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Turner, Rufus P. (1907-1982)

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The unusual academic career of Rufus Paul Turner, born on Christmas Day 1907, was foreshadowed when the then 15-year-old Houston, Texas native began experimenting with crystal devices.  At age 17 he wrote the first of his nearly 3,000 articles, mostly having to do with radio electronics, which were published in magazines, encyclopedias, and edited books, and as trade papers and house organs.  Some of his publications were translated into foreign languages.  

Turner’s fascination with the emerging technology of radio communication initially led him to publish articles and pamphlets on crystal diodes and, later, with the announcement of the transistor in 1948, Turner began making his own experimental devices using germanium diodes.  His May 1949 article “Build a Transistor” in Radio-Electronics, and his May 1956 article in Popular Electronics titled “Transistors Probable With a Punch” were widely read benchmark publications encouraging amateur radio construction.  

With forty books on radio electronics to his credit one might assume his career was dominated by technology, but Turner, who also wrote books on technical writing, stayed true to his calling as a man of letters, earning a bachelor’s degree in English at Los Angeles State College in 1958, then a master’s and Ph.D. in English at the University of Southern California with a thesis in 1960 on the 18th century British poet-novelist Charlotte Smith.  It was on the strength of his literary expertise and his proven ability as a technical writer that he was hired as an English professor at his alma mater, now called California State University at Los Angeles, from 1960 to 1973.  

Prior to arriving at the university Turner had worked in various technical positions in the electronics and aerospace industry and was a licensed engineer in Massachusetts and California.  He taught radio and electronics part-time at the New Bedford Vocational School in Massachusetts and the University of Rhode Island, and business communication at the University of Southern California.  Turner’s first book was Radio Test Instruments (New York: Ziff-Davis, 1945) and his last was the popular Illustrated Dictionary of Electronics (1980).  Turner died on March 25, 1982.

Sources:
James A. Page and Jae Min Roh, Selected Black American, African, and Caribbean Authors (Littleton, Co.: Libraries Unlimited, 1985); Directory of American Scholars, 6th Ed. (New York: R. R. Bowker, 1974).

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