William Touponce 1948–2017

“My Friend Bill"

William Touponce

     Our good colleague, steadfast friend, and long-time Ray Bradbury scholar William F. Touponce passed away from a sudden heart attack on 15 June 2017. Bill joined the faculty of the Indiana University School of Liberal Arts in Indianapolis (IUPUI) in 1985, and attained the academic rank of Professor of English and adjunct Professor of American Studies during his twenty-seven years with the school. In 2007 Bill co-founded the Center for Ray Bradbury Studies and became the Center’s first director. During his four-year tenure as director, he established The Collected Stories of Ray Bradbury and a scholarly annual, The New Ray Bradbury Review. He retired from the faculty in 2012, but continued to pursue his scholarly interests as Professor Emeritus right up until his passing.

     Bill was born in Pittsfield, Massachusetts, on August 7, 1948. He
grew up in the rugged hills of western Massachusetts, just a few miles from the legendary Arrowhead Farm where, almost a century earlier, Herman Melville composed Moby Dick. Bill grew up in the working-class culture of this old mill town, never dreaming at the time that he would pursue a career in the world of literary scholarship. Bill’s father was a versatile carpenter for the town, more of a millwright by trade, a colorful New Englander of French descent who could build just about any kind of structure or repair almost any piece of municipal equipment or infrastructure. Bill and his father even refurbished an old animal husbandry shed on the family farm and turned it into a place where they lived for a time. Bill often recalled the enjoyment he found in caring for the animals and newborn stock on the farm, and in learning trade skills from his father. But Bill also led a somewhat itinerant life in his youth—occasionally living with his father, and at other times living with his mother in town. These adventures prompted Bill to leave high school prior to his senior year and enlist in the United States Army.

     Bill was initially assigned to administrative staff duties with a helicopter unit at Fort Riley, Kansas, and deployed with that unit for a year of combat operations in the Republic of Vietnam. He soon assumed duties on perimeter defense and eventually as a door gunner with his helicopter unit, earning the Air Medal for missions flown in support of ground troops. After completion of his combat tour, he was reassigned to the Defense Information School at Fort Benjamin Harrison in Indianapolis, before leaving the army to continue his education. By this time he had completed his high school equivalencies and soon began studies at Hampshire College in Amherst, Massachusetts, taking advantage of the inexpensive undergraduate programs that favored returning students of limited means. Hampshire College had reciprocal arrangements with several prestigious colleges and universities in the Amherst area, and these opportunities further enriched his undergraduate education experiences. Bill completed his B.A. from Hampshire in 1974, and continued on to the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, where he was awarded a three-year graduate fellowship. Bill took intensive studies in creative writing, Greek, and French, earning his M.A. (1977) and his Ph.D. (1981) in Comparative Literature.

     He began to build his reputation in comparative literature at Tamkang University, Tamsui, Taiwan, where he was appointed an Assistant Professor from 1981 to 1985. During these years he married Julie, and their daughter Dorothy was born in Taiwan. From 1981 to 1984 he also served as associate editor of the Tamkang Review. After winning a 1985 National Endowment for the Humanities summer fellowship in Children’s Literature at the University of Connecticut, Bill moved his family to Indianapolis to join the Department of English at IUPUI, where his son Nathan was born. Here he took charge of the relatively new program in Children’s Literature, developed a very popular science fiction film course, and helped establish the technology standards for the IUPUI campus film studies facility.

     During his first two decades at IUPUI, Bill published books on three masters of science fiction—Ray Bradbury, Frank Herbert, and Isaac Asimov—and reached a wide audience of research scholars, students, and classroom teachers. His Bradbury books radiated out from his dissertation studies, and include his early monographs Ray Bradbury and the Poetics of Reverie:  Fantasy, Science Fiction and the Reader (1984, expanded 1998), and Ray Bradbury (1989). His two Twayne's United States Authors Series volumes, Frank Herbert (1988) and Isaac Asimov (1991), became reference standards for those two important authors. In 2004 I had the privilege of co-authoring Ray Bradbury: The Life of Fiction with Bill. The Life of Fiction was the first university press-published study of Bradbury, and it was runner-up for the 2005 Locus Award for Best Nonfiction Book in the Science Fiction and Fantasy Field.

     During the first decade of the new century Bill wrote introductions and volume essays for seven special limited press editions of Bradbury’s works; these included an edition of the pre-production text of Ray Bradbury’s screenplay for the 1956 Warner Brothers production of Moby Dick (2008). In 2007, we co-founded the Center for Ray Bradbury Studies within the Institute for American Thought, and Bill agreed to take on the direction of this new and exciting enterprise. During his four-year tenure as director, he established The Collected Stories of Ray Bradbury multi-volume series, and a scholarly journal, The New Ray Bradbury Review.

     Throughout his long academic career Bill Touponce was an innovative and groundbreaking scholar, motivated by a desire to bring pioneering concepts of texts and their meaning into the classroom. In retirement, he returned to his scholarly foundation in comparative literature to write Lord Dunsany, H. P. Lovecraft, and Ray Bradbury: Spectral Journeys (2013), an illuminating new study of Modernism and its impact on major fantasy writers of the twentieth century.

     Over the last quarter century, my own essays, introductions, and books on Ray Bradbury benefitted greatly from Bill’s sage counsel and critical insights. If he hadn’t done the crazy thing and actually proposed a Collected Stories edition to recover the elusive original versions of Ray Bradbury’s earliest tales, those very different versions of Bradbury’s art would have remained lost in time. I’m honored to have continued this series through three volumes, and I wish he could see the future volumes ahead.

     William Dean Howells, the “Dean” of American letters at the turn of the twentieth century, had to pen a similar memorial on the death of his close friend, Mark Twain, in 1910. Howells recalled that his friend was “something of a puzzle, a great silent dignity,” and a similar magisterial image comes to mind when I think of Bill Touponce through the years. Bill was also a perceptive critic of literature and life, and my remembrance of him also echoes another Howellsian memory of Twain and “the intensity with which he pierced to the heart of life, and the breadth of vision with which he compassed the whole world, and tried for the reason of things….” Bill was an insightful thinker, a studied reader of sacred texts from the great religions of the world, and a humble appreciator of the life force. Our mutual friend, Phil Nichols, tells me that on the day he passed away, Bill wrote on his Facebook page about the bird’s nest recently built above the front door of his home. It is fitting that Bill would appreciate that small and precious moment of life, just as his own grasp on this world was about to slip away. Bill Touponce—he was, and is, my friend. 

                                                                       —Jon Eller, director, Center for Ray Bradbury Studies