Lakeland College

Lakeland history professor authors biography on 60s counterculture icon

Lakeland College Associate Professor of History Rick Dodgson has completed a biography of one of the most significant figures in the 1960s counterculture revolution.

Dodgson CoverDodgson's "It's All a Kind of Magic: The Young Ken Kesey" is the first biography of Ken Kesey, counterculture icon and best-selling author of the anti-authoritarian novels "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest" and "Sometimes a Great Notion."

"It's All a Kind of Magic" is published by The University of Wisconsin Press and will be available beginning Oct. 22 in hardback and electronic form. It can be purchased online at http://uwpress.wisc.edu/books/5162.htm or in many bookstores. This is Dodgson's first book.

Dodgson will read from his work on Nov. 12 as part of a book signing event at Boswell Book Company, 2559 N Downer Ave., Milwaukee. The event begins at 7 p.m.

Dodgson's 256-page work reveals a youthful life of brilliance and eccentricity that encompassed wrestling, writing, farming, magic and ventriloquism, CIA-funded experiments with hallucinatory drugs and a notable cast of characters that would come to include Wallace Stegner, Larry McMurtry, Tom Wolfe, Neal Cassady, Timothy Leary, the Grateful Dead and Hunter S. Thompson.

"This time and these people are still relevant today, because the events of the 60s continue to shape modern American culture in fundamental ways," said Dodgson, a member of Lakeland's faculty since 2007. "Much of our culture, our music, our ideas and lifestyles are products of the decade. Even if young people don't realize the connection between EDM raves and Kesey's acid tests, there is a direct link connecting the two."

Based on meticulous research and many interviews with friends and family, Dodgson's biography documents Kesey's early life, from his time growing up in Oregon through his college years, his first drug experiences and the writing of his most famous books. While a graduate student in creative writing at Stanford University in the late 1950s and early 1960s, Kesey worked the night shift at the Menlo Park Veterans Administration Hospital, where he earned extra money taking LSD and other psychedelic drugs for medical studies. Soon he and his bohemian crowd of friends were using the same substances to conduct their own experiments, exploring the frontiers of their minds and testing the boundaries of their society.

"As a historian, I think there's still much to be learned about the 1960s and its long-term impact on our culture," Dodgson said. "As a teacher, I find my students are fascinated by the counterculture – partly because of the sex, drugs and rock and roll – but also because they see the movement was important. Students recognize it as a period where young people had a significant role to play in shaping history and acting on the historical stage."

With the success of "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest," Kesey moved to La Honda, Calif., in the foothills of San Mateo County, creating a scene that Hunter S. Thompson remembered as the "world capital of madness." There, Kesey and his growing band of Merry Prankster friends began hosting psychedelic parties and living a "hippie" lifestyle before anyone knew what that meant. Tom Wolfe's book "The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test" mythologized Kesey's adventures in the 1960s.

Illustrated with rarely seen photographs, "It's All a Kind of Magic" depicts Kesey as a precocious young man brimming with self-confidence and ambition who – through talent, instinct and fearless spectacle – made his life into a performance, a wild magic act that electrified American and world culture.

Dodgson was a graduate student at Ohio University in 1999 when he first traveled to Oregon to meet Kesey and ask him if he would agree to be the subject of his dissertation. With Kesey's approval, Dodgson spent the next few years researching in archives and libraries up and down the West Coast. Along the way, he interviewed many of the people around Kesey during the 60s, including most of the Merry Pranksters, author Tom Wolfe, Woodstock MC Wavy Gravy and famed amateur LSD chemist Owsley "Bear" Stanley III, whose products fueled the Acid Tests and the whole San Francisco hippie psychedelic scene that developed in their wake.

Dodgson was named Lakeland's 2012 winner of the annual Underkofler Excellence in Undergraduate Teaching Award. He has work extensively on the Lakeland Oral History Project, an effort dedicated to collecting oral histories related to the college.

Before coming to Lakeland, Dodgson was an assistant professor of history at the University of Tennessee-Martin. He also worked as an adjunct professor in history and political science at Ohio University and as an ETD instructor in Ohio's graduate student services.

Dodgson has a bachelor's degree in American studies and social anthropology from the University of Wales in the United Kingdom and a master's in political science theory and a doctorate in history (primary field: 20th Century America) from Ohio University. He has won several academic awards, including a Contemporary History Fellowship, the Elizabeth Baker Peace Fund Award and a Student Enhancement research grant.

He has also presented papers at a number of prestigious academic forums, including the American Historical Association Conference, the Southwest Texas Popular/American Culture Association and the Oral History Association Conference.

He is also a music enthusiast who performs occasionally at local venues. He is also the creator and producer of "Mission to the Stars: A Space Rock Opera."

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