Memories of Amanda Davis.
On the afternoon of Friday, March 14, a plane carrying Amanda Davis and her parents crashed into a mountain in North Carolina. There were no survivors.
Amanda Davis was one of the funniest, most self-effacing, chutzpah-charged, and big-hearted human beings anyone could ever hope to encounter. To meet her was always an historical event, one you would remember for the rest of your life. Amanda was essential. She was vital. She was a forceful and generous (and forcefully generous) presence. She was the magnetic core around which a lot of people swirled, and as such she was a facilitator of relationships and possibility of all sorts. Many of us were connected, through her, to a community that she created and maintained; she made life feel cozy, small, family-like, even for people who lived 3,000 miles apart. With her energetic pragmatism, she commanded the chaotic, nonsensical world to work better, and it did, or at least it seemed to, when she was around.
We all know people who possess both a whip-smart wit and a penchant for the ridiculously sentimental (in the most sappy, excellent, KNOWING way), but no one embodied these soft and edgy extremes like Amanda. Does ‘vicious sweetheart’ make sense? Her friends were her cubs. She protected them, she grubbed food for them, she cuffed them on the head when they got too whiney or pathetic. She was mother bear, psychoanalyst, nurse, real estate agent, plumber, computer technician, consumer advocate, expert on everything from used truck parts to biscuit recipes. The girl had opinions. Well-informed, researched, insightful opinions. She had advice for you, always, about whatever worried or confused you. Don’t know what kind of laptop to buy? Call Amanda. Bewildered by the ins and outs of refinancing your mortgage? Call Amanda. Need advice about your love life, your crappy short story, your sick cat, what color to paint your bathroom? Call Amanda. Have a tiny stupid problem that no one in their right mind has the time to care about? Amanda has the time (but hold on — she’ll have to get rid of that person on the other line, first). Call Amanda.
So we who knew her personally will be robbed of HER (don’t get me started on what she’s been robbed of). Those who didn’t know her personally, those who knew her only (or additionally) through her writing, are robbed of the books she’d yet to write. Amanda was an extremely gifted writer, one just managing to wrestle her many talents into a honed, inimitable voice. Her first book, Circling the Drain, was published by William Morrow in 1999, and was one of the more daring examples of short fiction in the last ten years. Her work floated somewhere between poetry and prose, untethered by narrative, but always concerned with matters of the heart. Her story, “Fat Ladies Floated in the Sky Like Balloons,” was published in McSweeney’s second issue, and exemplified everything they were looking for: it was experimental but lyrical, brave but full of soul. She was, as many have said, “the real thing.”
This was a year of change for Amanda; she’d moved to California and she was HAPPY, really happy. She was awarded an amazing teaching position at Mills College in Oakland, and loved her work there. She was a WRITER who loved to TEACH WRITING (for those who don’t know: this is a rarity), because she was so damned invested in other people’s possibilities.
She lived in a wonderful house on campus, shrouded by trees and featuring a hammock and a barbecue, both of which she put to good use. And her second book and first novel, Wonder When You’ll Miss Me, had just hit the bookstores last week. Her parents used their vacation time to fly their daughter around on her book tour in her father’s small plane (evidently, the Davis clan are genetically bred for encouragement and outlandish gestures of generous support). Her family was en route to a reading when the accident occurred. She and her parents are survived by her younger sister Joanna and her younger brother Adam.
This space will serve, for this week and maybe beyond, as a forum for people who knew and loved Amanda. As those who have been sharing stories about her these past few days have learned, Amanda is managing, STILL, to take charge of this situation in a very familiar way — a story starring her starts, and smiles reluctantly emerge, and suddenly we can see her goofing around and trying to make us laugh, even as we’re missing her so damned hard. We picture her banging her cell phone, cursing out the crappy reception she’s getting and her new plan and vowing to switch services AGAIN. And here’s just one of the many tragedies resulting from this — the one-way manner in which we’re going to have to talk to her from now on, SHE of the boundless advice and wise words, since she can’t call us anymore from where she is. But we know she’d want to hear from us.
— Heidi Julavits
We are trying to link to as many places as possible where you can see Amanda’s work. We published this story in our second issue: “Fat Ladies Floated in the Sky Like Balloons.”
Here is another story, titled “Louisiana Loses Its Cricket Hum.”
Here is an audio version of “Faith, or Tips for the Successful Young Lady.”
Amanda Davis loved the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference. She thought everyone should go. She made everyone go. Amanda was editor and writer of The Crumb, Bread Loaf’s daily newsletter, in the summers of 1998 and 1999. Here’s a link to The Crumb’s archives.
Amanda’s friends and the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference have set up a memorial scholarship fund in her name at Bread Loaf. Contributions to it can be sent directly to Noreen Cargill, c/o Amanda Davis Memorial Scholarship Fund, Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference, Middlebury College, Middlebury, VT 05753.
The Wesleyan Writers Conference has established a fund in memory of Amanda, who won the Conference’s Teaching Fellowship in Fiction in 2000.
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I knew Mandy for a few brief, shining moments in junior & senior high school here in Durham. I remember working with her on several English and literary projects. I remember her laugh, those brilliant clothes, and her wonderful curly hair. She invited me to her house on many occasions, and reading your memories brought back vivid flashbacks of her and her amazing room.
One night, we stayed up late watching Penn & Teller and we thought they were the absolute coolest. The next day I went with her to temple, and I was the proverbial fish out of water. However, she made me feel that I belonged, and I thoroughly enjoyed learning more about her faith. My mother, Beverly, and I were honored to attend her bat mitzvah. I admired her dedication and unique flair in everything she did — she literally dove into dangerous waters and loved it.
I shared with Mandy the interesting experience of being a Durham Debutante. I remember her slight moment of hesitation before she accepted the invitation to participate in that distinctly non-Jewish social gala. I remember her gown for the ball. While many of us wore similar “Southern Belle” attire, she displayed her creative spirit as only Mandy Davis could. I remember some kids thought she was strange, but I thought she was a brilliant kaleidoscope in the sometimes grey, depressing, and angst-filled world of high school.
I just found out about Mandy’s death via e-mail from another high school alum who is living and working overseas. Sadly, I lost touch with Mandy after high school. Her accomplishments were so great and I am so proud of her. Here I am, almost fifteen years after last seeing her, shocked and saddened that her unique flame was extinguished so early in life. I will always remember Mandy and her family with great affection and love. My life was enriched by knowing her for those brief moments in time. I will forever treasure her gift of poignant and witty poetry she left as a remembrance in my many yearbooks.
— Jennifer Barker
How can I write about Amanda? What can one say that has not already been said? I love everything that has been said: the sweetness, the love, the praise — every little anecdote and description. But I also hate it. I don’t want to hear it… I don’t want it to be said, I don’t want it to need to be said. Like Dylan Thomas, I rage, rage against the dying of the light. My heart hangs low, half-mast. And yet, I want to write about Amanda, be it ever so hard. Hard because even now, I still can’t accept it. Hard because even now I am incapable of thinking about, talking about, Amanda in the past tense — she is so in-tense. How can one say, “was”? That’s not Amanda.
As I read all the beautiful, touching, heart-wrenching tributes, and as I recall the deeply touching memorial statements, I realize how different my perspective is. Naturally, as Mother of “The Boy,” I see and know a rather different Amanda. Everyone talks about her heart, her warmth. Of course. She radiated aliveness, intelligence, charisma — that marvelous curiosity, that marvelous desire to do, to know, to succeed, to advise, to share. But to me — the older generation — she is not the all-advising, counseling den-mother. She is daughter too, questioning, learning, searching. The ancient soul of a child.
I don’t see funky, glittery attire as characteristic of lovely Amanda. Yes, I know about the shoe fetish. But that is very much at home in our family. (We call it a feet-ish.) And yes, she glittered… yes, she glowed. But that’s Amanda — not glitzy garb, not glittery make-up. It came from within. For me, though, it was more about hats than shoes. There was the time that Amanda, Hope, two-month-old Sophie, and I had a magical girl’s day out in Atlanta. First shoes, when I had the great pleasure of buying shoes for Amanda. (And no one has mentioned how extremely elegant Amanda’s feet were.) Then a little jaunt to Neiman Marcus. The perfect milieu. We plunged in. Tried every lipstick, every perfume, every blush, eye shadow, cream, lotion, potion. But then there were hats. It happened to be Kentucky Derby time, and Neiman was replete with over-the-top, serious, glamorous, extravagant, expansive, outrageously expensive hats. Amanda sprinted to them, Hope in hot pursuit, using Sophie’s stroller as a jogging-cart. I was astonished. It seemed so utterly un-Amanda-ish. Nothing like her look or style. Unhesitatingly, though, she seized one of the creations and put it on. She looked amazing. Sargent, Gainsborough, Portrait of a Lady. I gasped, I admired. Effusive compliments. Amanda was sanguine. She knew. She knew that she looked beautiful, just as she had known that she would. “I was born in the wrong century,” she said. She knew. And Anthony knew, too. He had a hat made for her. Precisely the right hat. No funky, zany cap. A regal, graceful creation. And when she wore it for Sophie’s baby-naming, she made a grand entry, descending the stairs like a queen, with ease and grace.
This is Amanda as I see her. Amanda — full of grace, loving and giving. Amanda — alive with intellect, interest. Amanda — radiating from within.
If I could write an epitaph for Amanda, it would be
“She walks in brightness, like the light…”
— June Schneider
I first met Mandy at Wesleyan, where our circle of friends overlapped but we ourselves never became very close. Mandy was such a force of nature, with tremendous presence and strength of character. At a time when I was constantly shedding personas and adopting new ones in an attempt to discover who I was, I stood in awe of her, someone whose compass never wavered.
As chance would have it, when I moved to New York after graduation, Mandy was ensconced in an apartment around the corner. We ran into each other at the grocery store, and became close friends. It was Mandy above and beyond anyone else who persuaded me to brave the subway, dark parties down strange alleys in the meat-packing district, and the crowded aisles of Zabar’s for what she swore was the best coffee. Although we had lived there for the same period of time, she already seemed to know everything there was to know about the city, and to have made the acquaintance of a staggering number of people.
My favorite memory of Mandy is the night that she, Jason Lowi, and I hung out in her apartment watching British claymation videos. Mandy had covered her ceiling with glow in the dark stars, and after the video ended we turned out the lights and stared up at the ceiling and talked for hours about where we’d been and where we hoped we were going. It was one of those magical conversations that just don’t seem to happen much after college, where you talk for hours about everything and nothing. I wish I’d gotten to know her again out here; I’d only seen her twice: once at a movie, and once at a party where we said hi but didn’t stop to talk. And yet in spite of that, I feel a tremendous sense of loss, remembering the person who lent me some of her courage almost ten years ago.
— Michelle Gagnon
I met Amanda on what amounted to a blind date for ambitious young writers — she was applying to graduate schools, including the one where I was a student, and a friend of hers was living with a friend of mine, who wondered if I could help her get in. I had no pull, of course, but I said I’d be happy to meet her and read her stuff and give her some advice if that would be useful.
She still went by Mandy then, and her e-mail name was poozie, so I had some private doubts. But those dissolved within a few minutes of my meeting her, at a Hungarian pastry shop across from St. John’s Cathedral, and they vanished entirely after I read a few stories she’d brought.
“These are really good,” I told her.
“Do you think so? They’re not too weird?” She was embarassed, and more unsure of herself than I ever knew her to be again — she tugged at a lock of her bright red hair until it was straight — but it was also clear that she was pleased.
“These should get you in anywhere,” I said.
She had told me she loved Alice Munro, so I expected something different from her stories, which turned out to be short and dreamlike and fabulous in all the senses of that word. There was one about two sisters in a treehouse, and others I wish I remembered more specifically, but what sticks with me even now is the confidence of her languid, charged language. She was still finding her way, she told me — but even then, it was HER way she was finding. This was a writer already comfortable in her own voice.
Over the next few years, I saw a lot of Amanda in the on-again, off-again way that was typical of my New York friendships — and I gather, from reading the entries here, not at all typical of hers. I met her for coffee and drinks; I headed downtown to Two Boots for dinner; I went to her birthday party in the loft over the bag factory, where she showed off a cabinet she had bought just for her shoes. I was intimidated by her, and charmed, and always happy to be near her manic energy.
We overlapped at Bread Loaf: My second year there, when I was on social staff, was her first year, when she won a writer’s scholarship, and she proved herself a real sweetheart and a real friend when I humiliated myself by casually, inadvertently insulting a writer I admired. She didn’t understand the self-destructive jocular impulse that had led me to tell him he was all washed up, but she listened to me, and she forgave me, and she made me feel better about my own stupidity.
Even though we’d lost touch over the past few years — I got married, and grew frustrated at my lack of writing, and stopped answering her group e-mails — I still counted her as a friend, and I believed it was just a matter of time before I would see her again. Instead, I’ll read and re-read her books, hearing her laughing voice and remembering the first time we met, when I flipped through her stories with baklava-sticky fingers and felt the thrill of discovering a writer who could accomplish huge things.
— Gregory Cowles
Amanda Davis was not your average professor. She wore cool funky shoes. She had tiny stars tattooed on the inside of her arms. She cracked jokes, and swore in class when she got excited. She instigated after-class excursions to a movie theater that serves pizza and beer. She marked papers in bright purple ink (“woo hoo!” she wrote in the margin of one). She brought bags of chocolate malt balls to class and told us they were the best chocolate malt balls ever. And they were.
Amanda was fiercely protective of our writing. She believed in our possibility. She told us not to worry, that it would happen for us. Just work hard, go to Breadloaf, and it will all fall into place. Amanda made it look easy — in her tiny little glasses and wild curly hair. Most of us wanted to be like her. Some of us wanted to be her.
Visiting Amanda during her office hours was an adventure — and not only because she was always doing six things at once. She would turn her attention to you, her intent eyes, and listen. Then, as you poured out whatever you had come to tell her, she would suddenly wave her arms around wildly in a spastic fit. Apparently the lights in Mills Hall run on a motion sensor and would turn off after a period of time with no movement. Amanda hated these lights. She had been caught in the dark one of her first days here. Now that she’s gone it feels like the lights have gone out for good, and all the jumping and arm waving in the world will not be enough to turn them back on again.
The third floor of Mills Hall is quiet this week. Her office doorstep awash with flowers. People have left small momentos — a map of New York, a burning memorial candle, a mango, a bottle of vanilla Coke. There is poster board tacked to the wall and markers to write with. In large swooping letters a message reads: Amanda, we are missing you, far too soon.
— Tara Austen Weaver
I’m a first year MFA in fiction at Mills College, Oakland, where Amanda was Associate Professor. I first met Amanda when I walked into her classroom last August for her Craft of Fiction class. I was immediately struck by her passion: the energy she brought to the room, enthusiasm she brought to the subject, and above all the empathy she had for her students. Amanda was extremely supportive and encouraging to me, not only as one of her students, but also as a fellow writer, and mother of two young children.
After the birth of my second child, who was only three months when I started the MFA program last August, I struggled with whether or not to to return to college and pursue my hopes and dreams of being the best fiction writer I could be. After that first class with Amanda, and reading Annie Dillard’s The Writing Life — which Amanda had assigned, describing it as a “gem” and her near-constant companion — my fears, anxiety, and guilt about returning to school were appeased, and I no longer saw writing as a dream, but as my destiny.
In a paper on The Writing Life I quoted Dillard: “You were made and set here to give voice to this, your own astonishment,” and added that I found this quote truly inspiring and liberating. Amanda wrote in the margin “I love this too.” And later when I wrote that I love and live to write, Amanda again wrote in the margin, “Me too.”
The title of her novel, Wonder When You’ll Miss Me, the flight motifs in her work — I’m thinking especially of the novel and the title story from her collection, Circling The Drain — in those first dark days seemed eerie, an uncanny foreshadowing, and yet now, knowing Amanda better through remembering and stretching the moments with her, re-seeing those tiny details: her pushing her curls behind her ears, the clink of her charm bracelet, the blue stars tattooed on her forearm, the “come-on” gesture she’d make with her hands and arms, and especially through re-reading her work, the articles written about her, her past interviews, and from this website, I now see the motifs in her work not as disturbing given her tragic death, but instead as themes that attest to the short but zesty life that she led, during which she SOARED.
— Ethel C. McDonnell
Reading the postings to this site, it’s clear to me that Amanda was a big bundle of energy, sending sparks out in every direction, pulling people in.
To me, she was less kinetic than potential energy, the ball about to roll down the hill but not quite there yet. We kept missing each other — I was at Wesleyan with her but didn’t really know her; I saw her at parties but never had time to talk; she was supposed to come to tea but wasn’t yet going to be home from her book tour. But this I remember about Amanda: she would not let me be afraid of her. So many of my friends are becoming or have become successful writers that sometimes I enter a gathering on the defensive, feeling like I came up the front stairs by mistake when I was supposed to use the tradesman’s entrance. But Amanda would have none of that. From the second I met her again, after she moved out to California, she made it clear that we had to get to know each other. Anthony said at the reading on Saturday that growing up, Amanda was always afraid that somewhere, someone was doing something more fun than whatever Amanda was doing; maybe it was our shared inner outcast that made her think we might be friends. The potential of that friendship, which clearly would have changed my life forever (at the very least, I would have changed my cell phone provider and bought some new shoes), has made me miss her. I can’t even begin to imagine what it must be like for those who really knew her well.
— Kate Gordon
(The following is a eulogy for Amanda delivered at Mills College memorial on April 20)
She was talented and ambitious and demanding and humble. She was bossy and feisty and forgiving, irreverent and tactful and gentle. She knew how to hold a grudge and make fun of herself at the same time.
She was wise and sometimes hid it behind the demeanor of an energetic teen. She was not a sap. She had a tongue sharp as a staple and could tack down anyone in a quick phrase. “So, what to tell you?” she once wrote to me. “Mostly nice people here. A few duds. One alarmingly confrontational obnoxious·man who has a habit of appearing out of the ether at full volume and who I try to avoid.”
One of her favorite words was “grrrrrr,” pronounced with a small tight mouth, and she could use the verb “to suck” more flexibly, in more conjugations and contexts, than anyone I’ve ever heard. But then she’d say “enough snarkiness” or “that’s just bad juju.” And when she liked something, her word became “whoooohoooo,” and any friend of hers was “good people,” “fantastic,” “wonderful,” “awesome.”
Others close to her have lately called her a vibrant new voice in American fiction, a passionate and generous teacher, the Thomas Edison of friendship and the Queen of Silly. She was all these things. She was also the one who brought us the first word of how to call the White House and protest the war, of the Send Rice to Bush campaign, and about new threats to Roe v. Wade. She was a peacemaker at Mills and reached students no one else had managed to.
She wrote long serious proposals about ways to work out budget problems or treat students more fairly, and then she sent around a quiz that started “How do you put a giraffe in the refrigerator?,” your answers to which were supposed to identify your management style. She traveled with the circus in striped tights, a tutu and pink wig, standing on her hands. And when she finished she sat down and used those hands to put it all in a great book.
She bopped down the halls, one hand sunk in her hair on top, her sleeves rolled up, ready to get down to work. She could pin you with a look across the room, just when you were trying to be serious, a quick sidelong stare, a little twitch of mouth, and there you’d be, grinning. She made you happy just to look at her, and then she’d tell you what to do.
She’d give you anything if you needed it.
She brought me lunch in my office, and cups of tea with honey, and one day the week before she died, when my eyes went suddenly blurry, she dropped whatever she had planned to do and just took care of me, surfing the web until she found the answer, then she ordered me off a prescription I’d been taking for years.
She also ordered me to get a cell phone, and to tell off whoever was on my case, call up my agent and demand some love, and when we had too much to do, especially when we had too much to do, she demanded I go with her to some dumb chick-flick, or maybe get ourselves mojitos and go ice-skating.
She lay around my rug in front of the fireplace, dispatching piles of paper that we had to move for Mills, and did it better than I could. She wrote me notes in meetings, made me laugh at just the wrong moments, and then she wrote “Shred this” and underlined it twice. If you told her a secret, it was safe. “This whole conversation has been in the vault,” she said.
She demanded to be loved, and that you pick up the freakin’ phone right now.
She loved her cat, Gander, who died six weeks ahead of her, and her cat, Pickle, who survives.
She loved her friends and made a lot of them.
She especially loved Anthony Schneider. I sat next to her on numerous occasions when he called her cell and cracked her up, with running jokes so deep and wide they sounded like a private nonsense tongue.
She loved her brother and sister, her mother and father. Her house is full of pictures of them, letters, jokes they sent.
Her novel is dedicated to her parents, who died with her. One draft of the dedication went like this: “For my mother, who is my biggest fan, and for my father, who is hers.”
So now we’re left with two books, Circling the Drain and Wonder When You’ll Miss Me, both full of vivid, moving and insightful stories, told in images that make you see better, in sentences like these: “Wonder was faster than memory or scent, faster than hunger or illness or regret. But not as fast as love. No, Wonder was not a horse who could outrun love.”
Or: “But all things affect each other. Everything changes. These laws of the world twist us in their palm. My parents’ passionate beliefs thundered through them and into the embryo of my brother, waiting to blossom. The belief, which drew them close to begin with, loved my parents back.”
So I’ve done everything she told me to. I’m off the drug, and I have a cell phone. I just wish she’d call me up on it.
— Cornelia Nixon
I was mostly an observer of Amanda (and a reader of her work). I noticed her as a powerful, rather thrilling force of humanity when we met at Bread Loaf, in 1997. I live nearby and so return each year for brief visits, to peruse The Crumb, and keep up with friends. I always sought out Amanda, because she continually surprised. Whether it was an aside that was just a little funnier than I first understood, or more engagement in a moment’s conversation than I imagined an extremely busy person would care to undertake — papers held against her sides with both elbows on one occasion — these moments were made especially vivid by this beautiful, funny, nicely nasty girl.
At first, I was intimidated by the sarcastic edge of this young woman who clearly thought at a faster rate than I could. But the funny glances won me over. They were so intimate. She could simultaneously tease me mercilessly and pat me on the head comfortingly, all in one quickly morphing smirk from across the cafeteria table. Kids can get away with that and I love them for it.
I barely knew Amanda, but she earned the same privileges by sheer force of personality.
— David Steinhardt
“When is Amanda coming to visit, Mommy?” Jack said. It is so difficult telling a six-year-old that one of his greatest friends is gone. He does not understand the concept. Nor do we, and we are well over six. He just wants to play with his friend, plain and simple. He still has the long bright ribbon from the present that she sent to him. That wonderful and most thoughtful gift of keys that made him light up. Amanda understood Jack so well, and she knew what would make him happy. He still has the letter that Amanda sent to him full of her funny little doodles that made him laugh. He still listens to the tapes that she made for him. Amanda shared her favorite music with Jack and now Lucinda Williams is one of his favorites. He keeps Amanda’s gifts in a “treasure” box. Special gifts from his most special friend. “But who is going to write her books for her now?” he asked when he heard the news.
Amanda filled the world with her radiant light, and we feel lucky to have been touched by that light. She was a pied piper and everyone wanted to go along with her, be with her, play her magical games and sing her songs. We hope she knew just how much she meant to us and how much we wanted her to be a part of our lives forever. We can’t get you out of our minds, Amanda — and we don’t ever want to.
— John, Hope, Jack, Sophie, and Harry
I only met Amanda once, for an hour-long interview that we couldn’t seem to finish — we talked and laughed hard right up to her reading at the Regulator Bookstore in Durham, NC. My mom met her mom. We planned to meet again for another interview — this time for audio documentary I’m working on — the topic is “shopping and the creative process.” Amanda was VERY excited about this topic. She told me the shoe story I read on this site. She offered to introduce me to another master shopper that she knew, a writer who would LOVE to talk about shopping. She said shopping WAS a creative process, and the worse her writing was going and the more broke she was, the more shoes she bought.
She was funny and intimate and shared marvelous pieces of her life with me. We both talked fast fast fast because we only had an hour. I started the interview telling her how much I loved the book — this was my first author interview, my first book review, and I didn’t know if you were supposed to do that but I did anyway.
I’ve been grieving Amanda since I found out about her death on Monday, March 17. I could not believe that Amanda died four days after our interview. I transcribed the interview and wrote the essay, “Missing Amanda” for the local weekly paper here in Durham. You can read the essay at: http://indyweek.com/durham/2003-03-19/ae4.html
I just found this website today. I think people in my life have had a hard time understanding why I’ve been so desperately sad about the loss of a girl I only met once. After reading these postings, I understand better. It’s not just me. She had this effect on so many people.
I’m working on a sound portrait of Amanda with the interview I recorded. I can’t quite let go of her voice. Not yet.
— Dawn Dreyer
I knew Mandy from Wesleyan. I probably met her within a week of her arrival on campus due to her serendipitous housing placement and my penchant for haunting dorms in which I had lived. (She lived in up Foss One; I had largely misspent my frosh year on down Foss One.)
I remember having many late night bull sessions with Mandy, the kind of rambling conversations that leave one hoarse from both duration and smoking. I remember her many varieties of laugh, from droll to out of control. I remember her seemingly nuclear energy. Being the last awake on the hall was a given.
Once, Mandy poured an entire bottle of Tropicana orange juice down my trousers. I believe that this was in an attempt to shock me into cheerfulness. She was a wonderful friend to have, and though I didn’t do a good job of keeping up with her over the years, I felt a great sense of loss when I read of her family’s accident in this weekend’s paper. Primarily the loss I feel is sympathy for the others who were lucky enough to have had her as a significant part of their lives these last years. I can tell from reading the tributes on this page she meant a great deal to many people; that the funny, dramatic young woman I had known at Wesleyan had really come into her own.
To those who miss her most, I wish you strength and peace.
— Daniel Rocker
I left town on the day after Amanda’s plane went down. I had just e-mailed to let her know I wouldn’t be making it to her NYC reading because I’d be embarking upon a book tour of my own, heading South.
After I saw something on the bottom of CNN’s ticker about her book, I’d assumed first that things were going well for her, because I knew sky would be the limit for her and this second wonderful book — and of COURSE the title of it would be floating by from right to left on the bottom of the cable news channel while the impending war flashed above. I just caught the words Wonder When You’ll Miss Me, and nothing else; the report wasn’t repeated. I just assumed it was all good news, because it seemed like there was always good news from Amanda (even bad news seemed good).
And nobody deserved the good news more than she did. I knew Amanda through a friend of hers from college, and mostly we became “colleagues” through connections in writing. She was so generous, and not snarky in any way about doling out honest, well-considered, professional advice. She was so willing to help and facilitate connections, and I always thought that if she had that much energy for me — a peripheral friend — I can only imagine (and now, thanks to this forum, read about) how generous she was to everyone else. I almost thought there was something weird about her willingness to help so much — can anybody be that kind? I guess so.
As Sheilah Coleman shared elsewhere, Amanda hooked us up so that Sheilah and the dog I rescued could be united — and as Amanda suspected, it was a perfect, magical match indeed (as strange as that sounds). Just a little thing Amanda did that meant so much to a few other people — and to a real sweetheart of a dog too.
On the road down South, I couldn’t stop thinking, over and over, that there had been some mistake, that this couldn’t have happened. That she wasn’t gone. As I drove on the interstate literally miles from the crash-site in North Carolina, I realized I was embarking upon a trip that Amanda was robbed of mid-flight. Amanda didn’t take the magnitude of and bravery inherent in what she was doing for granted. Nor should we.
— T Cooper
I knew Amanda in high school. She was a year ahead of me, and I lost touch with her after she graduated. I remember a great smile that told great jokes, and great big hugs that came from a great person. This week I’ll be heading to the local bookstore to get re-acquainted with an old friend.
— Chris Dunbar
I only knew Amanda Davis for a single day of my life, and I’ve been sitting here trying to figure out why it is that I’ve felt so lost since I found out she was gone. She and I met last fall. We were both being interviewed for a magazine, for an article about first-time novelists. The photo shoot was being held at an abandoned airfield in Brooklyn, and we spent the whole day in this freezing cold airplane hangar, and a strange kind of camaraderie developed. It turned out that Amanda and I had both been at Wesleyan at the same time, although we hadn’t known each other there, and we spent a lot of time figuring out who we might have known in common. At the time, I was nursing my son, and I needed to find a place to use my breast pump, and I was slightly embarrassed about the fact that everyone there was aware of my predicament. Amanda dedicated herself to helping me find a place in this surreal, wide open space that was both private and had a working electrical outlet, and I remember that I was very grateful for her help.
The editors of the magazine had brought these awful white shirts for us all to wear for the photos, and since we were all wearing dark-colored pants and skirts, we looked like a bunch of waiters. Amanda was the first one photographed, and right afterward, the photographer decided that the white shirts weren’t working, and the rest of us could change back into our original clothes. But they weren’t going to redo her photos, and it just killed her to think that she was going to be the only one appearing in this terrible white shirt, instead of the perfectly lovely outfit she’d worn. (I still remember the details of the story she told me about how she chose the brown suede top she was wearing, and what a great deal she got on it.) A couple of months later, we found out that the magazine was closing its doors, and the article was never going to run at all. Amanda sent out an e-mail to those of us who’d been there that day with the subject “Yuck yuck yuck,” which said only, “We wore those ugly white shirts for nothing.”
She and I exchanged a couple of e-mails after that one weird day, but that was all. Four days before her death, I wrote her to tell her how much I’d liked her book, and she wrote back to thank me and tell me how exhausting her book tour was. The way I found out that she’d died was strange and indirect — I’d been checking her Amazon sales rank every day, excited to watch it go up, and it was only when I scrolled down to read her customer reviews one day that I saw one that mentioned the plane crash. I felt devastated; my reaction seemed so out of proportion, given how briefly I’d known her, that it took me completely by surprise. After going over it again and again, all I can figure out is this: Finding friends isn’t something that’s come particularly easy to me since junior high or high school, or whenever it is that making new friends ceases to be an everyday activity. And I just had this feeling that maybe, if it was okay with her, maybe I could be her friend. And the idea that that’s never going to happen, that the possibility I felt on that day is gone, just breaks my heart.
— Carolyn Parkhurst
I grew up in Durham and knew Amanda — as Mandy — for many years. We were in the same high school, the same synagogue, and, in the memory that keeps coming to me since I heard about her death, the same acting company.
Young People’s Performing Company met in the basement of the Durham Arts Council and was the sort of low budget, informal operation in which members of the audience would come visit cast members during intermission. Mandy was cast as my mother in a production of Look Homeward, Angel. In one scene, when we were arguing in front of the Gant home, Mandy was supposed to slap me. One night, she missed and instead hit a large column that was supposed to be part of the Gant house. I think I may have caught it before it fell, but Mandy and I, very professional, just kept going.
After she went away to college, she wrote to me about my own struggles to decide what school to attend. “Don’t pay attention to what anyone else thinks,” she said, “Except me. Come to Wesleyan.” I suppose she would have approved of my independence in choosing not to, but I ended up falling out of touch with her. I was living in New York when her book of short stories came out and every so often would think that I really needed to get in touch with her again. Reading over the stories here, I’m reminded again how very sorry I am that I didn’t.
— Todd Drezner
I grew up in Duke Forest, Durham, NC. One year the trees across the road were cleared just so a girl named Mandy could live there. Who knows exactly when we met, because she was already a legend by age 10. I’d been only hearing about her in the neighborhood, not yet allowed to cross the busy street. It wasn’t fair that I was in the city schools, she in the county, with a mere road dividing us. I knew even then that I was missing out on her.
Maybe the first time we met was at the Faculty Club, a glorified swimming hole for Duke brats. In a game of Truth or Dare, she dared me to kiss Josh Miller. I’d just met him, but Mandy’s intense air made me fear her Truth question more. I think she clapped when I kissed him quick.
Over a summer, Mandy somehow became the focus of torment by one of my friends who found her to be incomprehensibly weird. I stood idly by, wondering what she could have done to deserve this. Kids.
Years later, my parents finagled our way into that coveted county high school. I saw Mandy everywhere — and you couldn’t miss her, as she always dressed like a rainbow. My penance for not defending her years before was that we had almost every class together. Finally! A chance to make it up to her, and to find out that she didn’t need defending. In French class she called me Le Kathee, and I called her Le Mandee.
She invited me to her house. Her room — what a mess! Her room was bright orange, red, and magenta… there were clothes, books, tinsel, pictures, jewelry, papers, medals… I think there was a bed in there somewhere… just everything all over the floor. Her room was an explosion of the things she loved. Clearly, this was a girl who played with all of her toys.
When she first got her driver’s license, we drove up to Chapel Hill in her dusty, red Volvo with the license plate that read “Poozie.” She wanted to hit the Street Scene, a grotto where we liked to watch surly teens dance. But we stayed too long and suddenly it was 9 PM. She gasped dramatically — she was known for that — and ran us back to the car, wildly fretting over her parents’ reaction to her missing the curfew. (Remember, we were only 16 and her mom was the school librarian.)
This girl drove 65 mph in a 35 zone to get home. Of course she gasped and cursed again when red and blue lights discoed in the car’s interior. She became frantic, quickly rehearsing a little song and dance before a cop arrived at her window. She told me to pretend to not speak English, as if that would help. The cop was a rather butchy lady — Mandy confusedly called her “Sir.” Oh, Mandy! Her craziness filled the open spaces and I loved her for it.
Later when her privileges were reinstated, we drove to the beach for the day. Her idea. The Pooziemobile moved carefully down the new I-40 to the sea four hours away. Mandy reported to me how she’d been stopped last week by cops who ticketed her for “coasting.” Only her. She was animated and chirping. We passed a mullet-man in a Chevelle whose vanity plate said “Stroker.” Mandy delighted over that, wondering about his life, how thick his accent probably was, how many teeth he was missing, and how he’d come to this.
For about 100 miles we were tailgated by a giant 18-wheeler that aggressively filled her rear view mirror. The trucker blew his whistle several times at the innocent girls on their escapade, and this freaked Mandy out. The truck was barreling down on us, and she couldn’t stand that feeling! When it finally did give up and pass us, we saw that it wasn’t a giant semi at all, but only the dinky cab on six wheels without the trailer. Mandy erupted with laughter.
The last of the Mandy capers happened right before graduation, at 2 AM, when there was no moon out. The lack of street lights made Duke Forest extra dark. She got it into her loopy head that we should sneak into the Duke Primate Center to see the monkeys and lemurs. I was the wheelman this time, turning us onto the gravel drive which led straight into the trees. We confidently waved away the meek “Do Not Enter” sign. Hesitantly, we rolled up to the obligatory “No Trespassing” sign. Mandy suggested that a “Turn Back Now!” sign should be next.
The trees canopied over the road into a narrowing tunnel. She enhanced our uneasiness with spooky monkey noises. Though it was pitch black, we crawled on as the signs became more threatening and the darkness pulled us in deeper than we were willing to go. Then a loud “snap!” — probably a deer — and I spun the car around as she grabbed the wheel so it fishtailed, and we sped out of there shrieking and laughing so hard we were choking. All the way home. That was the night Mandy was dubbed “The Lemur Queen.”
After high school, the world opened up for Mandy like a vast sea and she just dove right in. She didn’t resurface for me until her short stories came out. I was deeply proud of her from afar. Only last month did we reconnect with the e-mail of her book tour. We enthusiastically exchanged updates and remarked on how we missed each other. She gasped (still Mandy!) at learning we had both lived in New York City at the same time without knowing it. For three years!
Cruelly, the chance to once again see her intense and troublemaking eyes didn’t happen. Couldn’t happen. But I do feel incredibly lucky that for a brief, flooding moment, she was in my life again.
I’m thankful to those who have written here about the adult Mandy who I truly missed out on. I’m sorry that they missed the wild teenaged girl I knew. The Mandy in the red and orange dress who danced like a fireball, trying to single-handedly orchestrate 250 people for a yearbook photo. Or the Mandy who fearlessly dove backwards off a 60 foot platform. Or the Mandy who applied for a job as a Waffle House waitress just so she could wear the hat. Though maybe you did meet the very same girl, and I hope her spirit never stops dancing for us all.
— Kathi Zung
I was living with two roommates in Carroll Gardens, and Amanda called me to ask if I wanted to cat-sit for a month while she went to some writers’ colony in California. This was in April of 2000 and we were not yet really friends, but getting there. She remembered, though, that I had mentioned being ready to look for a place of my own, and offered me her recently acquired apartment as a practice run. I accepted, and spent a month getting to know Amanda through her home. She had painted her home in colors that I would never have chosen but that I loved living in — deep teal, bright yellow, chartreuse, and orange. Her colorific walls, towering bookcases, and her cats, Gander and Pickle, put me fully under her spell. She was researching her novel and almost every day new circus-related books arrived from bookstores all over the country. I piled them onto the already huge stack of books on the double wooden folding chairs against the wall. One day I got an urgent voicemail from her. She had left her favorite gingersnap recipe at home and could I please e-mail it to her because she wanted to make them for someone’s birthday.
I liked living in her apartment so much that I ended up moving into the building — buying the apartment right above hers (when I accidentally bought the same shelf liner, and when it turned out that we both had red clogs, the Single White Female jokes kicked in). Amanda was the most fabulous neighbor. She was convinced that our cats would want to play together and was really disappointed when my cat took one look at Gander and promptly peed in fear. She would bake bread and call me to come down and help her eat it and we’d slice up warm bread and butter it and drink wine and gossip about books and publishing. She had packing anxiety, but was constantly heading to writer’s colonies, so she would ask me to come downstairs and help her pack — which mostly consisted of my agreeing that it is important to bring enough tank tops and shoes — and who’s to say, really, what “enough” means? I have a lot of physical objects that remind me of Amanda, because when she moved she gave me all kinds of things she didn’t want to take with her. My favorite thing is her tall wooden ladder, which has gone back and forth between our apartments since I moved in. Amanda painted it red with blue stars during what she described as a fit of procrastination.
Her move to California coincided with my new job, and a couple of weeks ago we realized how long it had been since we’d seen each other. I still have a message from her on my cell phone trying to figure out when we could get together. I still haven’t wrapped my mind around the idea that we won’t.
— Susanna Einstein
I have been staring at this screen for days trying to contribute something here. It seems that all of Mandy’s friends are amazing writers, with an ability to get right to the heart of things; to be eloquent even in the darkest moments of grief and sadness. I can’t seem to find the words to sum up or honor the person I knew.
I keep thinking now of a news program I saw several years ago. A woman had just been told that her 16-year-old daughter had died when her plane exploded over the ocean. This woman had the composure and the grace to say — right away — “More than anything, I am grateful that I was given the gift of her for 16 years.”
This woman’s grace stayed with me. I always hoped that in a similar moment of grief I could remember, always, to be grateful. I’m trying, but my gratitude is mixed with more complicated and less calming emotions like sadness, pain and regret.
I can’t even remember when I met Mandy, other than the fact that it was early during our freshman year at Wesleyan. I don’t remember when we first connected, or when we considered each other friends, or when that friendship became important to me. It just did.
She is still Mandy to me. She never said, “call me Amanda” and I was oblivious to the fact she went by a different name to the rest of the world — I just thought she was being more formal for her book jackets.
Some of my happiest memories of Mandy are from when we both moved to New York, right out of college. She tried on various careers before landing where she wanted to be, and I enjoyed watching her find her way. We stalked David Sedaris. We played at being grown up and having apartments. We contemplated what we were going to do and whom we were going to do it with. She tried to get me to play pool. We roamed bookstores. She asked me direct questions that I wasn’t ready to answer. She told me funny stories. We plotted against people who had wronged us. We ended up in London together at one point. We went to concerts and plays. She confused me sometimes, like the time she told me she was buying a truck and I couldn’t figure out why she needed a truck in Brooklyn. She made friends with her neighbors in her Upper West Side apartment, and I tried to copy her. Why were my neighbors so cold and private, while hers seemed to instantly become her best friends? I baked cookies and gave my neighbors plants at Christmas time in an attempt to construct the friendly neighborhood that Mandy created effortlessly.
Our friendship was easy. I was confident in it. She was one of a handful of college friends that I made sure to keep up with. I ran to Border’s to buy Circling the Drain in hardback. I remember holding it, before I even opened it, and thinking that Mandy was the first of my friends to ever produce something so adult and so real. My mistake — and the cause of my regret now — was simply that I was too confident in our relationship. We were both busy, doing what we wanted to be doing, doing what we loved. We would call out support to each other every once in a while — e-mails and instant message conversations from “poozie” and then “ginbetty.” (Why ginbetty?) I always assumed our time to catch up was right around the corner, and I am so sorry that I was wrong.
There are a few comforts that I have now. I am glad that Mandy was so happy at this point in her life. My last conversation with her was through instant messenger. She told me how excited she was about the book, how thrilled she was with Anthony, how much she loved California. “I’m a real California girl,” she wrote, which surprised me.
I also found solace in Wonder When You’ll Miss Me. At Tuesday’s reading in New York, there was a point where I got lost in the words, and as long as those words were being read, Mandy felt present, and it felt good. For a few seconds, I forgot to be sad.
I wish I had gotten to tell her that I adored her and admired her, that I was proud of what she had become. But even in this regret there is some grace because when I think about it, I really am grateful I had the gift of her friendship for 14 years.
— Lee Armitage
We spent tens days together at the Marriott hotel in Marina del Rey last June. Our rooms were on the same floor. We were both teaching our first residency on this opposite coast, both stumbling off planes, blinking in the haze of the Pacific, curious, astounded, amused by our first semester in a hotel room. Each night we walked home along Lincoln Boulevard and debriefed the day, the meetings, the students, and our fellow faculty. Everything was fair game. She was a raft that week: Buoyant, spirited, irreverent. I couldn’t help but climb aboard.
Late at night, she joined my wife Dona and me in our murrey-colored hotel room for sandwiches and booze. She became instant family. By the third night, she came to our room as if for a slumber party — dressed in her pajamas.
There was a small dinner party that week in the Hollywood Hills. The son of Leonard Nimoy was there, and the host had hinted beforehand that it was probably better not to mention anything about Star Trek. The son did look remarkably like his father (though perhaps more handsome) and everyone politely avoided the topic. Yet in the middle of the meal, Amanda pulled an artichoke leaf from between her teeth. “So Adam,” she said, with genuine concern, “It must have been pretty crappy growing up the son of Spock.”
That week the movie Windtalkers had just opened in LA and there were billboards for it everywhere, looming over the boulevards. We’d eaten something rotten the night before, and none of us had slept well, and in a car that morning, all of us were intestinally compromised. The windows were subtly cracked and closed, cracked and closed, as each of us snuck farts into vinyl seats. Amanda broke the silence, in typical Amanda fashion. “I don’t know about you guys,” she said, “but I’m windtalking!”
Generously, she took her students one day to lunch. Afterwards, there was Amanda returning to campus, a red-haired pied piper, her charges trailing behind, eight women — all of them older than she — double stepping to keep pace. When they came to a busy intersection, and the light was changing, Amanda shouted, “She who hesitates is lost!” and forged across the street. Half her class followed and the rest froze on the far curb. The ones who ran behind her giggled like schoolgirls, as they made their way safely to the curb. The rest came straggling minutes afterward. Amanda, hand on hip, waited for the others, and scolded them for their timidity. And it seems like that was her role, urging us all into heavy traffic, into the boisterous intersection of her life; whether we spent an hour or several years with her, she goaded us into the odd confluence and buzz of her world. Amanda World.
And finally there’s this: when I heard about the crash, I thought of our last Sunday together, an afternoon in Westwood, the three of us inside an Iranian restaurant. The tables were filled with large Persian families, young girls in party dresses, old woman dressed all in black. The sun bled through the window, blinding on the white linen, the silver, the wine glasses. We ordered thin Iranian bread; we ordered mirza ghasemi (an eggplant and tomato dish) and ground meat with walnuts and mint. But what excited Amanda the most was the pomegranate juice. (“Pomegranate juice!” she yelped across the restaurant). We were all astonished by the glass when it arrived. The waiter set it down, ceremoniously on its own plate: an enormous perspiring vessel filled with a dark lustrous purple, the color of teenage lipstick. It had to be at least sixteen ounces.
“How many seeds,” she wondered, “do you think it took to create this thing?” She bent forward and sipped through a straw, and then, unaccountably, she began to talk about her father and his Cessna, and how we both should come out to Long Island for a flight. And seeing her now, the light fanning from the window, the napkins, the bleached linen, the dark purple drink in her hand, I cant help but think of Persephone (whom I think she resembled) and the seven pomegranate seeds, and how Amanda, like she, will stay with us too, a little bit each year. If not in her flesh, then in her words.
— Brad Kessler
I only met Amanda Davis once. It was at a KGB Bar reading, in NYC. She was reading for an anthology I co-edited, and when we first said hello and shook hands I remember thinking she was almost too cheerful to be a writer. You know how you imagine good poets and writers to always be somehow dark and brooding or slightly weird and shy. Well, as good and intense a writer as she was, she was radiant. I am awful with faces. I can’t remember her face. I just remember her eyes sparkled in friendliness, eagerness and excitement.
Of all the writers we worked with, Amanda was one of the most excited by the whole project. She kept replying to our e-mails with sheer joy and encouragement. She was enthusiastic about it. She had just sent us this e-mail saying her novel was out and she was starting a book tour. We were wishing all the best for her. We were looking forward to see her again some time soon. Turns out, unbelievably, we will not.
Amanda is part of a collection my husband and I edited of young American writers. It was published last year in Italy and will come out in England very soon. Marco and I can only dedicate the English edition of the book to you, Amanda. You were a warm, smiling, hearty part of one of the best things in our life so far.
— Martina Testa
I’ve been putting this off. I can’t do justice to her, nor can I believe she’s really gone. I’ve had her voice in my head all week: The way she said ‘Amanda Davis’ rhythmically on two notes, as if her name amused her; just the cadence of her voice that was somehow inseparable from all the red curls. Sentences started “dude” or “lady”. She caught “lady” from Anthony; he caught “dude” from her. She called him Stinky from about the second week. Scott & I set them up at a brunch, but without telling them so nobody would be trying too hard. It was the best, best day — mother’s day, very sunny. She was wearing those red-and-white check pedal pushers and her red Danskos, and I can still see them on the yellow sofa, making each other crack up. After three hours, they left to go shopping for glasses frames and, yes, my mother, visiting from London, thought they were such a lovely couple, and invited them to stay. She always so loved that my mother thought they’d been together forever the very day they met.
We met when I needed real estate advice and Heidi Julavits said, “Ask Amanda” — as one did. I went to her loft for half an hour and stayed the whole day — as one did. We kind of dated — as one did, since, once you’d bonded with Amanda, it was impossible to cement things on some polite schedule. Thanks to her real estate advice, I moved to a few blocks from her, and she introduced me to IKEA, at which she was expert, and we became obsessed, going — I dunno, six times? — in her white truck, always getting stuck in traffic and having intense conversations with laughing fits and cell phone interruptions (her phone, of course). So many subsequent occasions of that precise Amanda goofiness, with its seriousness, and compassion, her always wanting her friends to meet certain other friends.
This past year she’d come through so much — work drying up, a novel orphaned. She’d really earned her euphoria in Oakland, in her little house with her cute Beetle, and Anthony visiting a lot. I was reading her e-mails today. “Does ‘home’ mean Left Coast then?” I’d asked. “Would I betray you like that?” she replied, “home is NYC.” In another e-mail she said, “It feels like home when the 4 of us get together.” It did, too. Amanda’s company was home, wasn’t it? I was kind of marking time until her contract was up and she’d come back East, and we’d be ‘the 4 of us’ and have vacations together, eventually with our kids. She so wanted kids. We talked about it a bit that last Saturday — jokingly, but I thought, yes, they’ll get that going sooner than they think. Of course she’d have been the world’s best mom.
As had happened with her first book, I was loving her afresh that last Saturday, being halfway through the novel. The depth of her heart and the eccentric direction of her wisdom were only fully tangible in her writing — and she’d really only just started, which (as she would put it) sucks. I had about thirty pages to go when I heard. She is so alive in those pages that I slowed down, dreading the ending. When I reached it, I loved the ending: mischievous, haunting, resolving very little. I hate hate hate hate hate hate Amanda’s ending. I can’t bear it. I can’t believe it. Wonder When You’ll Miss Me? Dumb question.
— Kate Sekules
Amanda is going to the movies this afternoon. It is Saturday. Before she goes to the movies, she must eat breakfast. We live at opposite ends of a dozen blocks. Amanda calls me for brunch and so I am introduced to Tom’s Diner. And I am introduced to cheese grits.
Cream of Wheat?
Same thing right?
No. You’ve never had grits?
No, not me.
You have to try grits.
Another order of cheese grits.
And so the waiter brings the order. I want to sprinkle sugar over the top. Amanda advises me not to. Maybe she shakes the salt and pepper over the plate for me. Probably not. Maybe she shakes some over her own plate and I follow suit. In any case after that day grits is an all-time menu favorite.
After Tom’s grits we walked down Washington Ave to the supermarket and came across some ne’er-do-wells having a sort of sidewalk sale. Actually, they weren’t ne’er-do-wells, but that’s a word I could use around Amanda; she’d see the fun in it. Anyhow, we pass the sidewalk sale before we hit the market’s ATM. I remember because at the sale Amanda took notice of an iron lion that looked to have jumped out of a fairy tale. For some reason, the sidewalk salesmen renounced their positions as good capitalists and made Amanda a gift of the iron lion. I was astounded. Amanda went along with it and around the corner I held the lion while she marveled aloud over it, dipping her card into the ATM.
We went to the movies and saw Magnolia and when it rained frogs we looked at each other like, “This shit’s bananas.” And so we liked it and we were friends.
— Marco Villalobos
I didn’t really know Amanda. I was the last reporter to interview her in the Bay Area, the day before we each left for business in other parts of the country. Last Sunday when I came home I was scanning the e-news, and I couldn’t believe it when I read about her death. More than that, though, I couldn’t understand my emptiness. I’ve interviewed thousands of people and I’ve covered many tragedies in the past 25 years. Yet somehow I felt as though this time I’d lost a friend, and I’ve grieved ever since. In the two short hours we talked, we made mutual connections about being Southern, living in Durham, the way we talked and thought and how the South would always be home no matter where else we lived. I was looking forward to hearing her read at Cody’s and to sharing a drink afterward. Having read the posts from those who were fortunate enough to be her friends, now I understand why she touched me so much. She was extraordinary. I wish she were still here, were going to be able to finish the new novel she told me about with so much enthusiasm, were going to teach the students she loved so much, were going to lead that benefit for the friends and the promising writers she loved. Few people love life that much. We were fortunate to have her for a while.
— Diane Weddington
It was 1996 and I had just finished grad school and moved from the Upper West Side to the East Village. Someone suggested we meet at Two Boots and Amanda was there. I’d forgotten until I read it here that she wasn’t even Amanda yet. She was still Mandy, or she was in transition. She mentioned a book party that had been held there weeks earlier — a book party for one of my friends. Even though she’d been working the party, she had actually read the book. No one at book parties reads the book.
Then I ran into her on the street one day. I was having to dress up for something and realized I had no belt; she told me where to find one. A few days or weeks later it was my birthday and I ran into her on the sidewalk again. “I’m meeting a bunch of people to celebrate,” I said, because even though I still didn’t really know her, she was the kind of stranger who immediately seemed like she should be included. She showed up that night at Fez with a peculiar guy from Tower Video who everyone assumed was a date. He wasn’t. “Oh, I don’t know him,” she said. “He just followed me here.”
There was a Fourth of July when I had no plans and Amanda found this alarming. She loaded me into that truck of hers after she got off her shift and took me over to Brooklyn. She was living in that crazy apartment then, above the plastic bag factory. (She lived above a plastic bag factory!) Everyone in the building was gathered on the roof, watching the fireworks. Someone was playing Cesaria Evora. I was afraid of heights. I remember the train crossing the bridge as the fireworks continued, and the toilet down the hall that erupted if it was raining.
When someone at the gym said they were looking for an assistant, it was Amanda I suggested, and of course she got the job. And of course she was wonderful. And I still had no concrete reason to know this would be true. It just was. I had a friend who worked in advertising, and later I discovered that before Two Boots, Amanda had worked for her too!
That was Amanda.
— Ken Foster
Mandy Davis was one of the brightest members of our high school graduating class. She and I shared several classes through the years, including Mrs. Strobel’s senior English class. Mandy was a natural writer. Although not close friends, I admired her intellect, her now-trademark independence, and as her classmate, cheered her successes that were covered in local newspapers in later years. I am deeply saddened by the losses experienced by her family and friends. I offer my own recollection of her in hopes that, in their profound grief, family and friends find some comfort in the fond memories shared on this site. I am glad that Mandy clearly knew the joy of loving family and friends, and the affirmation of professional acclaim in her young writing career.
— Jennifer Berces Gill
In 2002, a friend invited me to join a weekly writing group in New York, and I was pretty ambivalent about committing until I found out that Amanda Davis had joined up, too. We’d been out of regular touch for a couple of years, but I got happy just thinking of seeing her again. We e-mailed, confided that we were both joining the group on a trial basis, to get deadlines on new work, life was busy, etc. After the first session we went for drinks in Ft. Greene, my neighborhood; Amanda had volunteered to stop in my neighborhood because hers, she said, was too far out of the way. We had drinks for two hours and she told me that she wasn’t going to continue with the writing group, too busy, looming hardcore deadlines, etc. “But hey,” she said, calling me by my full name, “this has been fucking ridiculous, us not being in touch.” We left the bar. I was two blocks from home. She was twenty minutes. I asked if she wanted to come over to wait for a car service. Or we could try to get a cab for her. She just laughed.
“Well then let me walk you home,” I said. “Half-way, at least.”
“You’re tired,” she said. “You go home. Do you want me to walk you home?”
— Ben Neihart
My apartment has a balcony perfectly perched to look down upon the corner of Fifth Avenue and Eighth Street, and it was on this balcony that I found myself standing, staring down at the street for most of last weekend.
It was down on that street, I know the exact spot, where about four years ago I bumped into Amanda with pigtails. Yes, pigtails. Why I remember this I do not know, but I do know how struck I was, not just by her latest hairdo, but how completely immersed in thought she was. So much so that I had to call her twice before she looked up and recognized me. Turns out she was fretting over “a boy,” as she referred to him, so I talked her into accompanying me up the street to a local Starbucks. She came and I listened while she gave me the history of her and “the boy.”
Now, as I read through all the things written I realize why this afternoon has such significance. Here was Amanda, the den mother as she’s been rightly called. Amanda the psychologist. Amanda the momma bear, not giving advice for a change but depending on it elsewhere and, ultimately, giving it to herself. When you’re listening to someone who is so articulate, so aware of her emotions, so fully engaged in her own process of investigation, you know not to offer advice. You know that all you can do, all that is required, is to sit and listen and be alert to the heart that is revealing itself to you. So that’s what I did as Amanda Davis (“Manda” I used to call her) pondered the male psyche, the labyrinth of romance, the sin of pride and the rest. When she was done, I realized that I had done virtually nothing but listen And, bizarrely, I was the one who was grateful. I remember looking at her and smiling, kind of stupidly, not saying anything, just thinking, There’s something about this girl that is awesome. There was a pause between us and then I said, “By the way, I love your pigtails.”
Looking down from my bedroom window I can also see that street corner, and whether it’s bustling with people or coldly quiet, I don’t believe I’ll ever be able to see anyone else there but Manda.
— Matthew Cohen
As a baby, a red-ringleted toddler, you were fierce and clever and brave. And so cute.
Your uncle didn’t like children. Then you came back from Sweden, and suddenly he was carrying you on his back and playing games for hours.
When your little sister Joanna was a baby, you counted her smiles.
You and your brother had to say a blessing at Jo’s bat mitzvah, and you and Adam made each other laugh and stood there cracking up in the middle of the temple, even as your mother kicked you.
Your sister ran away from home in high school. You brought her back.
It took a while for you to pick up the pen, but you were a writer — the real thing. Your writing is exuberant, ecstatic, honest. Like you.
Kate’s mother thought we were a lovely couple and invited us to stay with her. That was the day we met.
On our first date, I was cold and you gave me your coat, your red corduroy coat. And a photographer took a black and white Polaroid of us for which he charged us a dollar. Never before or since that day have I ever seen someone taking photographs and selling them on Hudson Street.
I was never one for public displays of affection, for kissing in front of others. Except with you.
You had a gigantic heart and a huge, fast mind buzzing with wit and wisdom.
You only laughed when things were really funny. And then you really laughed. And man could you make me laugh.
You were Uncle Amanda to my nephew Jack and one of his best friends. For his sixth birthday you sent him a box of keys tied with a long purple ribbon, and no gift made him happier.
I lit up when I saw you, or heard your voice.
Sometimes, when we were sitting around talking, or eating dinner, or in the middle of a party, or just walking down the street, you would pull me toward you, out of the blue, and say, with great urgency: I just love you, so much.
You had the softest skin and the sweetest smell of any person ever, and lying with you, wherever we were, felt like home.
You made the world a better place and me a better person.
You touched and loved and encouraged and listened and chided and cared.
There is a hole in my heart as big as the universe. And you are painted on it.
I just love you, so much.
— Anthony Schneider
I won’t pretend that I knew Amanda well, because I first met her six months ago, when my buddy Anthony came out to visit her soon after she’d settled in at Mills College. At the time all I knew about her, aside from the fact that she was a writer, was that she sure seemed to be making my buddy happy. And perhaps a bit confused, as in, “Holy shit! I, Anthony Schneider, the quintessential cosmopolitan New Yorker, am actually grappling with the concept of moving to… California.”
What I noticed most about Amanda in the short time I knew her, aside from the bighearted way she opened the door to friendship, was her relationship with her younger sister Joanna. They had fun together.
Picture it: It’s a big, crowded party, and five or six of us are standing around at the base of the back stairs of the host’s house, and we’re taking turns doing impressions of Bob Dylan singing unlikely pop songs. And Joanna, a sprite of a woman who shares a constant mischievous sparkle in her eyes with her big sister, is singing in a voice somewhere in between a growl and a whine, “The rooooof, the rooooof, the roof is on fiah.” And we’re all howling, because Joanna’s impression is the best of all. And there, behind Joanna, is Amanda looking down on Joanna, howling along with the rest of us except with a look of love and pride on her face.
The memory inspires me to think of my own siblings, my four wonderful sisters, all of whom live back East. It inspires a new appreciation of the fact that though I don’t see them enough. When I do, we invariably start laughing like I’ve never left.
— Eric Wilinski
I remember Amanda as a person who took your problems from you, made them her own, and solved them. There was no trouble she could not master and laugh at. I think of a line someone else wrote: “She has done the difficult thinking for us.” When Heidi, who Amanda and I were both friends with, was having trouble in her marriage, Amanda threw herself at her, became the most incredible sidekick, and made opportunities out of thin air. She talked to Heidi nonstop, listened, sympathized, argued, held, and then literally gave her her apartment, first to stay in indefinitely, and then to keep as her own. But there was a problem even Amanda wanted nothing to do with, and that was the $30,000 gas bill that showed up one day, from years and years of past service, way before Amanda’s time. I think she told Heidi she’d better get out of there.
It’s funny how often our phone rang in times of stress, as if Amanda could sense when we needed her, and then the phone stopped ringing for a while, which worried us, but we were relieved to discover that it was because she was in love, with Anthony Schneider, who accepted every part of Amanda, crazy and sane, and took on the big, necessary, passionate project of loving that girl harder than she’d ever been loved.
I love Anthony for that: he’s a man who met a whirlwind and jumped in.
And I love reading these stories of Amanda, her open heart, her open pockets, her beautiful humor. I feel her everywhere in these stories, and realize how blessed we were to walk alongside her and listen and be helped and be exhorted by her. She was a true one, and I miss her.
— Ben Marcus
When I moved to Durham as an awkward ninth grader, Mandy took me under her wing. She made sure that I met anyone who was truly worth knowing, despite what the social circles might dictate. In fact, when neither of us had dates to the ninth grade prom, Mandy announced we were going together. Her mom even made us an elaborate dinner and got us corsages, so we didn’t miss out on anything. While the rest of us were busy conforming, Mandy embraced her independence and uniqueness in high school. To her credit, Mandy never wanted to blend in. I can still see her flouncing down the hallway in her bright yellow skirt and blouse with the enormous red palm leaves. I regret that to the detriment of our friendship, I became a lemming.
I got an e-mail from her in February about her book, and, after years of no communication, we spent time catching up via e-mail over the last few weeks. After I told her that my book club had chosen her book, Mandy offered to sign them and to make herself available for a conference call to answer any questions. Unfortunately, we will never get that chance. And I will never get the chance to know the person that Mandy became.
— Jami Jackson
This is for Ayelet Waldman in response to her fixation on Amanda’s new shoes, purchased the day before she died. She bought one pair of brown cowboy boots that she was going to dye blue, one pair of orange and yellow retro ‘70s style tennis shoes, which matched a pair of orange and yellow socks she had, and one pair of tall black boots with criss-cross laces all the way up the front but that still had a zipper on the side, which she thought was ingenious because she wouldn’t actually have to lace them up.
I actually didn’t know Amanda very well, but have known her brother and her parents through various interwoven life events. The Davises spent Thursday with my in-laws, and we all attended the reading on Thursday night and a fantastic dinner with them afterwards. Amanda was definitely the star of the show, and every thing I have read about her was revealed instantly in the three hours I spent with her. Her vibrancy, her chutzpah, her passion, her defiance, and her warmth.
— Heather Goldstein
My oldest and deepest friendship with a woman is with Maureen Linker, who I’ve known since I was fourteen. Maureen and I grew up together in Brooklyn, and we have a vast and elaborate private language, and there’s pretty much no getting between us. Maureen and I, for reasons too stupid to go into, always call one another by the same nickname: Bonesy. Or Bones.
When I met Amanda Davis, she used her eerie sixth sense for linkages and coincidences — Amanda was adamant that there was an unusual link between herself and any other person, and she’d knit her brow in frustration if she couldn’t locate it — to discover that the Maureen she knew through Brooklyn College friends was my ‘Bonesy.’ I don’t remember how she did this. What I recall is that once she’d caught the scent of how much Maureen and I meant to one another — and I mean this in the best possible way — Amanda appeared to say to herself: “I want some of that.”
Amanda created our friendship, and it was a great one. We were inseparable for a couple of years. She was my five-times-a-day phone call or e-mail, anytime I wanted the world to acknowledge my existence. She’d swing by in her truck at a moment’s notice, as in the testimony of so many other others on this site, ready to sweep me up or be swept up into any adventure or misadventure, or solution of or creation of a new problem, or to check in at a promising party or an obviously-going-to-be-dull reading. The point was that we were creating another chapter in our story. The way we’d get stoned and eat rum raisin ice cream, or gobble sushi — Amanda always pushing the limit on the wasabe, wanting to feel the burn — or the way we’d bomb, too dangerously, through Williamsburg intersections in her truck, or the way we’d sneak out of a reading, ducking the dreaded Official Dinner afterwards — all felt lascivious, convulsive, and instantly legendary, because Amanda’s will determined that they should be so. My girlfriend at the time barely tolerated Amanda’s presence, but her presence in my life was a given — it was a given within the first few minutes.
In that spirit, Amanda also insisted, within the first weeks, that she and I would, on the Bonesy principle, have a unique and dual nickname for one another. I somewhat petulantly proposed “Lumpy.” I suppose I was instinctively asserting the provenance of my relationship with Maureen: who are you, redhead, to get a nickname out of me? Amanda shot me a ferocious stare, and adopted the name instantly, defiantly. We never again called one another by anything other than Lumpy or Lump. Really, this is not something I would do, or have done, with anyone else.
Lumpy’s rage and hunger and acquisitiveness were always beautifully passionate and undisguised, never unseemly or small, and never without self-conscious humor. But they could also never be overstated at a moment when recalling the real flavor of days spent in her presence feels too essential to betray. She willed ritual, and friendship, and real estate, and family, and matchmaking her friends, and art. Some things bent to that will better than others. Some things came only as she relinquished her hold. Some things confused and eluded her. I think now of her cross-eyed righteous fury at what wouldn’t bend. I cry now to know that I didn’t reward her slowly relaxing her hold on our friendship better than I did: we were out of touch in the past years. Our last visit wasn’t glorious — a harried meet-up in a bar in San Francisco. I was sick and in a lousy mood. Her wordless frustrated look as we parted there said only that she was certain that our next visit would be more fun, that I’d give it up eventually, this playing at being out of touch. I was her Lump, after all, even when I was really being a pill. Quite late I realize that when I thought I was indulging her, it was the other way around.
— Jonathan Lethem
I keep thinking of Mandy rushing in late to my brother’s wedding. It was the night before the ceremony, at the dinner before the big life-changing day, and we didn’t quite know where Mandy was. We were wandering around, processing the fact of his marriage (Married?! My brother?!), and Mandy was supposed to hold one of the posts of the chupah — the wedding canopy — and so we were wondering why on earth she wasn’t yet there. And then of course, predictably, she breezed in, probably with her sunglasses still on her head, pushing back the crazed curls, kissing everyone on the cheek and freely dispensing hugs, taking special pride in Josh’s wedding because she had known him longer than almost anyone else there, had been at his Bar Mitzvah, had always been around in our many years in Durham, always remained “Mandy” to us even after she had decided to grow into “Amanda.” And if anyone was ever frustrated by the lateness, it was dispensed with in about 25 seconds, because once she was there, it was impossible to keep remembering that she had been late. At this point, I cannot even remember why she was late, but I am quite sure that she told us the story with great laughter and amused self-deprecation. The truth is that once she was there, it was her presence that mattered and all you wanted was to keep that presence around.
Life glowed around Mandy and she was so generous as to palm that vitality off on those around her. To make even me, the lowly baby sister of a longtime friend of hers, feel that she wanted to talk to me. That no matter what my age and at whatever time, she would ask about me because she genuinely wanted to know. That when she saw me, she would desperately want to know what I was doing with my life and whether I was happy and whether she could help with anything. Even when I was young, I knew that in some small way I was important to Mandy. That she knew who I was and had confidence in what I would do. And that mattered. Still matters.
Two and a half years after losing another close friend, I am still chasing her smile. Still searching for a voice that I can hardly describe, much less hear every time I want to. Many will be chasing Mandy’s laughter, the sharpness of her wit, the trail of her curly hair, the sharp slow beauty of her writing, for many, many years. We do not build memorials to young people who die in accidents. But then, what use would Mandy see in such a monument?
Just as my group of friends has formed a memorial to my friend in the shape of the community that she formed between all of us (both during and after her ludicrously brief lifetime), I know that the wide swath of Mandy’s friends will form together (are forming, right now) the patchwork quilt of her memory and life that will be our own, personal, particular tribute to her. It is not and never will be enough, and yet it is essential.
— Zina Miller
I feel so lucky to have had Amanda in my life, and I miss her so much I feel sick.
I met Amanda several times before I really got to become friends with her. She was always at book parties supporting, truly celebrating (a rare thing among writers) the publication of her friends, or friend of friend’s books. Books — good books and great writing — were essential. She was an excellent literary citizen whose passion and generosity never failed to dazzle me. Someone needed help finding an agent, or selling a book, or wanted a blurb for their book, she was always there offering her support. She never shut the door on anyone. If she was invited to contribute to an anthology, she would make sure you were too. If she knew about a job, she wanted to help you get it. If she thought you should apply for a grant or a prize, she offered to write you a recomendation and, even though she was applying too, she’d cross her fingers for you. And she meant it.
After becoming fast friends at Bread Loaf years ago she cooked up a plan to combine two of her passions — books and her friends. Unlike many people, Amanda wanted her friends to know each other, she wanted everyone to be happy, for people she loved to make connections that would make their lives better. She started a book club that met monthly and became an occasion to sit around and drink wine and talk about books, but more than that talk about our lives. We laughed so hard the next day I was sore. When she left for the West Coast, we were happy for her success, but missed her terribly. Amanda was the linchpin, and so we stopped meeting.
Amanda had a talent for taking care of people. If she loved you she loved you fiercely. When I was blue she’d say to me, “Lady, I am going to take care of you. I am coming over there in my big white truck and I’m going to give you a Vicodin and take you out for food you’ll have to eat with your hands.”
And she would. She always did. She never broke a promise. She was generous beyond measure — when my car died and I was out of town she limped my blasted vehicle to a garage. When I was panicked about teaching a fiction writing workshop she sat on the phone with me for hours talking me through exercises and giving me practical advice like “Have them move their chairs into a circle, that way everybody can see each other and will feel safe. And if anyone gives you a hard time, throw them out.”
She had a talent for nurturing both friends and her students. When you felt like an idiot, she made you feel smart, when you despaired about your work she made you feel like you were the real deal. She taught her friend’s stories, and passed on any nice thing anyone ever said about you; she talked you up endlessly. When I sobbed to her that I sucked as a mother, she talked me down, convincing me that I could kick June Cleaver’s ass.
Every time she came to my house she brought my children gifts — the best sort — fake moustaches, an ancient Child’s Guide to the Constellations, origami papers, candy, jewelry and fabulous dress-up clothes. She got on the floor and played with my young son, let him climb on her like a jungle gym and despite his completely wild behavior always proclaimed that he was wonderful, a mad genius. My daughter loved Amanda like an aunt, making pictures for her signed always with: I love you. She marveled at her star tattoos and gorgeous hair. Anytime Amanda came over, if only to pick me up, she always made a special effort to sit down with my daughter, and asked her questions about her life, recommended books for her, whispered secrets in her ear.
When my daughter heard that Amanda was moving to California she burst into tears. “What will we do?” she asked, and then she said, “but she’s coming back, right?”
“She might,” I said. “I hope so.”
This cheered her.
“I bet she comes back,” she said. “I think she’ll miss us.”
I know we miss her.
I am so sad and so angry not only that I have lost Amanda, but that my daughter has too.
— Elissa Schappell
I am in shock. The last time I saw Mandy was at a reading she did at a Borders in NYC about three years ago. She read from a short story that was based on a camp that we both went to growing up. Her words brought back both the memories of being an awkward twelve-year-old at a sailing camp on the coast of North Carolina, as well as thoughts about how long we had known each other.
I met Mandy when she was about nine and I was ten but it wasn’t until high school that we became friends. I remember baking cookies in her kitchen, playing Nintendo in the den, shopping with her at the only two thrift stores in Chapel Hill, talking to her about her trip to Japan, so many things. We also went to Wesleyan together and saw each other frequently then too. That is a long time to know someone.
I am feeling such guilt now for not seeing her more often when we both lived in NYC. When we did meet our conversation often turned to things that were familiar to both of us from college and growing up — things that I wasn’t too comfortable thinking about or wanting to relive. I don’t feel like I ever got to know her as she became, which I am sorry about. It is amazing to read all of the postings on the site from some people who I know from Mandy’s earlier years and many that she encountered later on. She had such an impact on so many people’s lives. Her parents were so wonderful too — that makes this all the more difficult to take.
— Elise Effmann
I had just gotten to know Amanda. As I was saying good night to her at her birthday party a few weeks ago, I thought, this is someone with way too many thoughts in her head. Something about the way her eyes were wandering about, as if there was a pressure from within. It was an appealing look to me. Later, I was talking to someone about changing her name. Amanda leaned over to proudly let me know, “That’s my sister you’re talking to. Did you know that? That’s my sister.” Amanda looked so loving and somehow familiar. I was smitten.
Last week she sent me a nice note. I read it over and over and decided as soon as I got back from my trip to the mountains I would call her up. I hoped she would become my good friend. Instead, I heard about the crash.
I’m surprised to read such similiar sparks of friendship in these remembrances. She’d been having this same effect on people her whole life. I had no idea I was stepping into such a well-worn path. So many fortunate friends… and some are friends of mine that I had no idea knew Amanda too.
— Vivian Walsh
I cannot make my Amanda-recollections cohere: they only describe a constellation, not unlike that spray of stars I saw expand over the time I was lucky enough to have her friendship.
Amanda knew herself to be my Bitch Fairy: she knew because that’s what I called her, often leaving messages for her consisting of no more than “Bitch Fairy, help me, please!” And offered in the Dixie-fried accent that always seemed to thicken when I spoke with her. We’re both from the South, ambivalent emigrants, and her “Hey darlin’” always made me feel like I had an ally.
Of course, that was chief among her peculiar gifts, wasn’t it? Or, better yet, it was her ability to supplement the feeling and succor of friendship with the hard work it really requires. I met Amanda at a time when I was having my ass handed to me on a regular basis. She sympathized, and then she kicked me. “What do you want to do, Ray? How do you want to spend your time?” She asked me these questions when I least felt like answering them. She told me what I needed to hear without ever failing to tell me the truth.
When I received the galley of WWYMM, I read it immediately, and with the pleasure of seeing something small unfold into something elaborate and kind. I wallowed sometimes, and it pleased me to think that something similar was happening to Amanda herself, that this spitfire and hellion was finally getting a chance to radiate as she ought. I’m happy to have her words to recommend, and I’m devastated that I no longer have the girl herself to suggest. I had started to make a habit of flinging Amanda in the path of those who I knew would delight in her dynamic manias. And that’s just about everyone, I reckon.
I sent her a message recently, and we swapped stories about Athens and eating at the Grit. We share ink from the same tattoo studio there, and its name binds me to that experience and the experience I find myself walking around in now: Pain & Wonder.
— Raymond McDaniel
Last time I saw Amanda was at her going-away party prior to moving to California. Her parents were there; they’d been helping her pack up the moving van and all three of them had leftover moving stickers stuck to their chests that read “LOAD LAST.”
Luckily I moved out of New York two days after she did. She was inextricably bound to the city, and it would have been strange and lonely to be there without her. Picture New York, and here comes Amanda with her determined walk, in her red coat, and the purple hat, or the light blue one with the pompoms, and half a dozen bags and parcels hanging off her and the cell phone stuck to her head. The directions to her apartment were, “Get off the subway at Clinton/Washington and just head towards Zion.” Zion was the name of the church on the corner, but she liked to omit that part.
The thing I keep reminding myself of now, for consolation, is that I don’t think she had many regrets in life. She never left things undone. She never hesitated or held back or did anything half-heartedly. When she wanted to do something, she went and did it full-throttle. She couldn’t do small. She could only do spectacular. She didn’t know how to love small. She always loved big. Being her friend meant being the dazzled and overwhelmed recipient of huge, gigantic, tremendous love.
Oh, she always talked about wanting to rig up a trapeze in her Williamsburg apartment but never got around to it. And I think she wished she hadn’t bought a particular pair of unwearably uncomfortable sparkly silver sandals. But those are the only regrets I can come up with.
I remember when she got her tattoos, the small scattered galaxy of blue stars on her arms. She was enormously pleased with them. When she showed me, the first thing that popped out of my mouth was the typical chiding-parent response: “Aren’t you going to feel silly having those when you’re eighty?” She gave me one of her classic blank looks. Of course she wasn’t going to feel silly. It wouldn’t be silly. She was going to be the coolest eighty-year-old woman in the world.
Of course I automatically assumed we’d still be great friends in fifty years. It was something I could imagine perfectly clearly, the two of us being eccentric-old-lady-writers together, toddling around some city street or campus somewhere jabbering about books and work and grandchildren. I never doubted the inevitability of that vision. I think she made everyone feel that way. She wasn’t a temporary friend. When she swooped into your life she took up permanent residence. She wasn’t going anywhere.
— Judy Budnitz
She had magnetic charisma.
She was an exuberant Mama Bear.
She was honest and just looking at her you knew you could trust her with secrets.
She was a big flirt.
She had a mission to get Anthony and I to play tennis.
She mentioned it all the time.
She had great curly hair.
She was a great writer.
I knew Amanda in that social, joyful acquaintance way, from a couple weeks two years in a row at Bread Loaf, primarily. In the way that I encountered her she was enthusiastic about the triumphs of others, a gust of support and cheer. I can only imagine how lucky her students were at Mills, how dear she must have been to her friends and family. It’s how we are in the brief encounters with each other that best reveal our humanity. Her spirit need not wonder when she will be missed.
— Amy Holman
Amanda was never Amanda to me, just as I was never Marjory to her. I was Marje, and she was Mandy. No one else got away with calling me Marje, not even other friends from way back when I WAS Marje, when Mandy and I were growing up as strange weeds in a clay-filled New South landscape. In letters, I called her Mandarin or Schmendy or Mandarooni or Mandingo; I was Marjorooni or Schmarjory — endless permutations and possibilities, like Mandy herself.
After a few years of Davis-Ruderman family get-togethers and ALWAYS sharing the reject tables at each Bar and Bat Mitzvah, Mandy and I began to share laughs and sillinesses and Sunday School shenanigans and thrift shopping and loads and loads of coffee and bran muffins at the Ninth Street Bakery. Mandy was a bridesmaid at my wedding, where I noticed for the first time the Amanda she had become, confident, elegant, delightfully wacky, and beautiful.
Our friendship was not always easy, as it seems so many of her other friendships were. There was some kind of unexamined subtle tension beneath our friendship, one we never brought to light — something so small and inconsequential that we could giggle and it would blow away on our breath. Mostly we ignored it, and got on with the business of our friendship, because there was always time There was always time, so we continued to neglect each other these last few years. So you see, I’ve missed out on so much Big Love and Adventure. This is a lament for myself as much as a tribute to Mandy. I know she loved me, she knew I loved her, she was part of my family. But did she really know how important she was to me, and that I was proud of her, and that I admired how she became whatever she wanted to be by sheer force of will and talent? These are the things I was planning on telling her next weekend at the reunion we planned after her reading in Charlottesville. And I wonder what she would have said to me.
To whatever Mandy presence is still infusing the universe: Years ago, you gave me a copy of the book If You’re Afraid of the Dark, Remember the Night Rainbow. Now my heart has caught in my throat, and there’s no bird to ask how she sings. The light has gone out, but I know if it were you in my place you’d wear it around your neck and go dancing. I write to you what you wrote to me then: Mandy, “with the many possible spellings of your name, a happy everything to you. To visits and pictures and the wizard and horrible family get-togethers and years of temple and Sunday school trauma. I love you.”
— Marjory Ruderman
I wish we could all sit together and view our memories — Amanda wouldn’t mind if we sang something a little bit bluesy and got choked up. She would want us to laugh and use our secret Southern accents — the slight twang that was hers and showed up when she was indignant. I heard it in July as we grocery-shopped for the going away party — they didn’t have the multicolored cherry bomb popsicles! And our cart was getting full and we were nervous about the evening ahead… how would it go?
Amanda took us all by the hand. She really was the momma bear, as Heidi said. She was one of the most robust people I’ve ever met — robust in humor & intelligence & all-round love. Robust in an intensity which sometimes made me nervous — she was one of those people who simply radiates with emotion, and not just happiness, but the whole range of what it is to live & feel. What I would give for an afternoon in that old pick-up again — worried she might not be watching traffic as well as she should for all the talking we were doing — or to sit in the night grass in Vermont, lit by the party going on inside — a little bit drunk & giggling over the guffaw one of us just made. Amanda was someone who had your back in every way she could — whether it was writing, or love, or what-to-wear that evening? Just last winter, when I was adjusting to a move & a new apartment, she found me a most amazing & beautiful dog who needed a new home — it was like he & I needed each other and she just had a feeling about that. And she was completely right.
— Sheilah Coleman
I first met Amanda at Yaddo. I landed in from Dublin and got swept up in this amazing tizzy of enthusiasm because she and Anthony had just got back from Ireland and immediately it was did I know this place or that guy, had I seen this novel or that restaurant, been to this pub or walked that street… and for the most part I did and had, and one of the best friendships I’ve ever known was started. Bottles of wine got drunk and a party began with her crazy CD collection and that was it. For the next month we were each other’s sidekicks, and when the work was doing our heads in we’d get in her white truck and cruise to upstate New York — her mobile would be going off every five minutes (nearly always The Boy as she called Anthony). We found we had friends in common, and we babbled on about the books we loved and the men and the friends. You could talk to her about anything. One day she came to my room with this pile of pages, the manuscript of Wonder When You’ll Miss Me. She said she was nervous, but she wasn’t. She knew how good she was. She knew she had it. It was that innate self-belief mixed with her ballsiness and optimism and joyfulness that made her so irresistible and exciting to be with. We sat for five hours one day at the kitchen table writing the hundred odd words of blurb that appear in her dust jacket describing the book. It was a riot. But there was none of the “In this astounding and entrancing first novel, the outstanding Amanda Davis…” crap, she wouldn’t allow in any of the coked-up superlatives that people usually layer these things with, she just wanted the story to sound good, for the casual reader who picked it up to get it, to think “That’s for me, I’ll like this” and walk to the till with it. In between she fielded calls from California and interviewed for the Oakland job over the phone. She talked about her Dad and his plane and how he was thinking of flying her up to see her friends. He was really into it. She thought it was great. I thought it was great. I think I had visions of a Lear jet and cars on the tarmac and it seemed so far removed from this energetic, open, fun, gentle, no-bullshit dynamo that was Amanda. We kept in touch non-stop through e-mail and actual letters when I went back, and when I interviewed for a job in Chicago, it was Amanda on the phone five minutes before I went in telling me what to expect and not to give a damn. When I moved here two months ago it was Amanda who rounded up her Chicago friends to give me advice on where to live and where not to, and Amanda who was to be my first houseguest proper when she came through on the tour in April. Instead we’re all here doing this and thinking what a sick fucking title is on the cover of the best novel she’ll ever get a chance to write.
— Antonia Logue
So many of these postings have been about how sweet and wonderful Amanda was, and it’s true, she was sweet. Incredibly sweet. But she was also brutal, delightfully so. A couple of days before she died we were talking on the phone, and I was whining, like some kind of stereotypical Yuppie mother, about how my nanny was driving me crazy, that she was wafting around the house in this mood, and that I had just about decided that I couldn’t take it anymore, and that I was going to fire her. Francie yelled from the other side of the car (they were driving to a reading because the weather was bad), “You will not fire your nanny two weeks before you give birth.” I was planning on ignoring her advice, no matter how good it was, because, hell, Amanda always ignored her mother’s advice, and I always ignore my own mother’s advice, so I didn’t need to listen to Amanda’s mother, did I? But then Amanda said, “Excuse me. I have one thing I’d like to point out. If you were the nanny, you would be, like, a thousand times more sullen and snarky. You would be the world’s most obnoxious and angry nanny. You would make Carmen look like a goddamn ray of sunshine. So get over it.”
And I did.
I found out about Mandy and her parents a couple days ago. I had heard about her novel, and her short stories, and had been really happy for her. She was my next-door neighbor in Durham from when I was about eleven years old, and we shared a birthday. When my mom was sick and dying, her parents kept an eye on me and my brother. Her mom, Francie, was enormously generous and kind. I was sad when they moved to New York, because they were our favorite neighbors.
Mandy and I ended up at the same college, and at one point I assistant directed a play for her. She was a fabulous director, and had excellent judgment. It was a joy to cast with her, watch her blocking, everything. She was a fair and, as is rare in college theater, calm and consistently buoyant director. She’s the one who taught me my favorite pre-show warm up: measured chanting of, “You don’t have to be rich. To be my girl. You don’t have to be cool. To rule my world. Ain’t no particular sign I’m more compatible with. I just want your extra time and your. Kiss.”
Like everyone has said, a very funny, very sharp gal. I hadn’t heard that she moved to Oakland, which is a damned shame because I now live in Berkeley and I would have liked to have lunch with her. Because I haven’t seen Mandy and her parents in so many years, to some degree I can’t believe that they’re gone. But they are, and, well, there are too many clichés out there, and I’ll pick the simplest: I’m very, very, sorry. The world is less lovely because they’re gone.
— Susannah Paletz
I was Mandy’s first real boyfriend. Literally an hour before I found out she died, I was leaving my father’s house in Chapel Hill after dinner. My father and stepmother will soon move out after living there for over 20 years, and on my way out the door I was taking involuntary stock of my memories of the place.
Mandy was a diver. Literally. She was on the Jordan High School diving team. It is almost too literal to be a metaphor. Mandy dove into things. She was the first to make a fool of herself, the first to blurt out answers or questions, the first to have an opinion and the first to change it. The first to laugh and cry.
Our first date occurred by accident, after I sat in the backseat of Mandy’s old bruised red Volvo while she drove a mutual friend of ours to Winston-Salem. We started talking on the way back to Durham, and became so engrossed in conversation that an hour later we were in Mount Airy. Mandy had a great talent for getting lost — she threw her arms around getting lost, like the world was a great balloon she was trying to catch.
When the Davis family went to the beach we took two cars, and Mandy and I got lost again, somewhere near Garner. So we looked at a map and chose a long, extravagant backroad route. We stopped at an old plantation house whose lawn was festooned with thousands of pinwheels. Mandy was absolutely captivated by the sight of them twirling in the wind. She was all about motion and color, and those pinwheels spun like her mind and heart spun.
She walked so as to exaggerate her bowleggedness, and wore nonsensical clothes. When we went to her prom I had to wear a garish red and white polka-dotted cummerbund that matched the dress her mother made her, and there was absolutely no arguing this on my part. After we broke up she demanded I fulfill my promise to be her marshal at the debutante ball, and she didn’t care that I was surly at first and irremediably drunk later, nor that I thought she was crazy for being the only Jewish debutante. She was diving, splashing into life, and hurling me into the pool with her.
She was naive but fierce, sloppy but devoted, empathetic but sharp-eyed, a little prone to what in high school we called mushheadedness but keenly aware that mushheadedness was something we’d all have to outgrow if we were to achieve adulthood. It seems to me that her writing chronicles precisely that maturation.
— Adam Sobsey
Amanda knocked on my dorm room door our freshman year in college, for directions to the highway. She’d come to Providence to visit her high school boyfriend who had dumped her and left her sobbing in her car. As it turned out, he was my neighbor, and when she pulled herself together and realized she needed directions it happened to be my door she tried. We liked each other instantly. This is a story Amanda loved to tell, at every party in all the years since then that we have known each other, of how we met. Our paths crossed again and again and again in a series of weird coincidences that we always marveled at but that I’m sure that anyone who knew Amanda would recognize as the way the world always seemed to converge around her. A few years after college a mutual friend put us back in touch. I was in India applying to creative writing schools in poetry the same year that Amanda was applying for fiction. To all the same schools. We e-mailed back and forth, furiously, commiserating on the experience, holding each other’s hands, and writing about our lives in the process — my travels and her life in New York. I know that for me she became my lifeline, the person who bolstered my confidence, whose e-mails I anticipated most. So when I got to New York that summer, one of the first things I did was go see Amanda, who knew everything about everything and especially about New York, who had to give me directions to “Two Boots” on Ave. A, and as soon as her shift was over we got drinks at a bar across the street. We didn’t see each other often, turning up for birthdays or running into each other at book parties, where we would talk for hours on end so happy to have found ourselves in the same place. The last time I saw her alone, we had a brunch of biscuits and grits and went shoe shopping — celebrating I can’t remember what. We both bought boots. And the last time I saw her, on Saturday, March 8, I remember noticing the familiar star tattoos climbing up her arm, thinking yes, here is my friend Amanda. So alive and so on top of the world. We talked about her excitement over the book tour, about her parents coming, too. We were celebrating Anthony’s birthday. I had brought my new boyfriend. I was telling her how kind he was to me and we looked over at Anthony, and Amanda said “Isn’t it great to be grown up?” and we laughed and squeezed each other, so aware of how far we both had come.
— Anjali Singh
I was fortunate to spend two consecutive New Years Eves with Amanda Davis. Amanda of the sparkly shoes, of the star tattoos, of the soft pale skin and corkscrew curls, and spectacular rings on her long pointy fingers. I was fortunate to be with big-eyed and and big-hearted Amanda while we ushered in two new years.
The first was 2000 in the Catskills and our hosts seemed to be regretting having guests. It was freezing outside and everyone was getting the flu and we kept exchanging giddy glances. As I remember it, we were both trying to keep up the level of fun, but it was Amanda who had brought the peas. “Black-eyed peas at midnight!” she called out, repeatedly. “It’s a southern tradition. Everyone has to eat them! Everyone has to eat them!” While it was certainly the best part of the night, there were many peas left in the pot by morning and I had a fever of 104.
The following year, miles from the Catskills, down at the bottom of the Baja peninsula, she was undeterred. Amanda produced an enchanting little packet — she’d brought the peas with her. We had a huge party. It was warm and there were palm trees and many tiny candles along the patio. I remember a piñata and dancing and I remember giggling madly with Amanda about something I’ll never remember, but most of all I remember Amanda calling out “Black-eyed peas at midnight! It’s a southern tradition! Everyone has to eat them!” and I remember looking around in a happy daze and seeing so many people — most of whom Amanda had never met before — gathered all around her. The crowd was devouring peas. They scooped up peas with tortillas; they made wishes on those peas. They devoured those beautiful black-eyed peas with a force that I’ll always think of as Amanda’s force. A force called glee.
— Joanna Hershon
Amanda and I graduated from the same high school some years apart and she and my younger brother attended the same college. We didn’t meet during the years we both lived in Durham. That fact wounded me when I finally did meet her, and pains me more so now.
I read Circling the Drain and, discovering our shared history, tracked down an e-mail address for her and wrote her one day. She was very kind and warm and open in her reply. I was immensely taken with her.
I was just saying to my wife that I hadn’t heard from her in the week since my last e-mail to her, but that she was on her book tour and I was sure she’d reply once it wound down. I was looking forward to talking to her about Wonder When You’ll Miss Me, which I’d just finished; the high school in which the book begins seemed vaguely familiar…
— Dan Fowlkes
It was the beginning of the semester and there was a “getting to know you” mixer. Amanda sent an e-mail saying she would be driving and would give anyone interested a lift. I took her up on her offer and I walked to her house which was up this crumbly hill and I was wearing heels and she immediately started making fun of my footwear.
We stopped at a grocery store to buy beer and I was just so intimidated by her — here is this beautiful, funny woman with this quick edge and she thinks my shoes are silly (they were) and I’m buying this beer and I hope she thinks this is good beer (she did). Then she goes and buys us both Wonder Balls — you know, those crappy little chocolate balls with crappy Sweet Tarts inside. We ate them in the car and she talked about how when they first came out they had little plastic toys inside but American kids kept eating them.
Amanda was a total hard ass — she expected total devotion to the craft of writing and anything less than that was unthinkable. “This is graduate school. You’re supposed to be working your ass off!” she would say whenever we complained about the amount of reading or writing she expected us to do. It was hard to argue with her because she was always working her ass off too. And yet somehow she had the time to read everything new and somehow had the time to usher you into her office and shut the door and hear about the scene you couldn’t figure out or the paper that was going to be late.
This semester she was supervising my independent study of graphic novels. I thought that for once I’d be able to know a little bit more than her but no. She was always asking me “Have you read so-and-so? They’re amazing, they’re great, read them, I’ll e-mail them, maybe they’ll come and meet with you.”
Her work ethic was gargantuan. She worked so much and so hard and yet always wanted to know about my life, everyone’s life around her. I learned so much about writing from her, things that I’ll use every day of my writing life. I’m shocked that she’s gone and Mills has been robbed of an amazing force. She loved writing and writers and she drove me crazy with how hard she wanted me to work, crazy because I knew she was right.
— Natalie Chenault
The first image of Amanda I ever had was of her wrestling a man about seventeen feet taller than her into a chair for a haircut long overdue (or was it the beard that had to go?). We were at Bread Loaf and hadn’t yet met, and I was in awe of her capacity to surround herself with fifty plus people while shaving a poet and entertaining a crowd. We met later at the Writers’ Room, swapping stories and hanging out in the locker room during a party. She emptied half of her locker into mine; she wanted to give me everything that night — Geek Love (which she was too tempted to read before she finished writing her novel about the circus), notes she had taken that could help me with my book, and advice. Mainly advice. I was about to leave the country for one year to travel with the Cirque du Soleil. She was the one person to whom this news was not novel. She had been with Bindlestiff and she needed to tell me things. We sat in the locker room for over an hour, a bottle of wine between us while I took mental notes and she told me what was what.
There are people you become best friends with for a night, a week, or a lifetime. Amanda was one of those people. People felt good about themselves around her; there was always a connection. She had energy fields surrounding her that people gravitated toward. She was one size fits all. No matter your age, she was older. She was the perennial big sister: giving, resourceful, helpful, nurturing and honest. No matter how peripherally she was in your life, her presence was felt.
The world seems a little less safe without her in it — precarious and foreign like a baby dropping from the rafters. I think now, she was too good for a world like this, one that couldn’t catch her when she was the one that needed a net.
Man. I miss her.
— Amanda Stern
Who had a greater capacity to see the goodness in people than Amanda Davis? It was so pure, not a shtick, not caring as sublimated neediness — she was a true empath, one of the most instinctively caring people I’ve ever known. She had a massive heart, and that came through in everything she did — certainly in her work, which brings to life on the page a range of characters far afield from Amanda herself but connected to her by a strong, beautiful umbilical cord of empathy and motherwit. I think we all felt connected to that same umbilical cord; it stretched across the country, and was a constant source of sustenance. You always knew Amanda was there in the world, and you were part of the same tribe. Because there was no co-op board review to get in under the big, candy-colored circus tent Ms. Davis had pitched herself in this world; it was always open, the music always playing. Send clowns! Who will send the clowns now? The ridiculous thing is, she had truly arrived at a beautiful place, truly come into her powers as a writer, seen out in the world a marvelous novel that was if anything just a potent foretaste of what was to come, settled into a new home that agreed with her in every sense, was in a splendid groove with a marvelous man who loved her as much as she loved him. “Hey mister!” She was a beautiful, beautiful spirit, and I will miss her terribly.
— Scott Moyers
I met Amanda at Bread Loaf in 1998, a place I showed up at late, feeling awkward and out-of-place. It was my first time east of Detroit and my first time in a big gathering of writers and though I always considered myself kind of outgoing, I was petrified by the New England erudition in the air, and for some reason couldn’t really talk to anybody. Sometime after the first dinner (I was a waiter and served the food), Amanda caught me on my homesick way to the payphone. She introduced herself, and when I heard her name, I said the only dumb thing I could think of, which was, “Oh, Amanda, that’s my wife’s name,” and she smiled. That kind of calmed me down. Then she said she wanted a quote for something called The Crumb. I had no idea what she meant. She explained she was editing the Bread Loaf newsletter. She was enthusiastic and kind and patient all at once. She talked fast, and I instantly loved her voice. I, still wearing an apron, I think, stammered out something that I’m sure was dull and stupid, and she said “Great!” and took off. After that, she started to see me around the daunting, legend-haunted place, and every time, she’d say hello and know my name. If she was walking around with somebody, she would introduce them to me as well. Within a few days, I felt at home on that mountain, since she’d pretty much introduced me to whole damn place, and eventually that enthusiasm must’ve seeped into my bones, because I have memories of being a real happy clown the rest of the trip.
A year later, I’d shown up in Manhattan (my first time, of course) and feeling again overwhelmed and out of sorts. It was Amanda who organized a night out, with a crew of writers more famous and smarter and cooler than me; she was treating me like I was some foreign dignitary rather than some unpublished bookseller she’d met in Vermont. I remember calling a friend to ask about the evening’s plans, and that friend said, “Oh, do you have Amanda’s cell phone number? Yes? Then you’re all set. She’ll take care of everything.”
Indeed, she did.
In recent months, Amanda and I reconnected. She responded with a congratulatory note to some mass e-mail I sent out about a new job and contact information. She offered the only personal reply I remember. I asked how she was, and she told me about her new book. She remembered that she had the same name as my wife and asked how my Amanda was doing. She asked about Wisconsin, a place nobody from the coasts ever remembers is my home, let alone asks about. I was amazed at her memory, but also at a heart that was so big she could hold information about so many people in there. When a galley of her new book arrived a few weeks later, I was happy to see it and started reading right away. I think that package was full of the enthusiasm and certainty that Amanda simply radiated, and although I didn’t see her often or talk to her on a regular basis, it was always good to know she was out there, doing good work while holding a whole world of writers in her capable, busy hands and in her beaming, brilliant, room-for-everybody heart.
— Dean Bakopoulos
I met Amanda because she’d reviewed my first novel and called it andrenalized. You’ve got to meet people who use words like that and so we did and right away fell into the big brother, tough little sister friendship. She offered advice and punched me on the arm after too many drinks and long waits on dirty subway platforms. She was funny and direct with a dark bitter edge that had the effect of drawing you into her little mysteries. If she called and wanted to meet for drinks or arrange some mismatched dinner party at a French bistro I couldn’t afford — I did as I was told and surrendered to her world or else. That corkscrewed brown hair, wicked grin and natural inner sanctum cool were formidable guns that she had no problem turning on you to get her way. In return she gave off the buzz of a person ripping through life, adrenalized in a hurry but with time to spare just for you.
The last time I saw her was at a house warming party she threw to celebrate her scary and adult purchase of an apartment in Brooklyn. We arrived unfashionably early, and at her urging had brought our four-year-old daughter, Sophia, with us. Amanda met us at the door in some spangly dress, ruby Oz shoes with party sparkles on her face. My daughter took one look at Amanda and was utterly star struck. She took Sophia’s hand and led her around the apartment, shared her sparkles, and answered every one of my daughter’s questions even as other guests arrived. My daughter quivered and thrilled and didn’t stop talking about the magic that was Amanda for months afterward. A year after we’d left Brooklyn, Amanda in her ruby shoes and sparkles was how my daughter chose to remember the city.
— Elwood Reid
A word about happy endings. In life, they don’t exist. Amanda Davis could get seriously sappy at times, in life and in fiction — and that’s a good thing — but she did not specialize in happy endings. She knew that the end of anything is going to suck. It’s worse than good-bye; it’s the absence of good-bye. For all who knew her, it’s the dreadful truth that we’ll never see her head of wildly curly hair again, never hear her call us by our surnames, in that marvelous way she had, never sit down to a meal she cooked, never again taste her spectacular sautéed kale.
She told me the key to making the kale was that you wash the leaves, but don’t dry them. First you sauté some garlic in oil in a big frying pan, then you add some chile sauce, the kale and cover. She told me the water clinging to the kale turns to steam and aids in cooking. That’s the trick. She also added salt and a dash of vinegar at the end. Amanda said the brand of chile sauce was crucial, but now, goddammit, I can’t remember which one she used, only that it definitely wasn’t Tabasco.
Amanda had a fat old cat named Gander who had just died, which broke her heart, and a little black one called Pickle. Pickle! Amanda could be funny, goofy, gossipy, and she could also be fierce, when the occasion demanded. She was a wonderful person to be outraged with — she would take up your cause and scream her head off, on your behalf. She had a real sense of honor. She had a sparkling silver sweater that made anything she wore look fabulous. She had a rubber statue of Marge Simpson dangling from her rear-view mirror, which I always thought of as an embodiment of her sense of humor.
When I think about the convergence of her life and her art, I get pretty mad. Her two books are not nearly enough. She was thirty-fucking-two. What about the third book, the fourth? But I’ve been rereading her, since Saturday, when I heard, and it’s one of the few activities that cheers me up. Amanda’s characters have a difficult time of it. They’re plagued by crimes they have committed or been victims of, they grapple with unfathomable loss, they witness and suffer accidents, they are walloped by all sorts of abnegation, self- and otherwise. She didn’t write autobiographically; she wrote about all our lives — about, as she once put it to me, “this here real world of ours.” She had thought through the kind of thing that happened to her, last Friday, uncannily many times in her work, and I keep looking to her words to see what she would make of this, but there’s a problem. Because while Amanda abjured the simple happy ending as unrealistic, she did indulge in hope. She knew a hell of a lot about redemption. She turned the difficulty of the world into something manageable by the words she wrote. That’s not available to us, with her loss. Without her here to write on, to make sense of it, the bitter irony of her death has no redemption. It’s just meaningless and crude.
“Big love,” was the way Amanda often signed her letters. In her inscription in my copy of Circling the Drain, I got “Big Brooklyn love.” That’s the thing that I will miss the most of Amanda Davis: her big Brooklyn love.
— Elizabeth Gaffney
I had a big crush on Amanda before I met her. It started at a reading she did at the National Arts Club. I loved the story (“The Very Moment They’re About”) she read. I loved her hair. She was wearing this crazy stiff-taffeta-like jacket, sort of swirled around her, bottle-green, luminous (something bad later happened to that jacket — it melted or something — but in my memory it’s the be-all, end-all of fashion. Like its wearer, I’d never seen anything like it before, nor have I since). After the reading I heard her talking to someone and I loved the cadence of her speech. So I had a glass of wine and kind of lurked around her. Then I had another glass of wine and the evening became a kind of swoon. Finally I left. I felt about fourteen years old and I had to figure out how to meet her.
Later, I did meet her. It turned out we had mutual friends. Finally, we were introduced at a book party in an overly-hip bar. I don’t remember whose book party. We huddled in a dark corner, drank strange mixed drinks, and exchanged life stories. We debated: had our mutual friend deliberately kept us apart, because our brilliance as friends was threatening? We dismissed this idea on the basis that we were not, in fact, the center of everyone’s universe. She gave me her card, which was charming, curious, like the calling card of a fairy godmother. I gave her my card, which was corporate and easily could have been mistaken for the business card of a pharmaceutical sales representative or something else equally earthbound.
And then the e-mailing began. And the adventures followed. And lots of drinks. And the phone calls, during which Amanda took whatever cockamamie plan I’d come up with, whatever new nonprofit I wanted to start or project I wanted to work on, and took it apart, asked questions, made suggestions, rewrote sentences, until what was left was a stronger, sharper, more urgent thing. She left her job, and made gutsy choices. I left publishing and went back into politics, and nonprofit work, and I was self-conscious, I felt not very literary and worried I was getting boring. Amanda made me feel as if my work not only mattered but amazed her! Shocked her! Delighted her! She’d e-mail me about things she read about in the newspaper and query me in person as if I understood a wonderful mystery.
Then there was our trip, and from that came Book Group. The books took a backseat, at our book group, but the women that Amanda gathered together were like an oasis. Long evenings of wine and food and talk that sent my mind racing and made me feel as if I’d come home to something. I think about her, sitting around the table, pouring wine, laughing, egging us on, all the time now. And I remember the Sunday brunch when she first brought Anthony around. She looked simultaneously dazed and completely a-buzz, as if she were attuned to some other energy in the room. She looked exhausted and beautiful and I couldn’t stop looking at her and grinning.
Amanda was so game, so genuine, so… there. I never stopped being as captivated by her as I’d been that first time I saw her. It seems as if she was e-mailing all of us constantly, judging from the stories we are all telling. She’d pop up on my screen or my cell phone, and always the first thing she’d say was a long, drawn-out version of my name, “Bluuuuueeeee-stein!” I wish I’d saved one of her messages; I can’t imagine that anyone else will every say hello in quite the same way.
— Jen Bluestein
Last December, my Swedish mother was pestering me to come to the annual Swedish arts and crafts holiday fair held one Saturday morning in the basement of a large San Francisco church. I’d been to it a hundred times, and didn’t want to go yet again. I thought of who I could bring with me who wouldn’t complain and might actually think it was fun. I called Amanda.
“I’m TOTALLY there,” she said.
At the fair, Amanda of course made friends with the woman selling cow-haired clogs (Amanda had a thing for footwear) and in her Amanda way got into a ten-minute conversation with an older woman with a walker, about George Bush.
Amanda talked to four of my mother’s Swedish friends about how she had spent the first couple years of her life in Sweden when her father, a professor, had accepted a temporary position at a university. Meanwhile, her mother spent her days there taking care of Amanda and trying to teach herself Swedish by watching TV. When Amanda’s mother went out to dinner with Amanda’s father and his Swedish co-workers one night, she insisted on ordering in Swedish, and ended up ordering a ‘large, well-built man.’
Amanda couldn’t tell this story without cracking herself up.
Amanda left with presents for all those she cared about: dill mustard for her boyfriend, Anthony, and a dessert called ‘vacuum cleaners’ that she was going to take to dinner with Ayelet and Michael. She was so excited about the fair, and about her purchases. She bought nothing for herself.
“Thanks so much for inviting me,” she said when we left. “I had the BEST time.”
— Vendela Vida
Of course I met Amanda as the solution to a problem I was having — I was in a quandary and two separate people gave me her phone number and told me she was the person to talk to, we met for drinks and from that night forward until the night of Saturday, March 8, the last night I saw her, Amanda advised me on buying laptops and navigated me through my harrowing attempt to buy an apartment, Amanda rah-rah-ed me into finishing my book and took me to the only Cambodian place in Brooklyn, Amanda always stayed more sober than I was so that she could drive me home from the bar we were in, happened to get me my current and only job, tried tirelessly to get me others, in fact shared every single lead she ever pounced on that might make either of us any money, and would have, I am sure, roared up to my apartment in her truck with some kind of monkey wrench over one shoulder if my radiators had exploded. And through all this she was most importantly my friend, one of the best friends I’ve made in this period of supposed adulthood, when it seems that everyone you’re close to you’ve known for years, gone to college with, gone to your first colony with, when life feels too busy to forge fresh intimacies — but Amanda was an exception to that. She got in right away, and I hardly noticed the change, because I felt like I’d always known her.
What I didn’t know was that there was any possibility I wouldn’t see her today. “See you next week!” we all said at the end of that night. “I can’t wait to see you next week!” I guess this is the nature of sudden untimely and horrible death. No one on the sidelines ever sees it coming. I find it, frankly, sort of fucking ludicrous. The past several days I have been checking my e-mail for a message from Amanda — this has not seemed completely unlikely. Sometimes my e-mail does weird things, hangs onto messages in a vaporous limbo and then dumps them into my box. But there was nothing to e-mail about — we had just seen each other, we’d be seeing each other today. At less lucid moments I want to call her. Amandalanda, I’d begin seriously. Being secretly prone to infantile behavior, I enjoyed adding nonsense suffixes to her name. Most of all I want to write her a letter, not this kind of letter, that everyone sees, but a letter she’d actually get. There, in that place that she is that I desperately hope isn’t lonely. Do you have any idea how we miss you? I’d say. We didn’t have a chance to tell you before.
Yesterday I didn’t know what to do with myself and ended up walking around in complete confusion, until I had blisters, from one neighborhood in Brooklyn to the next; at some point I glanced down one of the straightaway avenues that lead from Park Slope into Clinton Hill via Prospect Heights — Underhill maybe, or Vanderbilt — and instinctively thought, as I often have driving on the BQE and passing the same area from another direction, Amanda Lives There. Amanda Lives There, in that weird gothic building, across from the bright yellow storage facility. Amanda lives there with her cats, clickety-clacks away in the writing loft, finally wraps up her work for the day and comes out to meet us.
— Susan Choi
Amanda was gifted with kids. She was an entertainer, and would do anything for a laugh, and knew what was fun — what was really, actually fun for a kid. There are people who bend over to pat a kid on the head, and there are people who squat down to look into a kid’s eyes. Amanda was definitely a squatter.
We were all at a wedding in Toronto a few years ago. It was in a rural area, outdoors, under a tent, and it started in the early evening and went late. By around 11 it was clear that the kids at the reception — there were about five girls all under twelve — were getting bored.
Next thing you know, while everyone else is on the dance floor doing regular adult-dancing, Amanda has all the girls in some kind of dance-circle, and she’s leading them in a series of bizarre maneuvers. They’re all holding hands, and running in one direction, and then the other direction. Then she makes them all fall to the ground. Then stand up. Then they have to skip with their ear to their shoulder. Then they have to get on the ground and kick their legs in the air. Then they have to cluck like chickens. Then hop around. Then hula-hoop without any hula hoops. Then run around again, this time holding their noses. The girls were giggling like mad.
By this time, everyone else at the wedding had stopped doing what they were doing, and were watching Amanda and the girls. It was hysterically funny, not just because a grown woman and five girls were on their backs on the dancefloor kicking their legs around like overturned lobsters, but because you could see Amanda calculating just what move would be next. While all the girls were shrieking, and all the wedding guests were watching and laughing, Amanda’s eyes were like an athlete’s, focused and intense. She had more manuevers to invent! What would be next?
If memory serves, it was a kind of drunken-elephant dance.
I don’t know if anyone talked to Amanda much that night, after she got started with the girls.
One day Amanda came over to our house with a gingerbread house kit. We made it out of gingerbread cookies and frosting that was unedible, but Amanda ate the frosting anyway. We decorated it with candy, like M&Ms and Skittles. Amanda let us eat the Skittles even though Mommy said no. Amanda ate the skittles too. We didn’t put on the cotton ball for the chimney smoke. We put on the unedible frosting, and gum drops, and we made little people out of the gingerbread stuff. And then we finally ate it. It didn’t taste so good, but it was fun to make. And she let us eat it, too.
We played this cool drawing game with her, and we made challah with her, her mom, and her sister.
We loved her.
— Zeke and Sophie Chabon
I didn’t know Amanda that well. We met at a writers conference and I was so taken with her that I couldn’t stop talking about her, which made my wife jealous. We traded e-mails, hung out in NYC a time or two. When I lived in Pennsylvania she decided that I should meet her brother, who lived only an hour or so away. She was sure that he and I would hit it off and did everything she could to arrange a meeting. She sent me his address, had me call him, even scheduled times and dates, but it never happened. I always had an excuse. She expressed her annoyance with me in that scratchy voice of hers, with her trademark mixture of generosity and sarcasm: “I’m really glad you won’t take the time to meet him, I mean, you two might become good friends and have all kinds of wonderful adventures and that would be the last thing you’d ever want, right? It’d get in the way of all those wonderful books you’re going to write.”
I hope I get to meet her brother someday. If I ever do, I’ll tell him what I’m sure he already knows: that his sister was an uncommonly funny and big-hearted woman, a rare and beneficent force in this world.
— Brady Udall
Amanda gone? Nah — not Amanda. Not that girl! Too big-hearted, too bouncy, too funny, too sweet, too goofy, too playful, too smart, too wiser-than-her-years for her to be gone. I kept thinking today, after hearing this preposterous, hideous news, that Amanda would have been the one to write something about this, to observe with her bright, cracked, affirmative voice, about the strange story of the buoyant girl who fell from the sky…
I met Amanda at Bread Loaf. We became fast, happy pals. I just adored her. We had many, many plans of things to we wanted to do together, most of which we never quite got around to, and some which we did — the master/sheep dress-up contest at the Columbia County Fair having been perhaps the most entertaining of them, and one which we marveled over and giggled about (those Bo Peeps!!) many times since.
I just loved her — loved her happy, wacky spirit and her warm soul. She was a pretty exceptional person, full of great big emotions and enormous love for her family, her friends, writing, reading, everything. She once stayed on the phone with me for hours, literally into the middle of the night, when I was despairing over a love affair. She never flagged. I was the one who finally suggested we should hang up and get a few minutes of sleep. She called me the next morning to check in, because she was a sport. I miss her already.
— Susan Orlean
If anyone ever had the privilege of sitting at dinner with Amanda and Anthony, you were in for some brain-swelling. You know how when you laugh too hard your brain starts trying to escape from the back of your skull? How it starts hurting too much and you have to hide under the table for a few minutes to collect your breath? That was what it was like with the two of them. Amanda was a Borscht-Belt type, all one-liners and exaggerated stories and self-deprecation. Anthony’s wit is dry, muttered out of the side of his mouth with a sly roll of the eyes. Together they were deadly. You could see them as some Vaudeville duo, like Jerry Stiller and Anne O’Meara — always killing you with jokes but also very obviously in love, with each other and with how great they were together.
One amazing thing about reading these postings is just how EASY it is to picture everybody else’s stories of that Amanda-specific energy and goodwill. There she is: bustling around the internet or the world, forwarding me job tips and apartment tips, always keeping track of which I was searching for at any given time; I didn’t even know her that well.
Here’s what I’m picturing: we’re at a birthday party at Brooklyn restaurant. I mention needing a job and there’s Amanda in the middle of dinner whipping out her palm pilot and getting a list together of people for me to call, or introducing me with confidence to writerly people in all those moments when all I could figure out how to work was the free wine and cheese.
Just this winter we were at MacDowell together and had the time to really talk about writing. I’d never really heard her talk craft like that before and get all excited about her favorite books and how she was working her way into the new things she’d begun. And of course when I got stuck in my own work, she just took me downtown and we giggled and stomped around the supermarket — the hottest night spot we could find at the hour. “You just need animal crackers, girl” and she insisted on buying me some in their funny little circus box and then she sent me back to work. The cures she knew!
It’s so easy to picture that kind of thing — and the way she’d grab your hand and run you out to show you whatever she had in the trunk of her car. We did a reading together and she bought this completely fabulous and ridiculous Barbie ice cream cake at Friendly’s to celebrate the evening, and of course, it was big enough for everyone to share.
— Merrill Feitell
“Hey Mister!” the note on the postcard read. “x A.” It was Saturday, March 15th, and the only interesting mail was the postcard announcing tour dates for Amanda’s novel, Wonder When You’ll Miss Me. I had just returned from a road trip to New Orleans, where I’d spotted a stack of her book in a French Quarter bookstore, and I decided to e-mail her the great news: her beautiful postcard, her book in stores in towns she might never see. I told her about the border collie I’d picked up along the highway in Mississippi, and attached a picture of my own two dogs before apologizing for the size of the file.
I didn’t know she was already gone.
Amanda moved to California a week before I moved to Florida, and after attending her farewell party I realized it would be redundant to have one of my own. If you knew Amanda, everything in your life overlapped eventually and completely. The difference was that in Amanda’s life, the same things had more spark. When we first met, I was a pizza eater and she was a waitress, identities that lasted about 30 seconds before we started talking about being writers — which neither of us was quite yet. Amanda was always a step or four ahead of me, which sometimes made me jealous, but always made it clear to me where it was I wanted to be going. And she seemed capable of being ten people at once, like one of those character actors playing multiple roles in the same production.
Since we had both left town, Amanda took the form of a box on the upper left of my computer screen, a box named “ginbetty.” She would burst onto my screen out of nowhere, asking how Florida was, how was teaching, how was the novel coming along. We were always comparing notes, pushing each other, trying out titles on each other, taking turns not being the one holding their breath about something. Once, when I’d been having trouble settling on even a temporary name for the central character — the one who outlasts the rest — in the novel I’d been struggling with, Amanda Davis said, “Call her Amanda.” She meant til something better comes along, but even if everything else changes, Amanda will be there, on the page, til the end.
— Ken Foster
When I was first getting to know Amanda a few years ago, she had a part-time job teaching literature to single people. It was a class specifically for singles, sponsored, I think, by the 92nd Street Y.
“That’d be a good idea for an article,” I said when she first told me.
“Don’t even think about it!” she said. “I’m all over that idea.”
Amanda would invite me over for dinner and while teaching me how to do strange things to spinach in a microwave oven, give me updates on her student’s interest in each other, as well as their comments about the book they were reading for class. She’d be disappointed when a student hadn’t particularly liked a book she loved, but pleased if a man and a woman in the class had BOTH not liked a book. That, to Amanda, was promising.
The last time I saw Davis was through my bedroom window. She and I share a birthday, and we’d had a dinner party that night. She and Anthony had come over early to help cook and stand around the kitchen laughing our asses off. Everyone stayed late and sat around laughing their asses off and then finally the party was over and Davis and Anthony and my wife and I changed out of our fancywear and cleared the table and scrubbed the pots and laughed our asses off and carried the extra table back down to the garage, a complicated maneuver involving opening the garage door. Then she and Anthony said goodbye and got into Davis’s cool car which was parked in our driveway and there they noticed that we’d left the garage door open. It was the middle of the night. The thing to do was climb back up my front steps and ring the doorbell and tell me, but instead Davis had the plan of running inside and pressing the button to close the garage door and then running out as it grumbled shut. The problem was an electric eye that wouldn’t let you do this. It stopped the door. Amanda tried again and again, and I heard this rough stutter of the door trying to shut over and over and stopping itself. I looked out the window and saw her darting in and out of my garage and laughed my ass off, and then finally she said “Just go ring the doorbell” and Anthony went and rang the doorbell and I shut the garage door and we waved and they went home.
It was the last time I saw her but I heard from her after that because she always writes great thank-you notes, the kind you keep out on the kitchen counter until you spill something on them and then you throw them in a drawer so you can stumble across them sometime and read them again and crack up. Davis was the only person I met who also knew the rule about thank-you notes: don’t start them with “thank you.” Start them with something else and save “thank you” for later and the note writes itself. Amanda Davis knew how to write well and she knew how to thank people and she knew how to fill a room with people laughing their asses off. She knew how to make great gingerbread and she knew how to be a good editor and a good friend at the same time, and she knew it. What she didn’t know, I guess, was that you can’t outrun the electric eye that came with my garage door and I hate this world’s mechanical objects that are supposed to keep you safe but don’t.
— Daniel Handler
About a month ago a bunch of us were on our way to a party high above Haight Street. Amanda was coming from Oakland, and we knew parking near the party would be difficult, so we planned to meet at a gas station about six blocks away. We could park one car there and drive together to the house.
My car stalled at the gas station, so when Amanda arrived, we needed a jumpstart. I called her while she was still on the Bay Bridge, and I can’t say I didn’t detect a hint of glee in her voice, as if this jumpstarting would be equally or more exciting than any given party.
She arrived in her blue Beetle, glowing and ready to go. But she didn’t have cables. Amanda had just bought this new Beetle, and it was immaculate and she was very proud of it. She showed us all its features, and the tiny strange engine in the front, and we had an intense discussion about why it is that all Beetle owners have and keep that flower in the dashboard. But we all agreed that if Volkswagen had an ideal Beetle-owner in mind when they made and marketed that funny and beautiful car, it was Amanda. And she knew she looked right in that car.
Finally, together we found some old cables in my trunk, but when we attached them to her battery, nothing happened. We deduced that the cables were bad, and that we needed to find some good ones. So we spent the next half-hour flagging down every last motorist who entered the parking lot. Actually, Amanda did all the flagging, and all the talking. Amanda was fearless, and saw this little problem — and every little problem and big ones too — as her own, and into every last quandary she jumped with a glee that bordered on weird. The searching for cables had turned into some kind of Amanda show, one that had her sprinting (with her funny run) across the parking lot every time a new and unwitting driver pulled in. While wearing her party clothes. While making jokes. While telling stories about teaching at Mills. While complaining about the publishing world. While raving about Anthony. While explaining why, last time we were at her house, she had a whole collection of those Naked London, Naked New York books in her bathroom. While being proud of her younger sister, an artist who used Amanda’s garage as her studio. While making fun of everyone, herself first. It was a stand-up comedy show in the parking lot at Fell and Masonic, while looking for a jumpstart.
But no one had cables. Twenty drivers and no cables. Until a huge black Lincoln Continental, c. 1983, pulled in. In seconds Amanda was with the owner, a young Russian man with a mullet, wearing a pinstriped suit. From a distance, we could see him shaking his head; he didn’t have cables, couldn’t help. But she was relentless, and too charming to be resisted. She brought him over by the hand; he suddenly looked like a child she was disciplining.
He glanced at the car and asked us why we hadn’t just pushed it, popped the clutch, etc. We told him that none of us had ever done that. He rolled his eyes. Amanda, who for many years had owned a truck, insisted we could do it. We needed another guy to help push the car, so Amanda found a man in a SUV and dragged him over, too. As the Russian guy sat in the car, the SUV man, Amanda and I pushed the car up the slope of the lot, and then down the hill, whereupon the Russian man popped it into second gear and the car started. After 45 minutes in the lot — during which we were having a pretty damned good time, I have to say — it seemed like some kind of damned miracle. We parked Amanda’s car around the corner and went to the party, where Amanda held forth and talked about the hassles surrounding her new book coming out.
I don’t know why that story came to mind. I guess it’s the most recent, and put a finger on how insane she was about being THE ONE to get everyone’s problems fixed. If she was close to it, she would solve it. No matter if she was older or younger than you, she was everyone’s eccentric aunt, everyone’s favorite eccentric aunt who could save you from anything.
— Dave Eggers
The summer I met Amanda we were in Vermont, at a writer’s conference, and one of the routines of each day was the evening reading by the writing fellows, which included the two of us. On her night she got up to read what she admitted was a rough story, but she prefaced the show with a few jokes and smiles to get people out of that literary reading malaise. It was a warm day, evening sun still going, and we were indoors, so there was an even chance that the audience would be thinking about laying in the grass as much as anyone fiction.
But Amanda was on point, it was a piece she’d read plenty of times before so she knew how to take it easy and just let it sound like a friend relating an incident. The story, “Faith or Tips for the Successful Young Lady,” was about a woman who’s haunted by the ghost of her former fat self and the brutal attack this woman endured not long before. It was a theme she’d return to in her novel and powerful stuff, but particularly so for this one lady sitting two rows ahead of me who, about two thirds into the story, ran out of the room with her hands over her face; I wasn’t sure if she was sick or sad.
Once Amanda finished she accepted the applause, but walked right outside. Rather than wait for all our compliments she went to find the lady, in her forties, who’d dashed. Amanda found her right outside, on one of the benches in the nearby grass, and sat beside her. The lady was still crying a little though not as much as before. She hugged Amanda a lot and spoke loudly enough for everyone to hear, saying that the story had sounded so much like her own that she had to run or else she’d have melted right inside the room. Amanda wouldn’t let her go, but she waved me over because I knew the lady too and soon we were all hugging, giving the woman a little warmth.
Amanda asked her, a whole number of times, if she was okay and eventually she agreed that she was. Rather than leave it at some old beautiful cathartic moment Amanda then nodded and told her, “Well that’s good because I’m telling you right now I thought you ran out like that because you were doing some kind of performance art literary criticism and I did not want to hear it.”
The lady just laughed so much and me too.
“I’m serious,” Amanda said. “I was coming out here to kick your ass all over this mountain.”
How great was that?
— Victor LaValle
Six months ago, Amanda Davis fell out of the sky and into my life. I was standing below, waiting. I had this empty space — this hole — and she filled it perfectly. She became, within days, my best friend. Now, I don’t know if I was Amanda’s best friend. She had a remarkable capacity for making friends, for being a friend, and I think I was one of a whole lot of people who feel this way about her. But she was most certainly mine. I am not willing to accept that she has fallen out of the sky again, this time for good.
Here’s how we met: she came up to me at a book-signing and said, “I’m Amanda. Everyone I know knows you. Everyone says we are exactly alike and that we will either hate each other or love each other. So let’s have lunch.”
Here’s the first thing we did together: she baked me ginger snaps and brought them to my house, and when my dog ate them all, she drove all the way home, and brought me more. Burnt ones.
Here’s what happened next: we talked every single day, sometimes three times, sometimes a dozen. Rarely only once. She came over so often that Zeke, my five-year-old, greeted her at the front door with the words, “You again?” We instant messaged when we weren’t talking. She edited my novel. Her mother taught me how to make a challah (okay, it was kind of a weird recipe from the Fleischman’s Margarine cookbook circa 1957, but still. It looked pretty.). We watched the Sopranos together every Sunday. We went to the movies. I set her up so she would piss off my mother-in-law instead of me (she never forgave me that). We went to bad parties together. And good ones. We shopped. We told mean stories about people we loved. We reassured ourselves that that didn’t make us bad people. We vowed to only say nice things from now on. We told more mean stories.
Here’s the moment where we knew we were soulmates: she called me from New York, after a horrible meeting with someone whom I’m not going to name, but whom I hope feels really extra shitty right now. She was miserable, and she said, “What did I do as soon as I walked out of the office?” And I said, “Shoes.” And she said, “You see! That’s why we’re friends.” Amanda bought two pairs of shoes the day before she died. She had a piece of crappy news from the New York Times, and she bought a pair of cowboy boots, ankle high, in a kind of light brown. I can’t remember the other pair, and it’s been driving me crazy. I have the feeling that if I can somehow remember what that second pair of shoes was then everything will be okay, and she won’t be dead, and I won’t be sitting here, gasping, wondering who I’m going to talk to in the middle of the night, who will call and bug me while I’m working, who will make gingerbread houses with my kids, who will be the best friend I was waiting and wishing so hard for.
I want to list every single thing I remember about Amanda, because memory is this awful, transient thing. It just withers and slides away, until all you have left is the frozen image from a snapshot, an image that wasn’t really yours to begin with, but has assumed a magnitude all out of proportion to its real meaning because it’s sitting in a frame on your desk, or in a file on your desktop. Right now Amanda’s voice is so clear to me. I hear her say “Hey, Lady.” Her face is even clearer. The way she bunched up her lips when she was angry, and said, “Na’ nice.” And that awful, square haircut she got right before she went on tour. I want to list every moment, every comment, every smile, laugh, howl, cry. But I can’t. I can’t because the list will be too short. It will be too short because she fell out of the sky six months ago, and again three days ago, and it just wasn’t long enough. It wasn’t long enough to make the kind of list that would justify the way I feel — the profound and complete and despairing empty longing that is what I’ve got left.
— Ayelet Waldman
As with many people who are both small of stature and truly funny, there was something fierce about Amanda Davis. You sensed that if she had been a fraction more powerful — had possessed the ability to fly or shoot flames from her hands — she would have kicked the ass of evil-doers all over the world. This fierceness came out sometimes when she was playing games. Pictionary, First Lines, Scrabble. Scrabble, above all. I was lucky enough to beat her the first few times we played, and after that she would not let me rest. She was a furious, self-lacerating, adroit Scrabble player. It was not uncommon for her to derive thirty-five or forty points out of two tiles artfully dropped. She made three seven-letter words, that I recall. One of them was VIBRATE. Her set, the deluxe model, is sitting in my kitchen, right now, awaiting a threatened rematch.
She was like a great invention, surprising, revolutionary. The first time that you encountered her you saw potential for delight, novelty, entertainment; and then, before you knew it, Amanda Davis was an indispensable part of your life. She knew something about everything, or knew someone who knew something; she read widely and deeply; her judgment was sound as rock, her advice unsentimental yet powered by the bottomless energy of her feelings; she was supremely, beautifully reliable and true. She listened to the things people told her, and understood them, remembered them, and then laid her memory and her understanding and her gift for listening freely at your disposal. If you asked her for help — if it came to that, because usually she was there helping before you even quite realized that help was what you needed — you got a continuous, steady supply of help for as long as you needed it. She had a way of setting her jaw and casting her eyes to the ground, applying all of her great intelligence and wit and sensitivity to the problem, all of it, every last bit. And if the thing, the solution to your problem, in her view, required that you do something at all difficult, she would help you do it. She would do it for you.
— Michael Chabon