I met John Swales for the first time in April 1975. Working at the University of Kuwait, and for better or worse identified at short notice as one who might be suited to such an expedition, I undertook a mission lasting just a few days to research ESP programmes at universities in the region, where in short order I took in visits to Cairo, Khartoum, Beirut, Tehran and Tabriz. Only in Beirut (which was, although I didn’t know it, about to explode into civil war within hours of my visit) did I succeed in getting a normal hotel room, and my Khartoum arrangements for the first night, after a late arrival and driving round the city were such that I had no sleep at all. I made my first and only call of the day to the English Language Servicing Unit in Khartoum University, carrying my suitcase, and there met John Swales who, bless him, promptly offered to put me up. I knew John’s name as author of “Writing Scientific English”, and his work at the ELSU was already renowned in the region. My visit also coincided happily with the publication of the first edition of the ESPMENA Bulletin – a journal whose every edition we were to devour avidly in the Engineering College at Kuwait University where I worked. [If you have a moment find Angele Tadros’ reference listed about 5th in the Google results – go to para 3 of the “Scholarships” section]. It gave me particular pleasure that in 1978 John was invited to Kuwait as visiting professor.
John has just published “Incidents in an Educational Life” with the University of Michigan Press (links below). All of us have an Odyssey, and those of us who have made a career in English language are, by virtue of both its essence and its international context, especially able to relate to and enjoy the experiences of others who have also taken this slightly eccentric path. John’s book is about “incidents”, many of which have that element of chance in them that we oldies will recognise, and the reader can follow how these various elements come together to shape the backdrop of the career of an outstanding academic. It is an engrossing tale of academic gestation and personal development. Note that my use of “academic” here has no sense of dryness; John has always been creative, innovative, funny, good company, and not least a “Mensch” who stands up for friends and colleagues putting loyalty and principle ahead of himself. He has managed to combine those qualities with scholarship and research and academic achievement in a way which is all his own.
The book comes up with name after name of people I have had the pleasure of meeting, and I feared that if I started naming them I might never stop. But I hope John will forgive me if I mention just one of them. Van Milne visited Libya and met John in 1968 and encouraged him to turn some materials he had written into a book. Col. Gaddafi’s revolution (September 1st 1969) provided John with the opportunity to do exactly that and John’s excellent, pioneering, seminal textbook "Writing Scientific English" was published in 1971. It happened that in 1972 I went to Tripoli and in 1973 was put in charge of the English language programme in the Engineering Faculty, the very place where John had developed the material for WSE. In 1975 the same Van Milne came to Kuwait and encouraged me to turn some materials I had written into a book. My little book was never in the same league as John’s, but it got into the same section of the catalogue and rode for a while on its coattails. In 1978 I left Kuwait and joined Van at Nelson as commissioning editor. Van – a man of many parts, RAF, DFC, publisher and friend of Kwame Nkrumah, and perfect gentleman – was, like John, one of those people of whom it can be truly said that knowing them has been a privilege.
Buy John’s book. If you know him the exhortation is redundant. If you do not, you will certainly enjoy the story, you will certainly laugh out loud, you will certainly get to know, and to like, the man who wrote it. And, like me, you will surely want to recommend it to others.
Amazon link for quick purchase here.