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AFS Review: In Memoriam

Samuel Armistead (1927-2013)

Wednesday, August 7, 2013   (0 Comments)
Posted by: Jesse A. Fivecoate

By Rosemary Zumwalt — 

Samuel Armistead, who was elected to the Fellows of the American Folklore Society in 1991, died in his home at Davis, California on August 7, 2013.  He was 85 years old.

A world-renowned scholar of Sephardic languages and literatures, Sam had written over 30 books and 500 articles.  Sam is known for his exemplary work on the Judeo-Spanish ballads of Spain, North Africa, Israel and the United States. One among many of the publications in this area is Folk Literature of the Sephardic Jews (three volumes, with Joe Silverman and Israel Katz).

Sam received his B.A., M.A., and Ph.D. in Spanish from Princeton University.  Before coming to the University of California, Davis, in 1982, where he taught for 28 years, Sam taught at Princeton, UCLA, Purdue and the University of Pennsylvania.  Among his many honors are the following: three-time recipient of the John Simon Guggenheim Fellowship; multiple awards from the National Endowment for the Humanities; and the Chicago Folklore Prize.

My fondest memory of Sam was a visit that my husband Isaac and I had with him in his home in Davis in 1996.  Sam gave us a tour of his library, which comprised his entire home, save for one room, his wife’s yoga studio (by contrast, light, airy and free of books!).  There were floor-to-ceiling bookcases on every wall in the house, even covering some windows.  We sat with Sam to talk in a room off the kitchen, and I watched as he rocked in a chair, whose rocker was hitched to a table stacked high with books.  Back he rocked, and I held my breath as the table and the books rocked back with him; forward he rocked, and the same precarious books tipped forward with the table but never fell.

Sam Armistead was a tender, sweet soul, kind to all, and profoundly important to all of us for his meticulous scholarship.  May his memory always be for a blessing.

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