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AFS Review: In Memoriam

David Samper, 2019

Tuesday, October 29, 2019   (0 Comments)
Posted by: Jessica Turner

By Steve Winick — 

My friend David Samper passed away on June 22. David and I went to graduate school together at the University of Pennsylvania. We spent many hours in conversation, about everything from folklore and anthropology at Penn to the latest movies to department gossip to our love lives. We didn’t share all the same interests and pursuits; I love a good steak, but not as much as he did, and I never did learn to love football or cigars. I wish I could say that I never thought I’d be giving a tribute like this, but that wouldn’t be true. Many of you who knew David knew that he had survived cancer as a child, and that the chemotherapy he went through at that time weakened his heart and lungs, which resulted in health problems throughout his life, and which we all knew could lead to an untimely death.


I also suspect that many of you didn't know David, or didn't know him well, except in the community of legend scholars. Though I do see some other mentors in the room, like Dan Ben Amos and Wolfgang Mieder. But he did go to the Contemporary Legend meetings most years, partly because of locations like Prague and Gottingen, but partly because the intersection of rumor and legend became his primary interest as a folklorist. Although he was always interested in that area I think his honing in on it was partly driven by his teaching.  I’ll explain: David's dissertation was on Sheng, a hybrid language which is spoken among young people in Kenya. He was interested in how the hybridity of the language and the shifting identities of young Africans were interrelated in the global cultural landscape. He also examined other elements of the culture surrounding Sheng, including Kenyan rap music. The whole area of African culture was his first love as a scholar. His dissertation, Talking Sheng, is frequently cited by others, which is a testament to his scholarship in the area.


Now, David was a great teacher, and most of his time was spent teaching expository writing to undergraduates. And although obviously you can and should talk about your fieldwork and Kenya and hybridity when you're teaching undergraduates in Norman, Oklahoma, you can't spend most of your semester on it because you can’t really expect them to write about that stuff. What you can more easily expect them to write about are the forms of communication that are central to THEIR lives. Among those, David loved folk speech, rumor, and legend.


I mentioned Norman where he taught for years, but at the time of his death David was a beloved teacher at the University of California Merced. I know he loved being in California, which he considered home, and being in the same university system where he first learned about Folklore with Alan Dundes. He was even planning to combine his love of legends with his love of California by creating a course on California legends. Being in California also allowed him to be near his wonderful family. Over the years, I got to know his parents, his siblings Victoria and Julio, and even his grandma Dias, who lived in Bethlehem Pennsylvania while we were in Philadelphia. The love and caring you felt in their presence did a lot to create the loving person David grew to be as well. His grandma and mother have passed on, but his father Percy and his wonderful siblings are still around, so give a thought to them as you remember David’s name.


And do, please, remember him fondly. As a wise woman of this society likes to observe, “what is remembered lives.” Let David Samper be remembered in Folklore.

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