Associate Professor Emerita Mona Tobin Houston passed away in Chelmsford, Massachusetts, on January 15, 2021. She was a faculty member in French from 1962 until her retirement in 1999, specializing in 17th-century theater, which she taught “always regarding the printed text only as a design, however brilliant and rich, for the total dramatic phenomenon” (according to the late Professor Samuel Rosenberg).
In memoriam: Mona Houston
Houston's wide range of scholarly interests and expertise showed in her collaborations with her husband and other colleagues, as well as her translations of theatrical works. With John Houston, she published a teaching version of François Mauriac's novel Génitrix (1966) and the anthology French Symbolist Poetry (1980). With Samuel N. Rosenberg, she co-authored the seminal reference work Harper's Grammar of French (1983). She taught French grammar countless times, and students were happily infected by her enthusiasm for what is often considered a dull topic. "I wanted to write and let you know how much I enjoyed being one of your students. Teachers that inspire are unfortunately all too rare, so I feel lucky to have had you as a professor not once, but twice" said a student in 1996.
Houston's work for the stage included translations of Molière (The Flying Doctor, The Painter Named Love, Mr. Porkingham Goes to Paris) from the French and of Antonio Tabucchi from the Italian. She also served as dramaturg for a production of The Illusion by Corneille (freely adapted by Tony Kushner) at the Round House Theater in Silver Spring, Md. in 1991 and was on site for a semi-staged reading at the Théâtre de l'Odéon-Théâtre de l'Europe (Paris) of her translation into French of Beast on the Moon by Richard Kalinoski.
In Bloomington, she was active in the Town Theatre as director, actor, and producer, and she translated and produced two French plays for the John Waldron Arts Center. For many years, Houston coached up-and-coming opera singers at IUB in correct French pronunciation, an invaluable service. Houston was also active in the Elm Heights Neighborhood Association and involved in foreign language enrichment programs in our local school district.
Houston served as resident director of IU's academic year program in Strasbourg, France, during it's last year in 1996-97. After that transitional year, Director of Overseas Study Richard Stryker praised her handling of the administrative complexities and advising of students "with good humor and aplomb," which is how she will also be remember by many students and colleagues.