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19 October 2008 @ 07:37 am
Remembering Tom Disch  
Alice K. Turner graciously hosted a memorial last night for the late Thomas M. Disch so that friends and family could gather to collectively remember him. The night of the 18th had been chosen because that was when the Disch clan, including his younger brothers Jeffrey and Gregory (twins five year's Tom's junior) and younger sister Nancy (ten year's Tom's junior) could arrange to be there, and I want to thank them and the rest of the family for allowing us in so that we could grieve and celebrate him as a group.

There were many familiar faces from science fiction there, such as Sheila Williams, John Crowley, Chip Delany, Ellen Datlow, Gregory Feeley, Jacob Weisman and others, but there were also people I had previously known only as names, and their presence was evidence that Tom's work mattered far outside the SF field.

So also there last night were people such as Dana Gioia, Chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts, and David Lehman, editor of The Oxford Book of American Poetry. Writer and translator Christopher Ecker, who is busy translating Tom's poetry into German, flew to the U.S. purely so he could honor Tom last night.

I showed up at 5:00, and within half an hour, the room was packed. Once Alice got our attention, we gathered in a ragged circle and began to share our memories.

The first to speak was Dana Gioia, who had memorized Tom's poem "Ballade of the New God," which resonates with Tom's most recent novel The Word of God, in that they both describe the revelation of Tom's godhood.

We all took our turns, John Crowley speaking of how time and time again when he was at an impasse in one of his novels, Tom had been able to unlock the problem with just a few words, Chip Delany revealing how Tom and Charlie had made an effort to reach out to Chip's partner to show that they appreciated him as a person in his own right separate from Chip, Greg Feeley, now the literary executor of Tom's poetry, told of how in going through Tom's papers, he had learned that all of the unbelievable stories Tom had been telling him over the years, which Greg had been sure were fabulations or at the very least exaggerations, turned out to have been true. Ellen Datlow spoke of attending plays with Tom back when he was a theater critic.

And the family shared what it was like to have had Tom as an older brother, letting us know who this big bear of a man had been when he was younger, before he had fled to the big city and carved out his new life.

I know that I'm leaving out so much here, and for that I apologize. At this point, I wish that my memory worked in such a way that I could share all of it with you, but it was far too emotional, and I was unable to remain detached and journalistic about the event. It comes together in my head like a mosaic, in bits and pieces which together form a picture of Tom, a prickly, puckish genius. Maybe I'll return to this later. Maybe not. For now, I think that you'll have to rely on someone far more detached than I was for a more complete accounting of the night.

As for me, I shared of the power his short story "The Squirrel Cage" had on me when I was 12 (my memories of which you can find by clicking the tag below), and the power his critical prowess had on me when I first met him in the flesh at Clarion in 1979. I talked of the glee he took in keeping up with the antics of my Clarion class over the years, following it as someone else would a soap opera. And I shared the oddity of our last encounter, just a few weeks before his death, which took the form of an argument over the meaning of American Idol.

We shared our memories for three hours or so, and then, as per my previous post, some of us headed out to dinner, where we continued talking about Tom, where we told further stories about him, as well as spreading the usual gossip about others.

I wish that Tom could have been there for that gossip. He would have enjoyed it, eyes twinkling, a wry smile on his lips.
karen_w_newtonkaren_w_newton on October 20th, 2008 12:33 am (UTC)
At Capclave Saturday Michael Dirda had a nice story about meeting Tom Disch at his (Dirda's) first convention. He said if he had not been the GoH at Capclave, he would have gone to the memorial, too.

(Anonymous) on October 24th, 2008 04:54 pm (UTC)
Bye, Tom
Thanks for this, Scott. I really appreciated it. Also, I know that michael Dirda sincerely wanted to come.