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Ethan Fischer: from Pittsburgh to Harpers Ferry

By Staff | Jan 30, 2009

Ethan Fisher

A wise man once said “Find out what you love to do and find out what you’re good at. And if God is smiling on you, they’re the same thing.”

What I love most about Shepherdstown is the fact that people here are here because they know who they are. After many years in D.C., I’d come to believe that all people lived to work.

What you did for a living, whether you liked your job or not, was who you were. I know now how very wrong I was. The people I’ve met in Shepherdstown work to live. Their jobs do not define them,

their lives do.

Ethan Fischer was born and grew up around Washington, D.C. He was the eldest

of Edna and Ben Fischer’s five children. Ben worked for U.S. Steel, and Edna

was a lawyer. When Ethan was a teen, the family moved to Pittsburgh. There he

graduated from Peabody High School.

Then he went off to Cornell University to become an engineer, but soon realized engineering wasn’t his calling and transferred to Pitt where he graduated cum laude with degrees in English and German.

So what does the inquiring young and very smart student of English do now? Ethan decided to go to law school and eventually graduated from the University of Michigan Law School.

It was the 1970s, so on his way to law school, Ethan took a detour to a

communal farm in Maine with a bunch of friends.

“We grew snow peas and sold them to a Chinese restaurant. We got milk from neighboring cows. We

subsisted and we sang and it was Shangri-La.”

He eventually practiced public law in Chicago for three years and then took off for the West Coast to became an actor.

“I still maintain my license in case a friend needs legal advice,” he said. But practicing law wasn’t what he wanted to do and this, after all, was his life.

Once in California, Ethan joined the acting troops: Harlem Globe Players, Bear Republic and Rancid Review. He had lead roles in productions of “Zoo Story,” “PS Your Cat is Dead,” (the premier of which author James Kirkwood

attended, “Wind in the Willows” and “Mid-Summer’s Night Dream,” among others. He played Malvolio, Shakespeare’s sour and self-obsessed steward, in “Twelfth Night,” which was one of his favorites. According to Ethan, “I played it to perfection.”

When he played King Duncan in “Macbeth,” Ethan recalls, “I looked like Santa Claus, but bled.”

He continued acting in California for the next 10 years and when his mother became quite ill, (she’s fine now) he returned to Pittsburgh.

“I loved acting, but my family is closely knit. I did what I wanted to do.”

He continued acting and writing plays and poetry in and around D.C., moved to Harpers Ferry in the 1980s and began teaching.

Ethan Fischer is a lawyer, a writer, an actor, a poet and a broadcast journalist. Topping his personal joy list, however, is his life, and work, as a teacher.

As an adjunct professor at Shepherd University, Ethan teaches English literature, creative writing and poetry.

“It’s such a privilege,” he said. “I love my students. They’re a scrappy bunch with a good attitude.”

His work also takes him to Frederick Community College where he’s taught on the graduate level; and to the parks in the summer where he’s been teaching “Young Poets in the Park” for years.

“I get to work with true genius before it gets stepped on. It’s perfect.”

He also established an ongoing independent poetry program for Shepherdstown students.

Ethan has been a contributing senior editor for the Antietam Review for years. He was the visiting poet/teacher/editor to Bluefield College, and conducted writing lecture-workshops for the West Virginia Writers – of which he was elected vice president – the Sotto Voce Poetry Festival, the Arts & Humanities Alliance, Veterans Administration Hospital programs, Antietam Review, Hagerstown Community College Writer’s Day and the Arts Centre.

He has chaired the annual New Writers Fiction Award, is the faculty adviser to Sans Merci and writes for the famous, infamous and widely broadcast Rumsey Radio Hour. His work has been published in the Potomac Review, Dickinsonian: WV Magazine; Virginia Country; WPFW Anthology; Antietam Review and the list goes on.

“Beached in the Hourglass,” his first illustrated book of poetry, was published by Bunny and the Crocodile Press in 2004, and was included in “Wild, Sweet Notes: Fifty Years of West Virginia Poetry.”

He’s working on another book of poetry and his work can be found online in the Library of Congress.

Ethan is married to Ursula Nottnagel and they have made their home in Harpers Ferry for years.

“Ushi is from Bavaria and we have always made our home a very bilingual one for our family,” he said.

Growing up, their children, Karen, Axel and Astrid, spoke only German at home.

“Everybody speaks

two languages, even our dog.”

He might live in Harpers Ferry but finding Shepherdstown he recalls, “You love finding the community you’ve been looking for.” He loves the fact that this town supports so many arts events.

“There’s so much talent out there and Shepherdstown gives it a place to be seen and heard.”

Of all his favorite venues in town, he loves the Blue Moon for giving poets and musicians, young and old, ongoing opportunities to perform. To quote the devoted patron, “This is where it’s at.”

Ethan Fisher is a writer and a poet but above all else, he’s a teacher.

Among his students are, as he says, “stars of the fertile void to come if we are not careful. Yet poetry forever stays ‘a night train ticket out of time.'”

Each Day Living

“The days are gods”

– Emerson

These are living days,

Being gods of unreason

But reason for being ways

Of tuning as keys turning in

Locks of the body or the face

Of time served, parole


Test: to fall in with grace,

to walk at my own pace,

to speak daily in praise

~ Ethan Fischer

January 2009