Last week, Josh Lukin, my dear friend and a member of this blog, died, a little less than one month short of his fifty-first birthday. Josh was an Associate Professor in Temple University's English Department, where besides teaching writing, he was a disability studies scholar and a critic. He edited a book published by Aqueduct Press, It Walks in Beauty: Selected Prose of Chandler Davis, and contributed essays to Daughters of Earth (“Cold War Masculinity in the Early Work of Kate Wilhelm”) and The WisCon Chronicles, Volume 7. He co-edited, with Samuel R. Delany, a special issue of Paradoxa on the Fifties, and was the editor of Invisible Suburbs: Recovering Protest Fiction in the 1950s United States, as well as special issue on Samuel R. Delany for the minnesota review. He wrote numerous articles on the work of Philip K. Dick, Patricia Highsmith, Jim Thompson, and, of course, Chandler Davis, among others.
Josh introduced himself to me, via email, early in the summer of 2001, to solicit a review from me for the special issue of Paradoxa he was co-editing with Chip Delany. When I replied to his email, he immediately wrote back, and that was the beginning of a long, intense email correspondence. He was thirty-two at the time, I was fifty; he was working on his dissertation and preparing for the academic job market, and I was someone who'd been reading and thinking and writing about many of the same things he was into for a bit more than twenty-five years. Over the length of that correspondence, we mined several common areas we were passionate about, often through mutual interrogation, and often reverting to old insights we'd shared when resonant examples presented themselves to one or the other of us months or even years later. Within the first week of that correspondence, he wrote:
In general, I'm interested in f & sf works that (a) defy the "bourgeois myth of free will" tradition that I associate with Heinlein and acknowledge the existence and limits of the body (because, having suffered a chronic illness for 25 years in the U.S.A., I have a very personal vendetta against that myth and those who uphold it) and (b) that can be taught in a Literature and Medicine course (because I'm entering the academic job market in two months and have to present myself as able to teach as many things as possible--and if possible, to present my illness as an asset rather than a sin).And of course I recognized at once why he wanted to engage with me, since my own work came at his interests from a different, but highly compatible angle, which his previous references to my work had intimated.
I think anyone who knew him would tell you that while Josh was brilliant and profoundly serious, he was also irrepressibly playful. That playfulness spiced rather than spiked his (or my) seriousness, constantly erupting into his prose (and, in person, into his speech). Early on, he wrote:
[T]o a Canadian scholar who recently said to me, "You laugh about the Bush administration, but it's serious business," I responded, "Of course it's serious business: who laughs about happy events?"
Well, yes. Although I wasn't always fond of his penchant for punning, I shared his need to make "the serious business" funny. ("Making it funny" was one of the few things that ran in both of our familial backgrounds.) I can well imagine it helped him get through the gruesome medical situations he faced in childhood.
We met, face to face, for the first time in Buffalo, on March 22, 2006, where we were both attending the Samuel R. Delany Symposium. He rented a car and picked me up at the airport, all bundled up, wearing a hat with ear flaps. (I had bought a winter coat, of the sort unnecessary for Seattle winters, at a used clothing store: and still found it necessary to dress in layers the next day.) We were both terrified to meet, as any people who have grown close in an online relationship naturally are. The first evening was a bit rocky. But when he picked me up at my hotel the next morning, we became easier with one another. The next night, after having drinks in the bar with Carl Freedman, Steve Shaviro, Chip Delany, and me, Josh broke into song, and Carl joined him. Breaking into song is something Josh did often, which I of course hadn't known from merely email contact. He did this in Madison, too, when attending WisCon with his wife, Ann Keefer. Song--especially Broadway musical songs (but also Dylan and Leonard Cohen et al) was an important part of his life. Josh adored Stephen Sondheim. It got him through the worst of his constant struggle with Crohn's. And he scattered phrases from songs in his emails, and often used them in the subject line.
Finally, I must say this, too: Josh was a writer. Yes, his writing mostly took the form of scholarship. But his prose was always a pleasure to read--even his dissertation, which, in all its elegance, filled me with joy. It bothered him that people generally associate the designation "writer" solely with those who write fiction. But Josh's skill and talent for writing was superb. His prose was a constant reminder to me that every genre of writing, including scholarly genres, ought to be infused with grace and intelligence.
Josh always used to write R.I.P when someone important to us left our world. And so I'll say that now for Josh: R.I.P, beloved friend. (And thanks for all the fish.)
P.S. Please, please feel free to leave anecdotes and remembrances of Josh in a comment. I and everyone else who loved Josh will treasure them.