poetic suggestiveness” of his early plays, and even when they found themselves slightly baffled by his work, suggested that, through his writing Daniel had “awakened the dead.” The critic Ronald Bryden, discussing in the Globe and Mail the nominations for the 1991 Governor General’s Award in Drama declared of Coyote City that “in performance [it] clearly would become a poem in its entirety.” Bryden went on to say “I’ve read nothing that conveys so powerfully how Canada and the future look to young Native men and women who choose the company of their own dead in preference to life in a society with no role or place for them. It’s not just the best Canadian play I’ve read this year but the best in several years.”
Daniel joined us in 2003 as a Queen’s National Scholar, teaching playwriting, and creating for us a course that was first called First Nations Playwrights, and is now called Indigenous Playwrights. He was always a strong advocate for other Indigenous writers, serving as co-editor for multiple editions of the Oxford University Press’s Anthology of Canadian Native Literature in English. During his time at Queen’s, Daniel was promoted to full Professor and also named a Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada. Both of these were honours that Daniel was only persuaded to accept when appeal was made to his sense of duty to his community. He was conscious that, in Six Nations and in other Indigenous communities, he stood as something of a role model for the young.
Daniel was certainly one of the stars of the Dan School. He was celebrated for his writing all over the world. But, for such an enormously accomplished man with such an out-sized reputation, at a first meeting he struck most people as extraordinarily quiet and modest. He dressed in an unassuming manner---sweatshirt and jeans for all but the very most formal occasions; he spoke little in public, and in meetings he most often maintained a dignified silence. After becoming friends with him, however, I discovered that in private he could be quite talkative and often very funny. It became clear in those times that he always listened intently to what other people said; he captured not only what they said, but often their unspoken, and even their unconscious meaning. I think that this was part of his great gift as a writer: the way he captured the nuances and music of the speaking voice in his poetry and plays. Daniel sometimes said of his writing that he was determined to come up with “language that could be spoken by the body entire,” which is as fine a description of the actor’s relationship to words as I have ever encountered.
An exhausting bout with cancer convinced Daniel to retire in February 2019, somewhat earlier than he had planned. But he remained affiliated with Queen’s as Professor Emeritus. We are grateful for the vital contribution Daniel made to the expertise and the reputation of Drama at Queen’s. He will be sorely missed.
Director of the Dan School of Drama and Music