Ronald Burt Ribman was born in New York City on May 28, 1932, the son of Samuel M. Ribman, a lawyer, and Rosa Lerner Ribman. As a teenager he took an aptitude test that indicated that he should be a writer, but it made no sense to him; at that time he despised all forms of literature. His earliest career choice was science. “I was the worst chemistry major in the history of Brooklyn College,” he has said. “Things bubbled strangely and blew up in my retorts.” He abandoned science, and for his sophomore year, he transferred to the University of Pittsburgh, where in 1954 he received his bachelor’s degree in business administration.
Soon after graduation he was drafted. To while away the long hours off duty while he was stationed in Germany, he began to write: long letters at first, and then poetry. “I wrote a lot of terrible poems which they broadcast over the Armed Forces Network, which led to all kinds of suspicions about me—whether I was the right kind of gung-ho military material the Army was looking for.”
On his discharge, he started working at one of his father’s business concerns, a coal brokerage in Pennsylvania. He continued to write—short stories as well as poetry—and decided to apply to the graduate school at the University of Pittsburgh to study the very subject he had once despised above all others, English literature. He supported his application with copies of his recent writing and was accepted. (His writing was returned with a critical comment: “Mr. Ribman has a penchant for the bizarre, which a few writing courses that stress concrete imagery will take out of him.”) After earning his M.Litt. in 1958, he was accepted for doctoral work at the Universities of Edinburgh and Minnesota. “Faced with a choice, I of course picked the wrong one.” After “one freezing quarter” in Minnesota, he returned to “Pitt,” where he earned his Ph.D., with a dissertation on John Keats, in 1962. He then entered the academic world as an assistant professor of English at Otterbein College in Westerville, Ohio. This career lasted only one year. He resigned to devote himself full-time to...
(The entire section is 874 words.)