Thursday, March 4, 2010

More losses than one

Olive Hilliard, a dear friend and UCA colleague died last week from the complications of a stroke. This was an utter shock to anyone who taught in Thompson Hall, where the Department of Speech and the Department of Writing are housed. Without exaggeration, Olive was the most beloved person who does or has ever worked in that building. Everything about her shined: her intelligence, her warmth, her sense of style, her concern for students, her love for her children. Her family, of course, is most affected, most devastated by this loss. But there are other losses as well. My wife tells me that Olive was working on a novel when she died. This hurt my heart to hear, because if the novel had turned out like everything else Olive did, it would have been a superb and stylish piece of work. Radiantly beautiful. Now we'll never know. Thinking about this makes me realize again how a writing career is not merely a matter of educating yourself, training yourself, and working godawful hard to meet artistic challenges. It also means keeping on. It also means endurance. I shudder to think of how many great books we have lost over the years to premature death, whether those come from car accidents, substance abuse, unrealized or untreated heart conditions, or--in those most regretful cases--suicide. (It was not that long ago, remember, that we lost David Foster Wallace.) And why stop at books? Think of great music lost. Think of great paintings. The man who is subject of my novel died at 37, and before he had to. So I hope everyone out there dreams hard. But take care of yourself too. Please take of yourself. We'll miss you, Olive. And that novel in you.


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