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Tribute to Derek Parker Royal

Robert Paul Lamb, who taught Derek in graduate school, has shared this lovely tribute to him. Derek passed away recently from coronary disease. Thanks to Robert for graciously sharing this tribute.

Remembering Derek Parker Royal (October 24, 1963—July 11, 2019)

I'm inexpressibly sad to report that Derek Parker Royal, my friend and former graduate student at Purdue University, has passed away at the age of fifty-five. He leaves behind his wonderful wife Mandy and two beautiful children Zach and Zoe.

Derek was an M.A. and doctoral student at Purdue in the 1990s, and as bright and talented as any student I've ever worked with—much brighter than I'll ever be. He was brilliant, accomplished, kind, selfless, energetic, generous, and incredibly funny, beloved by his fellow graduate students, his professors, and his own students. Few people could tell a story as well as Derek, and he could floor you with his wry wit. I can honestly say that I enjoyed every moment we spent together. Everyone who knew him could say that. His interests were eclectic but always informed by a serious and impressive expertise: postmodern fiction, Philip Roth, Jewish studies, graphic novels, comic books, film, music, and popular culture—and he was an avid angler, runner, and dog lover. Original ideas just flowed from him endlessly. He edited 14 books and special issues of journals, published 31 refereed articles in scholarly journals, 13 chapters in book collections, and countless interviews, book reviews, roundtables, and book forewords. He also founded the Philip Roth Society; served as the Executive Editor of Philip Roth Studies for many years; was a member of the advisory boards of 12 scholarly journals; co-founded the MLA Forum on Comics and Graphic Narratives; co-founded and hosted the influential Comics Alternative podcast; organized countless academic and public panel discussions; and gave many invited talks at universities. But this list doesn't even remotely do justice to his academic and intellectual accomplishments. He was a force of nature.

I have so many precious memories of Derek, but I'll share just one. When he was a master's student, he came to me wanting to write an M.A. thesis instead of just taking the M.A. exam. He thought, rightly so, that the former was something productive while the latter was just another pointless academic exercise. With all the accumulated wisdom of my then three years of being an assistant professor, I told him that it would be much easier just to take the exam, that writing a master's thesis was a lot of work, and that it would wear him down before he embarked upon his dissertation. But he wanted to do it and so I chaired it. He then wrote a brilliant M.A. thesis on Mark Twain that could have served as the core of a dissertation and book project, and proceeded to publish each of the three chapters in top refereed journals while writing a dissertation on Philip Roth under the direction of Patrick J. O’Donnell that all four of his committee members felt was the quality of an important and original book. Years later, I told him that my advice had been sound in theory, but that it simply didn't apply to him. He replied, “Well Bob, I’m glad you saw the light. Better late than never.” And then we had a blowout laugh and a beer.

What mattered most to Derek was his family, and he was a truly wonderful, loving husband and father. Mandy posted an announcement of his passing on Facebook, and the hundreds of comments of grief and appreciation from his legion of friends, colleagues, students, and former fellow graduate students testify to the enormous influence he had on so many lives. I copy and paste Mandy’s post here. It captures a lot about him:

As many of you have already heard, Derek passed away recently, related to coronary disease. He was living in Charlotte in his dad's house, where he was seeing to Herman's affairs after his stroke and after Herman's death last fall.

Please feel free to share any memories or thoughts regarding Derek - I don't know all of FB's features, so do what works. You can also message me.

If it's any consolation, wherever he is now, I'd like to think Derek is having a roundtable discussion with Philip Roth, Mark Twain, and Will Eisner.

We aren't planning a service at this time, but in the meantime, if you'd like to honor him in some way, here are some suggestions: - Read a Philip Roth novel - Read some comics or graphic narratives, but none of that superhero crap - Eat cheese - Support your local library - Have an argument with someone about their inappropriate use of a steak knife or salad fork - Laugh loudly - Watch MST3K - And whatever their ages, hug your kids, read to them often, and embarrass them in public. I'm pretty sure those are the top three things that brought Derek joy.

Farewell, my beautiful friend. You left this world way too early, but you left it a much better place than you found it. I'll see you soon on the other side, where you can introduce me to Philip Roth and Mark Twain.

P.S. I'm attaching some photos of Derek.

1—at his daughter Zoe's recent high school graduation

2—with his Zach and Zoe when they were young

3—a beautiful photo of Mandy and Derek at the time they met at Purdue (it brings me joy that they met in my Twain seminar)

4—Running with one of his dogs

5—Derek catching a fish (he was an expert angler)

6—Derek with Philip Roth at the celebration of the late author's 80th birthday (were they talking about Roth's novels, literature, Jewish culture? No. They were discussing pain medication)

7—Derek at G.R. and Elizabeth Thompson's home in Albuquerque, where he visited his former professor annually when he went to a conference on the west coast (they are mugging over a typo that Dick discovered in a copy of Herman Melville's Typee)

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