Paul B. Lyons, Professor of English, who taught at the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa for 27 years, died on April 1, 2018. A recipient of the UH Regents Award for Excellence in Teaching in 2004, Lyons stood out as one of the English department’s most respected and beloved teachers, mentors and scholars.

Paul joined the University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa (UHM) Department of English faculty in 1991, after earning his BA from Hobart and William Smith Colleges, his MA from the University of Michigan, and his PhD from the University of North Carolina. Hired as a scholar of 19th century American literature, he was also an accomplished creative writer, having already published his first two novels, Table Legs in 1988 and Going for Broke, in 1991. Button Man, a third novel, was published in 2004.

Over the course of his career, Paul developed a profound commitment to Hawaiʻi and the Pacific, which was increasingly reflected in his scholarship. His many published essays include studies of local writers such as John Dominis Holt, Gary Pak, Wayne Kaumualiʻi Westlake, and Richard Hamasaki, as well as classic American literary figures. Much of his published work concerns theoretical, methodological, and pedagogical issues in the study and teaching of the literature of the Pacific region, from Melville’s Pacific travel narratives to Epeli Hau‘ofa’s meditations on Oceania as “our sea of islands.”

Paul’s 2006 book, American Pacificism: Oceania in the U.S. Imagination is perhaps his most significant contribution to American Literary and Pacific Island Studies. In this book, he argues that historically a great deal of U.S. literature depends on Oceanic contexts and imaginaries, and that this literature frequently relies on a conflation of history with tourist narrative, or what he calls “histourism.” But he also emphasizes how Pacific writers frequently subvert such exoticizing representations for their own purposes.

“In the decade that has followed publication of Paulʻs book,” as UCLA Professor Elizabeth DeLoughrey explains, “no scholarship comes close to the breadth and depth of his encyclopedic explication of an American Pacific archive created by authors such as Henry James, Edgar Allan Poe, James Fenimore Cooper, Charles Wilkes, Herman Melville, Robert Dean Frisbie, A. Grove Day, James Warren Stoddard, Frederick O’Brien, James Michener and many others.”

In addition to its original analysis, American Pacificism equally stands out for its ethical orientation. Alex Calder, Professor of English at the University of Auckland, observes that this book “offers an alert haole perspective on Pacific peoples, places, and histories. It is a work of deep scholarship and subtle thinking, written by someone who knew where he stood and who cared about the things that matter.”

In 2015, Paul coedited (with Ty Kāwika Tengan) “Pacific Currents,” the first special issue of American Quarterly to come out of its new editorial home at UHM. “Pacific Currents” won the 2016 Council of Editors of Learned Journals Award for Best Special Issue. Speaking on their collaborative work together, Tengan, an Associate Professsor of Anthropology and Ethnic Studies at UHM, remarks, “Paul channeled the powerful intellectual and ethical currents of Oceania that carry the connective mana and knowledge of Native Pacific peoples, places, and pasts on into the future and out across disciplinary boundaries.”

Paul was particularly interested in the complex issues surrounding the formation and maintenance of cross-cultural and inter-racial literary friendships in the colonial context, including an unfinished monograph titled Native-Settler Collaboration and Friendship in Hawai‘i. Another large project he was working on at the time of his death was a comparative study of African-American and Oceanian literatures.

Paul’s extraordinary discipline and powers of observation served not only his scholarly pursuits but also his love of running and games of chance. Through the years, he participated in nearly every competitive running event held on Oʻahu, including numerous Perimeter Relays around the island. He also won the state backgammon championship multiple times. In 1999, he published the popular volume, The Quotable Gambler, a compendium of over seven hundred quotations on gaming from ancient to contemporary times culled from historical documents and popular culture.

Paul leaves behind his life partner, Monica Ghosh and her daughter Shoshana Cohen, his father Nick, brothers Charlie and Tony, and sister Jennifer, as well as nieces and nephews.

With his family, Paul’s many colleagues and students mourn his passing and will miss his singular intellectual contributions and most especially his friendship. Keith Camacho, Associate Professor of Pacific Islander Studies at UCLA who worked while a graduate student at UHM with Paul, attests to this dual legacy, “In the decades to come, authors and critics alike will refer to Paul Lyons as a rigorous, influential, and generous scholar and friend. After all, he often thought deeply about the colonial and indigenous worlds of Oceania, mentored numerous Pacific Islander students like myself, and acted against the everyday U.S. militarization of Hawaiʻi.”

Paul’s family has set up an endowed scholarship to honor his work and to benefit MA Candidates researching the literatures and languages of the Pacific Ocean region at UHM.

All contributions to this fund are welcome and tax deductible. Donors will receive a letter acknowledging their gift from the University of Hawai‘i Foundation.

The College of Languages, Linguistics & Literature and the Department of English have received a number of tributes to Paul. We print below in full tributes from three writers whose words and friendship he cherished.

A Remembrance of Paul Lyons

My last conversation with Paulo was in his office, where he had hung the ietoga our family had gifted him, 15 years ago, in honor of his role as godfather and namesake to my second son, Malamalama Jean Paul. Through his deep aloha and respect for the Hawaiian culture, Paulo came to understand the interconnectedness of the fanua/land and the sami/sea and gagana/language and aiga/family in shaping the worldview of the writers he taught in his Pacific literature classes, many of whom he had befriended throughout the years. His friendship with me and my sons was filled with a generosity of spirit and for the last two decades, his apartment was our home in Hawaiʻi. A friend of my mind, he not only taught my work for the last 20 years, he encouraged me to explore new directions, always. Paulo was aiga. He had missed many a poker game on my behalf and was always there wheneve I needed his help. He will be dearly missed by many who feel this way about him, through Oceania and beyond.

Sia Figiel, Samoa, 2018

Prepare a Place for Paul Lyons (1958 – 2018)

Prepare a place for our dear brother, son, friend, and companion.
Paul Lyons has joined an illustrious fold; herein, I share a humble poem
in the Land of the Dead where languages gather like voices upon layers of vellum,
where his writers and artists dwell, mother Mari Lyons among them.

Where the thunder rumbles from afar, in the grey shadows beyond,
you have more than earned your repose in this storied region.
Tears flow freely below darkened skies and the azure heavens;
we dearly miss your sharp wit, intolerant of folly and deception.

Rain sweeps across the Pacific; the clouds are fecund and heavy.
Your spirit appears in mist and wind; your suffering has ended, dear friend.
In our Land of the Living you gave to us abundant time and joy,
companionship like no other, years of laughter and learning.

Our world feels deeply shattered, but we share stories to remember.
Selflessly, you’ve brought to bear untold gifts kindly rendered:
a sleuth’s eye for truth with a craftsman’s pen and ear,
a trove of verse learned by heart and cunningly delivered.

Your students mourn your passing; there is much more to impart,
but not a day goes by when ocean waves cease to heal and comfort.
We honor your memory, your life, your perceptions renowned;
farewell for now, our brother, dear friend, Monica’s companion in love.

In the Land of the Dead where sleep reigns strong, where the river flows, on and on,
as the lightning sings at sunset and the moon weeps each dawn,
our lives you’ve uniquely impacted, in equilibrium we align,
to commemorate and perpetuate your spirit and your mind.

Richard Hamasaki, Kāneʻohe, April 1-14, 2018


for Kapisiga Paul Lyons

goodbye to the cloud that visited you last night
goodbye to the rain that filled your mouth
goodbye to birds that pecked at your heart
to wake you and give directions

for that brief moment in sleep and dream
there were ants that found their way in
down pathways bordered with wine
they called out: we found where the sun sets.

They talked amongst themselves how warm
the veins are from the eyes to the lungs
you breathe in what you see
and at night when you throw your day

into the corner, a shadow steps out
of the images and words, you pick it up
like a rotten fruit
and throw it like a game

to the other side of sleep. Here, is the world
where the moon sits on a line drawn
by a child, at school, without a teacher.
A passing moth swallowed a poem I wrote

for you, tonight, when I read an email,
from Hawaii to New York
the same birds from Hawaiki follows
the same country that islanders look for.

it brings back memories
when we drove from Tamaki Makaurau
over the eyes of stones, pass mountains,
through snoring towns, saw rivers coloured

midnight. Across the Picton straight,
down the east coast, pass whales calling out
to us, inside their womb is land
where you can plant, cultivate

different voices, invent aircrafts
that jump from phone to phone
to bring us messages of hope.
We traversed the burnt fields

of Waipounamu, camped at
turquoise lakes, stroked sleepy bees,
climbed hills, watched the way
stars made holes in the night

to shine for you. You will find them
in your shoes, in your notebooks,
in the doors that your friends
have picked up and walked away with,

you will hide them in the hair of the woman
you love. Don’t pretend it is magic
wand that god dropped from his toes,
it is reality, like an apple floating above the sea.

Our two weeks on the road
In the loneliness of taverns, cheap rooms,
smoky hallways, pictures of jesus in
abandoned shacks, badly made pies,

walked the tracks to glaciers,
felt the power of sadness
that those ancient ice can push
and we want to touch them.

The sun sits on your shoulder
and a friend mistakes it for a leaf,
flicks it away, where does it fall, it doesn’t.
It flies on the wind

to places unknown, perhaps
a bird will take it to Hawaiki
or it will find itself out at sea.
Or after a night of booze squint at the sun.

Whatever it will settle in a nightclub
with a sun rise as time
to go home and dream of friends
who slept in the rooms that you slept in.

Walked away with the light bulbs
that so often shone like the sun
in tiny rooms in New York
Oh where are the birds of Hawaiki,

Can they leave a few feathers
to cling to your shoulders
take flight in the foolish day
Say goodbye to that first breathe

that woke us up at birth,
stand up from a night of watching the stars,
obey the angel’s request
the heart returns to the size of a saliva

Drink a cup of the Pacific Ocean,
be filled with grief as the sun sets
no matter it will remain
a wing longing for one more day

Goodbye to the door opening
and the bed that folds into a lung
and memory is only a pillow
that we sleep on.

You left your hat behind
in Liku. I have it.
Do I throw it into Tautu reef
teeming with life?

Pelt the setting sun with stones,
Slow down sun slow down.
Walk and walk and walk
walk and walk and walk.

John Pule, Liku, Niue, 2018
The sea connects us all, it does not divide us…Epeli Hauʻofa