The Public Intellectual

I am an author and award-winning playwright, screenwriter, and documentary filmmaker. I write non-fiction, fiction, short stories, and children’s pieces.

Dr. Lou Buttino

I taught at St. John Fisher College (SJFC), Rochester, NY, for more than two decades, beginning in 1973. I moved to North Carolina for a teaching position at UNC Wilmington (UNCW) in 1994. I wanted to live in a different region of the country and to be tested at a larger university. I was also working in film and Wilmington is a great film community.

I taught in the political science and communication/journalism departments at SJFC. At UNCW, I taught in the communication, creative writing, and film studies departments—as well as the Graduate Liberal Studies program. I have been twice-elected chair of Film Studies and helped it to national prominence. I retired in 2013. All told I developed and taught more than fifty-eight courses in six different areas at both the undergraduate and graduate level. I was awarded eighteen teaching citations and awards, along with two awards for outstanding scholarship.

I began as a fine arts major at Colgate University, Hamilton, NY, but the Civil Rights Movement and the growing war in Vietnam made me change to political science. After getting my B.A., I went on to finish an M.A. in Government and Public Affairs. I also went to Colgate Rochester Divinity School, a seminary, to study under one of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s, professors. I completed my Ph.D. at the Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs at Syracuse University.

Colgate University, Hamilton, NY

I have authored three books (history, biography, and fiction) affecting change— cited nationally, and which resulted in documentary films. I have had two play productions along with national playwriting honors. My most recent screenplay, Shadowboxing the Mob, the story of world boxing champion won ten straight national competitions before being optioned. I worked as a journalist, and my work has been reprinted and republished. I was honored to be included in a writing text which featured Annie Dillard, James Baldwin, and Alice Walker.

Crosscurrents Cover
Included in a text alongside James Baldwin, Annie Dillard, and Alice Walker

As a filmmaker, I have been involved in more than two-dozen documentary projects, starting as a writer to becoming a producer. I learned the craft by doing it and became a professional editor. Successful grant writing for The National Endowment for the Arts, National Endowment for the Humanities, PBS and other areas total more than one million dollars. I received a New York Press Association award, and nearly sixty academic articles, human interest pieces, and feature stories have been published. I received eighteen teaching and academic scholarship awards, twenty-three academic grants, and delivered more than thirty university and public presentations.

My political writing has appeared in the “best of the alternative press” annual volumes. I have earned dozens of writing awards. A Special Manuscript & Film Collection of my work is housed at William M. Randall Library, the University of North Carolina at Wilmington, NC.

Teaching honors from St. John Fisher College include the Trustees Award for David HalberDistinguished Scholarship, the Teaching Excellence Award, and the Rev. Joseph B. Dorsey Award for Outstanding Faculty Service (twice). A special award, in my name, is given out annually to the professor who does outstanding service. At UNC Wilmington, I have been the recipient of every teaching and scholarly award given by UNC Wilmington, and the UNC system. These are the Award for Faculty Scholarship, J. Marshall Crews Distinguished Faculty Award, Distinguished Teaching Professorship Award, Chancellor’s Teaching Excellence Award, and the University of North Carolina Board of Governors Award for Teaching Excellence.

In my career, I was fortunate to have conversationsMalcomX with the likes of David Halberstam, Alex Haley, and Edward Albee. I also interviewed Mark Lane about his book Rush to Judgment when it was published. Radical Abby Hoffmann joined artists and journalists, including me, to Nicaragua when it was fighting the Contras. I also went to South Africa under apartheid and reported back my findings.

It seems most of what I have done falls under the category of being a “public intellectual.” The definition of intellectual is someone who is learned, academic, a bookworm. That’s mostly true for me. Though I can no way measure up to Walter Lippmann and Albert Camus, both were the subjects of graduate theses and Ph.D. dissertation.

Lippmann in an interview

Lippmann was said to be “the greatest journalist of the twentieth century.” He was an author, of more than twenty books. Some such, as Public Opinion (1922) and The Public Philosophy (1955) remain in print, But I first came to know him from his columns in Newsweek during the Vietnam War. He wrote with such passion I thought him a much younger man. He was in his seventies then and alone among most journalists in criticizing the war.  Dave Halberstam told me that when Johnson lost Lippmann’s support, he was finished as president. For his part, Johnson, when was asked what he was going to do after he left office, said, “I’m going to sit in my rocker and read and write a little. Then I’m going to put on my guns and go look for Walter Lippmann.”

Lippmann was a public intellectual and commented about the role. He believed the role was to “show a way out of all the trouble.” He said, too, “That if we have nothing to offer the world but your indignation, then we have little of which to be proud.”

Albert Camus

Camus, the subject of my thesis in Religion, was also a public intellectual. His writings for the underground newspaper Combat are still worth reading. He offered the French and the Free World a moral argument about why they had to resist the Nazi’s. He tried to show a way out of the monstrous cruelty that became the Algerian War. In the French tradition, he was a philosopher-novelist. He developed his unique philosophy of the Absurd and portrayed aspects in his novels, short stories, essays, and plays. Camus won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1957.

Camus believed the “artist” (conceived generally) must “enter the arena.” The artist had a moral obligation to be of service to humanity, whether it is dealing with evil or what he said we all share in common: “love, suffering, and death.”