A Few Thoughts on the Passing of C.D. Wright

From graduation in 2011. I know it's grainy- I'm not thrilled either.
N.B.: I'm going to stumble through this a bit, but I hope it can be forgiven. Apologies for the inevitable typos and things I shouldn't be talking about.

I met C.D. Wright in May of 2009, after I had been accepted via phone call to Brown University and after I foolishly accepted without waiting to hear that they were willing to fly me out to Providence. I had, of course, known her work for some time, which is why I applied there in the first place (that and being a big fan of Forrest’s work as well). Jenn and I walked into the Literary Arts building to have a look around while we were visiting, hoping to find a place to live. C.D., along with Keith Waldrop and other faculty members, were gathered for some kind of meeting. She was wearing a white blouse buttoned up and a kind of studded bracelet. She grabbed my arm and told me she was excited I had decided on Brown.

In the Fall of 2010, we were sitting in her office after she had invited me to meet with her. She was worried, she said, that I was dealing with something or, more accurately, not dealing with it, leading my work in class be inconsistent. She didn’t know that I was just testing myself in workshop, playing and testing. Instead of simply explaining that to her, I instead confessed, telling her everything I was thinking, feeling, and up to in general. For some reason, this was a quality that C.D. had: she had a wonderful way of making you feel like you had a connection to her that no one else had, though I’m quite sure at this point that I’m not the only one that feels this way.

After a few minutes of listening to me, I stopped and there was a silence. She stared at me through the silence, quietly assessing everything I had just expressed and maybe even judging a little, which I didn’t blame her for, certainly.

“We’re too alike,” she said finally. “You’re going to do your thesis with Forrest, right?”

I nodded, having asked Forrest to be my advisor at the end of my first year. “Good,” she said. “We’re too alike.”

At the time, I remember feeling confused and maybe a little hurt, but later came to understand that, due to our temperament, we’d have a hard time working together on my thesis. If we were both having a down day, nothing could happen and the thesis would be a rough road. I didn’t realize at that moment in her office that she was doing me a favor by being honest with me.

C.D. was, in a lot of ways, very open. Like I said, she made you feel as though you had some inner line to her that no one else had. She wrote me once saying she was having a down day and knew I’d understand, which is why she mentioned it. I did, of course, but it also made me feel like her confessor, someone she could say those things to, though I assume now she must have had many folks closer, but at the time, it made me feel special. I assume other students of hers felt this way too.

She was also pretty anti-bullshit, too. She was honest about your work, honest about how she felt about what you were doing. She had some kind words for my MFA thesis, mostly backing up her earlier assertion that she and I would not have done good work together. When I got to Normal, someone called me “experimental” and I remember feeling kind of disgusted of that word, and I remembered that C.D. hated it too. I think at times she hated that Brown’s program was seen at something beyond what others were doing, a humble feeling that goes with the rest of Brown’s persona (he said, tongue-in-cheek). I think she just liked good work, however she saw it working, and it didn’t have to fit a specific aesthetic.

C.D. gave me (I assume not just me?) a copy of Frank Stanford's Field Talk as a graduation gift. This post-it note is still living in it.

Showing a friend tonight the page of notes C.D. sent me towards the end of workshop, he said he was sure he got less feedback in total from his MFA program. This was essential to C.D. and something I have adopted later on myself, making sure I provided my students honest feedback in a coherent form (beyond just notes on the side of a page). She seemed to see her role in workshop as taking a step back, allowing the students to talk and, once in a while, offering a small comment. We learned to read her in this way, but she was never consistent. Her silence didn’t mean she hated your work universally but it also didn’t mean she liked it either.

I’ve taken a lot from C.D., both as writer and instructor. One of the nicest bits of advice I got tonight was good writers teach so that they can move on, so that they can pass away, knowing that their students (whether academy students or even people that read their work) can carry on a lineage. This is the legacy of the artist. I don’t know that I am someone who will adequately carry on that lineage, but I know some of my friends are. We were pretty lucky to have her in what turned out to be the last few years of her life and hopefully we made it at least a little interesting for her too.

There are many more objective things a good obit should say, like anything about her work, her life, her work in maintaining Frank Stanford's legacy while building her own, but I'll leave that elsewhere for now. 

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