Monday, November 14, 2011
A TRIBUTE TO GARY STORHOFF
"I've had a good run." Dr. Gary Storhoff (1947-2011)
E. Ethelbert Miller asks: "Recently Gary Storhoff died. He was the author of UNDERSTANDING CHARLES JOHNSON published by The University of South Carolina Press in 2004. Storhoff was a Buddhist fellow traveler. Did this provide him with a deeper or different insight into your work? How will you remember Gary?"
I'm going to remember Dr. Gary Storhoff as an outstanding scholar to whom I am forever indebted, a gentleman, a dedicated teacher, devoted father and family man, and my brother in the Buddhadharma. I only learned about his passing away yesterday from his wife. He died at age 63, exactly a week ago on November 7, peacefully at home with his family after a year-long bout with cancer. Never did he complain about his illness or the fact that, as he put it, he was leaving this "beautiful world."
We were introduced in the best of possible ways---by his work. I read one of his scholarly articles on my work, and I was so impressed by his insight, the depth of his knowledge of literature and philosophy (Western and Eastern), that I called his English department at the University of Connecticut (Stamford) and left a message, thanking him for this gift of the mind and spirit. (He describes our initial contact in his tribute for me in the book published this fall in India, Charles Johnson: Embracing the World.) It was Dr. Storhoff who first made clear the presence of Buddhist epistemology in my story "Moving Pictures."
Later, at one of the sessions for the Charles Johnson Society at the American Literature Association, I heard him present a brilliant analysis of another of my stories, "Executive Decision," and afterwards I told him that he'd inspired me to take another pass at Buddhist epistemology in a work of fiction, one that perhaps would be less elusive than in "Moving Pictures." That story, "Kamadhatu: A Modern Sutra," is forthcoming in Shambhala Sun. (I owe the existence of that story to him.) I should also mention that after Storhoff read his paper that day, I saw another participant who read a paper before him lean toward Gary and enthusiastically whisper, "You win! You win!" I believe that is the feeling everyone will have when they encounter Dr. Storhoff's scholarship. It is original, top-tier, rigorous, and deeply learned.
He was one of the founding members of the CJ Society, one highly respected by the other officers for his personal and professional integrity. He authored one of the best books on my work, Understanding Charles Johnson, for which I am deeply grateful. And for the last few years, he co-edited with John Whalen-Bridge for SUNY Press the ambitious, interdisciplinary, and ground-breaking three-volume series on Buddhism and American Culture: The Emergence of Buddhist American Literature (2009); American Buddhism as a Way of Life (2010) ; and Writing as Enlightenment (2011). In addition to his books, he authored 65 articles and chapters in American, African-American, and ethnic literature journals. He received two teaching awards, and served for two years as assistant to the director at the Stamford campus. He is survived by his mother, his wife of 39 years, a son (a film animator), a daughter, and two brothers. His ashes will be scattered at his home in Danbury and his childhood home in North Dakota.
Like a stone tossed into a pond, his absence among us will ripple outward and be felt by many for a very long time: by family, friends, his students, colleagues, those who care about American Buddhism and literary/academic culture. I remember him as a quiet man---quiet in that solid, steady, reliable American heartland way that someone would be who was born in Duluth, Minnesota and grew up in North Dakota. He never promoted himself, but instead let his works and deeds speak for him. I am convinced that a man like Gary Storhoff is an achievement of culture and civilization. That he was the very embodiment of culture and civilization. And that, of course, explains his humility. Do not underestimate all the decades of disciplined living, devotion to learning and the highest ideals of teaching, love and sacrifice for others required to produce a true man of character, credentialed and accomplished, like Gary Storhoff. We academics (and artists) sometimes tilt toward cynicism; we often silently watch the everyday, selfless work of our colleagues but fail to properly honor them until their sudden absence leaves a hole in our lives. What I'm saying is that men and women such as him are a crucial bridge between generations, transmitting day in, day out "the best that has been known and said in the world" (to borrow a phrase from Matthew Arnold), in the West and the East, from those who came before us to those who will follow us and embrace 24/7---as Storhoff did---the daily, demanding work of keeping the goodness, truth, and beauty to be found in culture and civilization alive and vividly present from one era to the next. What I wrote about M.L. King Jr. in Dreamer (words adapted from the Tao Te Ching), I would say about Storhoff: "Not putting on a show, he commanded respect; not justifying himself, he was distinguished; not boasting, he was instantly acknowledged."
I will sorely miss Dr. Storhoff. But, even as I grieve, I find great joy in the brilliant gifts that he so generously gave to us. Those gifts of the mind and spirit (and his personal example) will never---ever---be tarnished by time. Thank you, Gary.
Posted by Ethelbert Miller at 3:43 AM