Conference Founder

Robert Collins, ICFA Founder

Robert Collins (FAU Library Special Collections)

Robert A. Collins

Robert Arnold Collins was born April 25, 1929, in Miami, Florida.  Not quite a year later, after considering the newly reduced worth of their house and mortgage and their inability to pay it following the stock market crash, his parents walked away from their house in Coral Gables.  That house is now on the property of the Coral Gables Country Club.

Collins nevertheless grew up an active and relatively happy kid during the Depression, building roller coasters out of scrap lumber in his back yard and terrifying the parents of the neighborhood kids.  He attended Miami Senior High School, graduated from the University of Miami in 1952, and served in the U.S. Coast Guard off McArthur Causeway for the next couple of years.  This was followed by a brief sojourn to Atlanta, where he worked as a teacher in a boys’ prep school and as a cub reporter for the Atlanta Constitution.

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Robert A. Collins, ca. 1944, Miami, Florida, photo courtesy of Judy Collins McCormick

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Robert A. Collins, U.S.C.G., Miami, Florida, ca. 1953, photo courtesy of Judy Collins McCormick

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Robert A. Collins, Midway Junior College, Midway, Kentucky, ca. 1962, photo courtesy of Judy Collins McCormick

From there, he moved to the University of Kentucky in Lexington where he earned his Ph.D. in 1968 with a dissertation on astrological references in the works of Geoffrey Chaucer.  After a couple of jobs at other colleges and universities in Kentucky and Illinois, he began teaching in the Florida Atlantic University English department in 1970.  His specialties were Medieval and Renaissance literature, deceptively natural transition points into a specialty in fantasy and science fiction literature.

With the help of Roger C. Schlobin, Timothy Robert Sullivan, and Marshall B. Tymn, and with funding from Margaret Gaines Swann (mother of author Thomas Burnett Swann), Collins founded the International Conference on the Fantastic in the Arts in 1980 and organized its annual meetings from his F.A.U. office until the end of the 5th ICFA in 1984.  In the meantime, he had convinced his university to take on the publication of a small monthly magazine entitled Fantasy Newsletter, which he continued to publish from the same office from late in 1982 until 1988 when first F.A.U. and then Meckler Publishing cut its funding.  (In 1984, he changed the magazine’s title briefly to Fantasy and then more permanently to Fantasy Review, adding a book review section to the publication to supplement its both intellectual and often fun interviews, articles, and artwork.)

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Robert A. Collins, ICFA 30, 2009, photo by David G. Hartwell

Collins retired from F.A.U. in 2003 and spent the next six years attempting first to adjust to the death of his wife, Laura Virginia Roberts Collins, in 2004 and then to adapt his stressful and clutter-filled personality to the strictures of Buddhism.  A life-long, on/off smoker, he died at the age of 80 on June 27, 2009, in Boca Raton, Florida, of lung cancer.

A Tribute to Robert A. Collins

by Carol McGuirk

Robert A. Collins was my friend and colleague for some twenty years.  Academically trained as an Edmund Spenser scholar, he strongly resembled a Tudor king–any Tudor king. The resemblance was in the shape of his beard and the decisive way that he moved. Appearances didn’t lie, either: Bob was a man of imperious will. It was an excess of masterful energy that led him to found the International Conference on the Fantastic in the Arts and that kept Fantasy Review going for so many years. It sustained Bob, whose health was not good, when as Co-Chair of the Florida Atlantic University “FAU” department of English during the early 1990s, he piloted the program through its worst crisis. His intensity and zeal made him an unforgettable teacher and an invaluable adviser, especially of graduate students.

Yet a bluff manner screened many contrary facets of his character. He was highly sensitive, a talented jazz pianist. Although he edited many books and several journals, Bob’s real intellectual hallmark was bold originality, not dry precision. I never understood why he worked so tirelessly to bring other people’s work into print when his own long-term projects remained uncompleted. He was delightfully unpredictable in conversation. Shortly after my mother’s death, I had a dream in which she whispered to me, faintly but distinctly, six numbers. I at once played the numbers in the Florida Lottery and then complained to Bob when none of them came up. Instead of calling me loony for believing the dream, he patiently informed me that I had taken it too literally: “The dead don’t know contexts, Carol. Those numbers could have been for the Irish Sweepstakes.”

He was rebellious by reflex, invariably referring to FAU’s Administration building as “Foggy Bottom”.  He was selflessly loyal as a friend. I had just bought my house when a budget crisis at FAU caused the sudden slashing of the summer teaching schedule. For me, this meant no income for four months. In the event, full funding was restored, but that day I retreated into my office in near despair. There was a knock on the door; it was Collins. As a very senior member of the faculty, he had received half a summer’s assignment, and his errand was to tell me that he had called his wife, Laura, and they had agreed that he should transfer his course to me to teach, so I could continue to manage my mortgage payments. “We’ll get by,” he said. Bob and Laura Collins were both like that: magisterially generous human beings.

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Bob and Laura Collins, 2000, photo courtesy of Judy Collins McCormick

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