Sunday, April 24, 2005

Memorial Reading: How It Was

Friends of Andrea got together Friday night, April 22, for three hours of remembering and paying their respects to her and her work. Here are some highlights.

The Setting: The memorial reading was held at the 621 Gallery in Tallahassee's Railroad Square. The gallery has a strong history of supporting not only the visual arts but the literary ones as well; they currently host the monthly Wednesday-night readings sponsored by Anhinga Press and Apalachee Review. It's a nice setting for an intimate reading: there's open floor space in the main gallery for 40-50 chairs or so, plus a table where they offer wine, soda, and bottled water for sale. There's a PA system on site, for use by the Anhinga/Apalachee readings. The lighting is good.

And the staff was great, both to work with in advance and on-site. Thanks especially to Chris Hampton and Julie Argue! (And thanks also to Mike Trammell and Rick Campbell, of Apalachee Review and Anhinga Press respectively, for reserving the space for us in the first place.)

Around 5:30-6:00, Toni and I were loading up the Jeep with various things we needed to take with us -- spare card table, food (fruit and cheese and crackers, like that) -- and it started to rain, hard. This lasted only about 15-20 minutes, though, and the rest of the evening was rain-free (even allowing a good view of the nearly full moon a little later).

The Program: Toni and I had worked on the schedule for a few weeks leading up to Friday night, and we wanted to formalize it in the form of a printed program. Toni did all the work on laying the program out, using some greeting-card-maker software she's got on her PC, and did a beautiful job of it. On Friday afternoon, Toni had to make a hectic couple of trips to a local UPS store which also provides inexpensive photocopying facilities, both color and black-and-white.

Here's the epigraph which Toni selected for printing on the inside front cover, from Andrea's poem "The Girls in the Cane":
It is what we have come to fear most:
the secret child has filled her bandana
with irreplaceable treasures,
and even now is disappearing...
The Readings: The schedule we came up with allowed for about a two-hour program, starting at 7:30 and including a 15-minute break around 8:30. The readers represented a good range of people who knew and worked with Andrea during her Tallahassee years; while Andrea was often embarrassed by public attention, she would have been really pleased to see all of them and to know that they'd be reading her work.
  • Rick Campbell is the director of Anhinga Press, has been for a good number of years, and is one of those names it's impossible not to think of when connecting the words "poetry" and "Tallahassee." Andrea did volunteer work for Anhinga many times during her FSU years, and during that time Rick became one of her favorite people. I seem to remember that he and Andrea went fishing together a couple of times; if the memory is correct, it says a lot about how she felt about Rick -- she took her fishing seriously! Rick read six of Andrea's poems:
    • One Night on the Apalachicola
    • Roulette
    • The Meaning of the Birds
    • In the Dark
    • Migrations
    • Alabama Is a Separate Country
    During the break, Rick favored us with an impromptu blues-harmonica solo. A real nice touch, which Andrea would have loved..
  • Michael Trammell is the editor of Apalachee Review (formerly Apalachee Quarterly). At Florida State in the early '90s, Mike was in many of Andrea's fiction and poetry writing workshops and seminars (including the workshop, run by Van, in which Toni first met Andrea). Mike read four poems:
    • When I Remember
    • Legacy of Cain
    • Placenta Previa
    • Tending the Holy
    (The latter, as far as we know, was Andrea's longest poem.)
  • Stephanie Sgouros -- like Rick, a long-time member of Anhinga Press's Board of Directors (she's the Press's treasurer) -- knew Andrea even longer than Toni did, sharing a poetry workshop with her as early as 1991. With numerous others, including Andrea, Stephanie took part in a regular poetry-and-gourmet group in the early '90s. She read six selections from Andrea's poetry:
    • Love Lessons
    • The Affair
    • Zipporah
    • Homecoming
    • Message in a Bottle
    • Orson Welles Week
  • Paul Shepherd shared with Andrea one of her favorite FSU classes -- a popular Wednesday-night workshop, taught by Jerry Stern, on writing the novel. (It was common for Paul, Andrea, Mac, and Toni to proceed from this class to the Jax/ABC liquor store on Thomasville Road, which in those days included pool tables, where they'd shoot pool and talk about writing well into the night.) With Andrea, Toni, Donna, Clark, Mac, and me -- the membership changed over time -- he also participated in a regularly scheduled poetry-and-fiction workshop for a few years in the mid- to late 1990s. Paul read "Perry," which Andrea had packaged as a short story but also intended to be a chapter in a novel.
  • John Simpson first got to know Andrea in 1993, when he moved to Tallahassee to be with Toni; Andrea was easily one of his best friends in Tallahassee and, he thinks, he was one of hers too. He started his turn at the microphone with a brief capsule report of highlights of the night in 1997 when Andrea, Toni, and he met, spent 2-3 hours with, and ultimately closed the Radisson Bar with Joseph Heller, Kurt Vonnegut Jr., and William Styron. Then he read three of Andrea's poems:
    • Abalone
    • Angel Baby (for David, 1957-1998)
    • Poem for Hitler
  • Valerie Anthony shared some writing classes at FSU with Andrea, including an essay course taught by Janet Burroway. Andrea (among others) always admired Val's writing, recognizing in it a kinship with her own -- not only in its power but also in the depth of the feeling and experiences behind it. She dubbed Val an "honest" writer. Val read Andrea's story "Strawberries," and also three poems:
  • Toni Shrewsbury Whitfield shared many classes with Andrea at FSU. More importantly she was, without question, Andrea's absolutely best friend in Tallahassee, sharing with her many hours off-campus as well as on (including many many hours of penny-ante poker at Toni's and my house). Andrea named Toni as her literary executor years ago. Toni closed the memorial reading with Andrea's Hemingway Prize-winning story, "Someplace in Between," and three poems:
    • Equinox (for Clell)
    • Father, Dancing
    • Letting Go
Other Notes: We had set up a photo display of about 20 or so pictures of Andrea provided by Clell, Stephanie, and Toni and me. We'll be posting on-line versions of these photographs here at the site.

During the break, Clell (who had made the trip from Panama City) approached me with an envelope in his hand, which had just come in the mail last week. The envelope was from The Comstock Review, a literary magazine based in Syracuse NY; its contents informed Andrea that one of her poems had been accepted for publication.

After the reading, after we'd talked to everyone present and helped clean up the gallery and close it down, Clell, Toni, and I went out to the Village Inn on Apalachee Parkway. We drank a couple pots of coffee, ate (most of) a huge night-time breakfast, and talked -- and talked, and talked -- about Andrea.

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