Sunday, July 14, 2019

Obituary: Fairy Tale Scholar Prof. Bill Gray, Founding Director of Sussex Centre, Has Passed

Mourning Sand Dwarves in the Forest (China 2009) -photography by joeinchinatown
Professor Bill Gray (July 30, 1952 - April 8, 2019)

We are saddened to learn that William Gray, known as Professor Bill Gray, founder of the Sussex Centre for Folklore, Fairy Tales and Fantasy at the University of Chichester in 2009, considered one of the world's top fairy tale scholars, recently passed away on April 8th, 2019

"Bill’s work validated the importance of studying fantasy, which has a long yet often trivialised history in literature and folklore. His published scholarship used multiple perspectives to reveal the existential depth of fantasy and fairytales, and the rich intellectual substance in their study." (From an obituary in The Guardian, written by Donald Haase, published July 12, 2019)

Professor Gray was not only a scholar of fairy tale, fantasy and folklore, encouraging new thinking be applied to further studies in the field, but his interest and influence extended beyond academia as well. He put effort into making his knowledge, vision and enthusiasm for the field accessible to the public and himself available for the conversation. He's been a bridge between academic studies and pop culture, appearing in the media and making himself available to consult on theatrical projects (such as The Light Princess adaptation with Tori Amos for The National Theater in 2013), and was called by Universal Pictures to "serve as mythic and folklore advisor" for the blockbuster film Snow White and the Huntsman (2012).

The Sussex Centre is now called the Chichester Centre for Fairy Tales, Fantasy and Speculative Fiction, so a quick reminder if you have been following "The Sussex Centre for Folklore" (for short) but are now seeing "Chichester Centre" on social media, be assured it's the same folks. The Sussex Centre/Chichester Centre is also known for the biannual scholarly journal Gramarye, of which Professor Gray was also Founding Editor in 2012 - a wonderful and continuously relevant journal which we highly recommended subscribing to.  We've included some recent covers at the end of the post which you can click to enlarge to see the content overview. (Do call Chichester Centre in the UK directly if there are problems subscribing from non-UK bases. The folks there are lovely and helpful.)

"The (Chichester) centre reflects (Bill's) vision for the study of fantasy and wonder on an international and interdisciplinary scale, as does its scholarly journal Gramarye, which he launched as founding editor in 2012. As a site for conferences, symposiums, lectures, exhibits, concerts and other public events, the centre has become a mecca for scholars and artists from the UK and abroad."
Snow White and the Huntsman (2012 Universal Pictures)
While Professor Gray's work in the field of fairy tale, folklore and speculative fiction can't easily be summarized, the obituary in the Guardian gives an overview which shows how important his work has been, and we recommend you click through to read it HERE.

And we have yet to look forward to more of his work:
World Treasure of Fairy Tales & Folklore
Compiled by Prof. William Gray (2016)
Bill’s transcultural approach informed his book Robert Louis Stevenson (2004), which elucidates the Scottish writer’s biography as a “literary geography”, reflecting the contexts in which Stevenson wrote, from Europe to the Pacific Islands, where he traded tales with the indigenous islanders. Bill’s forthcoming edition of Stevenson’s fables and fairytales will, for the first time, give access to all the author’s fantastic works in the order and form in which he intended them to be read.
We are so thankful for all his work and enthusiasm. Through Sussex Centre and Gramarye Professor Gray influenced Once Upon A Blog for the better. Though we never had personal interaction with him, we are grateful to all folks at the Chichester Center who followed his lead and engaged willingly in conversations about fairy tales, and gave social support to the fairy tale enthusiasts in our corner, over the past ten years. We have no doubt he will be very missed.

We extend our deepest sympathies to his family, and to his students, friends and colleagues.

Note: For those wishing to learn more about his work, please click on the image below to go to Professor Gray's website. It has a lot of wonderful information on his work in fairy tales as well as fantasy and includes links to his public writing, pieces in the press, interviews, a list of his books and other publications (with links where possible). The website now also includes a page dedicated to remembering Professor Gray. We recommend taking some time to read them.

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