14 January 2021
04 January 2021
By Matthew Brown
Video by Christopher Winders from TableTopOpera’s
production of Gustav Mahler’s Kindertotenlieder.
When reflecting on the passing of our dear friend Emil, I can’t help thinking of the character Arkel from Maeterlinck’s libretto Pelléas et Mélisande. Near the beginning of the story, Arkel professes his belief that nothing happens in life without a reason, and near the end suggests that we all crave beauty alongside death. These two moments sum up my relationship with Emil to a tee. Fate clearly had a hand in our first meeting in May 2012. Ralph Kuncl, Provost of the University of Rochester, invited us both to an event celebrating the release of books by faculty authors. Instead of talking about my book, I used my two minutes at the microphone to plug TableTopOpera’s upcoming performance of Debussy’s opera Pelléas et Mélisande. I mentioned that we were using images from Craig’s comic book version and that Craig would be coming to see our performance in Kodak Hall. As I soon as I finished my pitch, Emil bounded up and introduced himself. He immediately quizzed me about Craig: “The real P. Craig Russell? The one who did Elric, Dr Strange, and Sandman 50 “Ramadan”?” I gulped, not having the slightest clue what he was talking about, and replied: “Yes the real P. Craig Russell. The one who did Salome, Ariane, and The Ring!” We spent the rest of the party chatting and promising to contact each other at some later date. My friendship with Emil blossomed and, thanks to Emil’s savvy, TableTopOpera went from strength to strength: the group received two grants from the U of R’s Humanities Project to complete two more projects with Craig—Salome (2014) and Ariane and Blue-beard (2018). The latter was so successful that Laurence Vittes declared TableTopOpera “the world’s greatest 8-member operatic comic book ensemble.” Emil was also thrilled to collaborate with Joy Calico on an essay for Opera Quarterly (2015) about our production of Salome and even more ecstatic to sign a contract with Indiana University Press for our new book ‘Ariane & Bluebeard: From Fairy Tale to Comic Book Opera.’
Arkel’s other remark—about craving beauty alongside death—particularly resonates with our four shows for the Rochester Fringe Festival. One of the qualities I most admired in Emil was his sense of humanity: he had a clear moral compass and a strong desire to help others, especially those in need. Our Fringe shows allowed this sense of humanity to shine through loud and clear. He was pleased as punch when Jeff Spevak described them as “the thinking person’s entertainment.” And he beamed when Mona Seghatoleslami offered the following appraisal of Scarred by the Somme: “Another dark and difficult one: this show combines music by Claude Debussy and Igor Stravinsky with history and imagery of war, focusing specifically on the 100th anniversary of the Battle of the Somme. TableTopOpera does some of the best challenging, artistic work using classical music in the area; their projects have all been fascinating, including their comic book opera presentations and last year’s Songs on the Death of Children, combining Mahler’s songs with issues of child poverty and mortality.” The latter show was particularly dear to Emil’s heart since it allowed him the opportunity to show off his amazing chops as a translator, in this case recasting Rückert’s haunting poetry into English. Although Emil enjoyed working on every project with TableTopOpera, he was especially fond of our treatment of the last song. He really loved Bert Hardy’s stunning photograph of a schoolboy leapfrogging over a headstone in a Glasgow cemetery: he regarded it as the perfect celebration life over death. Emil, you will be sorely missed.
01 January 2021
Obituary of Thomas Emil Homerin
Thomas Emil Homerin May 19, 1955 – December 26, 2020, after a short battle with pancreatic cancer. Beloved husband of Nora Walter, father of Luke (Kristin Rabb) and Elias, brother of John Homerin. Brother-in-law of John Walter (Sandra VandeKauter) and Steve Walter (Kristen), and uncle of Miles, Claire, Tom and Sam.
Tom was born in Pekin, Illinois to Floyd A Homerin and Miriam Jane Bond, both predeceased. Tom received his undergraduate degrees from the University of Illinois at Champaign/Urbana. While at the University of Illinois, Tom became known by his middle name Emil, and met and fell in love with Nora. They married in 1977, and moved to Chicago. To maintain a happy marriage, Emil converted from the St. Louis Cardinals to the Chicago Cubs and spent many a happy afternoon at Wrigley Field, even though the Cubs usually lost. Living in Chicago was a very good time in their lives, with a circle of close friends, family and delightful colleagues.
Emil completed his PhD with honors at the University of Chicago as a specialist in Arabic Literature and Islam. His study of Arabic took Emil and Nora to Egypt three times, for a year each time. Luke was born in 1987 while Emil and Nora lived in Philadelphia, where Emil was an assistant professor at Temple University for two years. Emil, Nora and Luke moved to Rochester in 1989, where Emil was a professor of religion and sometimes department chair in the Department of Religion and Classics at the University of Rochester. Elias became part of the family in 1991, and in 1993 Emil and Nora bought a house in Irondequoit, where they spent many happy years until Emil’s death.
At UR Emil was known for his excellence in teaching, astute leadership in his department and a variety of University committees, mentorship of students and faculty, and for his collegiality and compassionate treatment of others. He taught courses on Islam, classical Arabic literature, mysticism, and comic books in religion. His class Speaking Stones used Mount Hope Cemetery to help students explore the history of funeral traditions as expressed in gravestones, and taught students the proper research methods which helped many of the students publish their class papers.
Emil was known in the larger Academy for his sensitive and lyrical translations of Arabic Sufi poetry, particularly the poetry of Umar Ibn al-Fārid and Aisha al-Ba’uniyya. Emil’s work on Ibn al-Fārid included exploration and research of Ibn al-Fārid’s tomb and shrine in the City of the Dead in Cairo, Egypt. It was Emil’s work in Cairo’s City of the Dead that led to his using Mount Hope Cemetery as a classroom for undergraduate research for his UR students.
Serendipity brought Emil and Matthew Brown of Eastman School of Music together. Emil, the expert on comic books, and Matthew, the expert on Debussy, met at a UR Celebration Of The Book. Their chance meeting led to Emil becoming a co-producer with Matthew Brown of TableTopOpera’s version of the operas Salome (2014) and Ariane and Blue-beard (2018) using chamber music and the comic book art of P. Craig Russell. And to Emil’s delight, he and Matthew collaborated with Joy Calico on an essay for Opera Quarterly (2015) about their production of Salome and later signed a contract with Indiana University Press for their new book ‘Ariane & Bluebeard: From Fairy Tale to Comic Book Opera.’
Emil was also a devoted family man, and a loving husband and father. He was rarely away on evenings or the weekend. Emil taught his boys how to write well. He encouraged Luke and Elias in all their pursuits, including Luke’s venture into pole vaulting, and Elias’s swim team success in high school and college. Luke and Elias’s friends were always welcome at our house - for play, for food, for overnights. Emil also encouraged and mentored his children’s friends as they made the transitions from high school to college to adulthood. And he was delighted when Kristin joined our family by marriage to Luke.
Through Emil’s work, the family spent a month in Peru during the summer of 1999, and 4 ½ months in Cairo, Egypt and Turkey in 2000. The boys learned a great deal about tolerance and respect for the traditions and religions of other people.
Emil and Nora gardened and cooked together, hiked and traveled together, and entertained many friends in their home and gardens. They had a beautiful life with each other for 45 years.
Emil was a good friend to many, a good neighbor, and a good man. We miss him greatly, and yet, life will go on.
In Emil’s words to those who knew him: Farewell and fare forward. We came from the stars, and as stardust to them we shall return.
A celebration of Emil’s life will be held at a later date, when COVID is no longer a heavy presence in our lives.
In lieu of flowers please donate in Emil’s honor to The Boys and Girls Club of Rochester NY, or to a compassionate and caring organization of your choice.
30 December 2020
The fields of religious and Islamic studies have suffered a great loss with the passing of Th. Emil Homerin in Rochester, New York, on December 26, 2020. Those who knew him personally will always remember his generosity, kindness, and insights. To this lucky group, we must also add all those who read and benefited from his sensitive and thoughtful work on Sufi poetry over the years. Taken as a whole, we will all miss his ability to convey some of the most complex and lyrical aspects of mystical thought through his brilliant translations and analyses. Th. Emil Homerin was truly one of a kind; a humanist to the very core.
Homerin was born in Pekin, Illinois, in 1955. Already as an undergraduate, he developed a passion for the academic study of religion, especially mysticism. At the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, where he completed his BA degree in 1977 before completing an MA there the following year, he chose Indo-Iranian mysticism as his area of concentration. He subsequently ventured to the University of Chicago's Department of Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations where he focused on medieval Arabic mystical poetry, a subject that remained dear to his heart throughout his scholarly career. In 1987, Homerin was awarded a PhD with Honors for his dissertation “Filled with a Burning Desire: Ibn al-Farid—Poet, Mystic, and Saint,” which he completed under the supervision of Professor Jaroslav Stetkevych.
Best recognized for his astute renderings of Arabic mystical poetry into English, Emil showed an extraordinary skill for connecting two of the most difficult and personal forms of expression—poetic language and mystical experience. He did so with such ease and sensitivity to both aspects that reading his work transports us on a seamless trajectory into the distant and private worlds of his poets, male and female. From the classical themes and common cultural topoi rendered as the spiritual journey of the 13th-century Egyptian poet-saint Ibn al-Farid to the devotional passion of the 16th-century woman mystic Aisha al-Ba’uniyya, Homerin presented us with equally lyrical and subtly analytical engagements. Only a profound humanist can accomplish that.
Emil’s intellectual interests were wide-ranging. He studied cemeteries and in the University of Rochester's Department of Religion and Classics he taught courses on the American spaces that commemorate death. He took his students to the historic and beautiful Mt. Hope Cemetery to understand how these spaces of death give life to the individuals and the societies that built them. He used to pepper his stories about cemeteries with examples of posthumous humor, epigraphic thrill, as he discussed their architectural artistry and got his students to admire their natural settings as though they were botanic gardens. Perhaps this interest in cemeteries helped him deal with his own mortality. During his brief illness, he reminded us that life and death are cyclical phases, caught up in a dynamic that should not be feared but accepted as we do day and night and the changing seasons.
Emil joined the faculty of the University of Rochester in 1988, after stints at DePaul University and George William College in Chicago and Temple University in Philadelphia. At the time of his death, Emil was the author of seven books, one edited volume, and countless articles, book chapters, and encyclopedia entries. In addition, he was an award-winning teacher, astute administrator, and a first-rate colleague.
He also had a passion for many other topics, from comic books to Biblical exegesis to supporting the local arts and music scene in Rochester. In all of his diverse interests, he looked for, and found, connective threads among different people, cultures, and history. For Emil, the pleasure was in detecting links while always acknowledging a right to be different.
Emil’s most passionate interests were found at home, with his lifelong partner Nora, whom he married in 1977, and with his two sons, Luke and Elias. During his research and work, Nora was always present as his main support and greatest love. Everyone who knew Emil will fondly remember how his eyes lit up at every mention of Nora. Colleagues and students at the University of Rochester will remember with fondness Emil and Nora’s famous dessert receptions held at their house for graduating seniors and their families. Not active on social media, Emil preferred his privacy, writing his own poetry of life at home, with Nora, and tending to daily chores and their vegetable garden with the same passion as he did with obscure Arabic expressions.
Emil has surely brightened up some other world with his arrival and has left ours a bit colder and darker. His memory and his writings remain with us for always.
Amila Buturović, York University, Toronto
Aaron W. Hughes, University of Rochester
28 December 2020
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