The Lighthouse Writers Top-Secret Blog

All the latest news, ideas, and opinions from Denver's Independent Literary Center: lighthousewriters.org

Remembering Cort McMeel

Cort in his usual mood, at the  Lighthouse launch for Short.

Cort in his usual mood, at the Lighthouse launch for Short.

There aren’t that many people who can walk into a room and, by walking in, completely alter it. When that room is full of writers, and the change is so much for the better, making us more robust, more daring, louder, bolder in our beliefs, happier—well, the loss of that person is going to hurt. A lot. The world lost Cort McMeel on Friday, and there aren’t adequate words to describe how his death marks us. But all we can do is try.

These two were trouble personified, but what a great friendship between powerhouse writers.

These two were trouble personified, but what a great friendship between powerhouse writers. (Nick & Cort)

I met Cort through his great pal Nick Arvin, and I knew the minute I met him he would be a force for good at Lighthouse. He was on the side of passion. There was a humility combined with an unabashed enthusiasm for other people—he was your biggest fan, your staunchest supporter, the guy who could make you believe in your own best self. You can see that while he could write the hell out of a story himself (his novel Short begins with the unforgettable fragment: “A haiku of fat.”), he was dedicated to publishing and promoting friends, students, and colleagues alike. He didn’t seem to believe in hierarchies. It was not unusual, after one of his workshops ended, to learn that Cort had continued meeting with his students; they would be reading his work and he theirs. He believed in the power of the collective, and in turn, the collective was devoted to him.  Just a few weeks ago, a student in his novel workshop wrote me: “Cort ROCKS! I seriously worship him.” There are so many notes like that, it would take days to quote them all. Let’s just say that our survey forms allow you to rate a class on a scale of 1 (terrible) to 5 (excellent), and thanks to write-in votes, his average was somewhere around 11.

Cort and his lovely wife Sharon at Lit Fest.

Cort and his lovely wife Sharon at Lit Fest.

Our community is channeling all its love to his beautiful wife Sharon and his kids. I know I’m not the only one who was continually charmed at his state of perpetual mooniness over his wife—as if he couldn’t quite get over how lucky he was. And he was lucky. Not only is she lovely, smart, and CEO material (he always said that), she can make a dreamy breakfast casserole (with corn flakes!). When my daughter ended up in the emergency room several years ago with a ruptured appendix, one of our first visitors was Sharon, wielding a stuffed animal (a pig) that my daughter still hugs in her sleep to this day. Cort’s kids watched indulgently and even gave applause when my kids, slightly older, put on a magic show for them once during a family brunch. For months afterwards, Cort would say, “That magic show! Those amazing kids!” He was full of enthusiasm for the good things in life, but he was also full of enthusiasm for the good things in your life.

His e-mails showed traces of his brisk mind, his overflowing energy. I would laugh when I got them, as every third letter was capitalized and others weren’t at all.  It made sense. That same cannonball of positive energy he was in person, he brought to e-mail, spelling be damned. A month or so ago, after an impromptu dinner Cort and a bunch of us had with a visiting author, he wrote me a letter with 4 numbered ideas (really 5, because there was a “1 a” in there). Number three was: “WHEN IS THE NEXT WRITERS BRUNCH?????”  Number four picked up on his effusive opening (those of you who know Cort will not be surprised): “you conduct an impressive orchestra Ms. Dupree..as is usual im in awe of your ability to congregate great souls in the battle for Literature..capital L. Count me, private McMeel:  ‘At your service!’”  So here’s number four: “if ever you need to summon us incompetent cowards into battle let me be your sergant…give me 3 days and ill ship them into fighting shape!”

I wish I could go back and ask him to go ahead and be our sergeant. But in so many ways, he already was.

Damn it, Cort. We’ll miss you, always.

Please feel free to share your own memories in the comments, and we’ll post updates on any plans for further action.

Cowboy Cort, getting into character.

Cowboy Cort, getting into character.

UPDATE #1 4/23/13 Services for Cort will be held in Boston on May 11. There will be a Denver memorial later in May. Stay tuned for more details. The family is putting out a call for memories to be sent to memoriesofcort@yahoo.com so they can put a book together for the family to keep.

UPDATE #2 4/28/13 Services in Boston will be 1:00 PM, May 11, at the Church of the Advent in Boston.

UPDATE #3 4/29/13  A reading will be held in remembrance of Cort at Noir at the Bar: Jaunita’s Eats, 8:00 PM, May 23rd 32 S. Broadway in Denver.

41 comments on “Remembering Cort McMeel

  1. jennifer itell
    April 22, 2013

    Thanks Andrea for this moving post.

    • andreadupree
      April 22, 2013

      Thanks for reading, Jenny!

    • Ryan Kelly
      April 25, 2013

      It was very moving. I’m sorry for your loss.

      • andreadupree
        April 25, 2013

        Thanks, Ryan.

  2. Meghan (Wilson) Barker
    April 22, 2013

    Oh, Andrea. Oh, Lighthouse. Oh, Cort…

    My thoughts are with you all. This is so unbearably sad.

    • andreadupree
      April 22, 2013

      Thank you, sweet Meghan.

  3. Gina Bednarz
    April 22, 2013

    Oh my goodness, this is incredibly awful. Although I’m a writer and Lighthouser, my interactions with Cort came mostly at my workplace, Cake Crumbs Bakery in Park HIll. Cort was a regular, almost always with three books under his arm, and ready and willing to chat about all things writing. Something about him made me smile every time I saw him, he was just so passionate when he talked about reading and writing that I believed even more in what I was working so hard to achieve. To his wife and children, my deepest condolences. All of us at Cake Crumbs will miss your husband’s smile.

    • andreadupree
      April 22, 2013

      Dear Gina, I’m so sorry–his death is affecting so many people. I didn’t even mention how crazily well-read he was. I mean, he’d read everything! Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

  4. tqtyson
    April 22, 2013

    What a moving tribute. What a terrible loss. Thanks for writing this, Andrea.

    • andreadupree
      April 23, 2013

      Yes, a terrible loss. Thank you.

  5. Phil Vogel
    April 22, 2013

    I was lucky enough to be one of the students in Cort’s intermediate and advanced novel writing class that recently finished up. For a man so incredibly versed and passionate about words and literature and emotion and the human spirit, I can not find any words to do him justice. I do know he made a huge impression on me, as it sounds like he did with everyone. Very very sad news. Deepest sympathies to his family.

    • andreadupree
      April 22, 2013

      Phil, he told me so many times how much he loved your class. I think in this case he would forgive your speechlessness. We all feel that way. Thanks for sharing.

  6. Nick Arvin
    April 22, 2013

    Thanks, Andrea. This is perfect. Started me crying all over again, damn it.

    • andreadupree
      April 22, 2013

      Thanks, Nick. You know I believe in a good cry. Hugs.

  7. juliecordova
    April 22, 2013

    I was honored to have had the chance to interview Cort. He was so unabashedly open about his writing process. He seemed even more excited about my project than I was, I can still see him sitting forward in the chair as if he might leap out of it any moment as he started sharing thoughts that came to him – he offered me so many wonderful ideas to try this and do that to make the project better. His energy was contagious. After I finished my work, graduated, and turned it into an eBook, I was always a bit embarrassed that it didn’t live up to his grand vision. I just wish I could have channeled that energy of his (or bottled it).

    • andreadupree
      April 23, 2013

      Thanks so much for the memory, Julie.

  8. Pingback: Remembering Cort McMeel | The Lighthouse Writers Top-Secret Blog | Writer by Writing

  9. bkmcneil
    April 23, 2013

    I am stunned. I had a zany, fantastic, yet inspiring session in Cort’s intermediate fiction class last fall. Not only was Cort a close and insightful reader, editor, and teacher, I was awed by his energy and enthusiasm for writing and the writing life. He truly wanted each and every one of us to find that for ourselves, taking extra time in post-class drinks at The Thin Man to further drill each of us about when we first discovered a passion for writing, what we wanted to write, and encouraging bonds between us as writers. My heart is with everyone who had that closer bond with him, and especially his family.

    • andreadupree
      April 23, 2013

      Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts about Cort. He couldn’t get over his luck at having such a great class–and told me so.

  10. mary gattuso
    April 23, 2013

    I stare down my bedside wall
    plastered with emails from Cort.
    Sleep is hard.
    My world changed forever when I met him, and again now.

    • andreadupree
      April 23, 2013

      Mary, I’m so sorry. I know. You were the first student he drafted, I think. I never forgot that. Hugs to you and I’ll try to get in touch with you directly.

  11. Jenny Taylor-Whitehorn
    April 23, 2013

    What a beautiful and touching note, Andrea. I loved that you talked about getting a Cort email, which was truly a highlight of the work week for me! They were hilarious and sweet and ridden with typos and something to make you smile at the rest of the day; and then you’d talk about it with another colleague and they’d smile the rest of the day too! His energy was infectious. Such a talent, such a pleasure, and such a force, he’ll be missed so, so, so much. So incredibly much. Love, thoughts and more love to his family and the Lighthouse family

    • andreadupree
      April 23, 2013

      I keep thinking of you, Jenny. He did give us all fits of laughter and then we’d find ourselves shaking our heads at some streak of brilliance embedded there. Love back to you. We miss you.

  12. Erika Krouse
    April 23, 2013

    I have no words for this; thank you for your eloquence, Andrea.

    • andreadupree
      April 24, 2013

      Erika, I’m so sorry. I know. This is hard.

  13. Brad Brockbank
    April 24, 2013

    Andrea – I am devastated by this news. Cort and I had a couple of beers just a few weeks ago. I can’t find the words now to express my sorrow for all who knew and loved him. Perhaps later. In the meantime, thank you for finding yours.

    • andreadupree
      April 24, 2013

      Brad–I know. To go from being the most alive person you know to this is a tough transition. Take your time. And we’re here.

  14. Lisa Mahoney
    April 25, 2013

    I took several classes with Cort and always felt so inspired afterwards. He was always so “on,” sharp, enthusiastic, and encouraging. What a heartbreaking loss for all. He lives on in all of our work. Thank you, Andrea, for your moving words.

  15. David Mulholland
    April 25, 2013

    Terribly sad to hear this news.

  16. wish013
    April 25, 2013

    I’ve always been lucky. One of my classes during my first Lighthouse Lit Fest in 2011 was with this “totally engaging wild-man,” as I described him to my wife, Trish, that evening. It was one of my FAVorite classes. Only the good die young.

  17. Denise
    April 26, 2013

    You’ve captured him so well here, Andrea. I took a workshop with Cort and we had a few other interactions. His enthusiasm was inspiring, his energy contagious. He was remarkably generous… Unforgettable. So damn sad he is gone…

  18. Scott B.
    April 27, 2013

    Thanks, Andrea.

    Cort was the most generous man most of us will ever meet in the writing world. Wishing a bit more generosity had been aimed at him teaches us a way to honor his memory. We can each give more to our fellow writing warriors, demonstrating how much the ferocious, inspiring force that was Cort changed us for the better.

    • andreadupree
      April 29, 2013

      That is so well said, Scott. Thank you.

  19. Cara Gilligan
    May 1, 2013

    Andrea – I am Sharon’s cousin; I just wanted to say how on the mark you are! Your words brought tears to my eyes. We have not yet come to grips with loosing Cort, myself or the rest of my family. He was such a force of energy, laughter and fun. Thank you for the beautifull words. Cara

    • andreadupree
      May 1, 2013

      Dear Cara, I’m so sorry for your loss. It’s been so hard for all of us, and I know it’s infinitely harder for family. Sending big hugs from Denver.

  20. Courtney
    May 6, 2013

    I was sitting on the playground after school yesterday, watching my younger daughter maneuver the monkey bars while my older daughter sat on top of a jungle gym with one of her friends, when I got bored and started scrolling through the contacts on my phone. It occurred to me that several needed to be deleted, such as the head nurse at the hospital who took care of me when I had surgery a couple weeks ago, and a woman I met in a ski class at Keystone last winter. I stopped scrolling when I got to Cort’s name, though.
    We were planning to meet for coffee a few months ago, so I could talk to him about teaching and we could work out a plan for finishing my novel. He told me to give him twenty pages before our meeting so he could start editing, but I told him I’d get to it this summer. There was no rush. Then he had to cancel at the last minute, so he could pick up his kids from school. I read over my texts with him about rescheduling our meeting, and then the last one, a response to my excitement over finishing my book this summer.
    “Awesome….Slay it!” Cort wrote.
    “Good as done. ” I texted back.
    Looking at it, I wondered what happened. How could he leave us so suddenly and so finally? What about my book, which he was looking forward to reading? What about the pub crawl we planned for Litfest, which he was going to do with Nick Arvin? What about his second novel, which was about to get published? He was still working on the revisions with his publisher. I still have a book he loaned me, which he told me he was going to give me a pop quiz on. I still owe him an assignment from the last class I took with him. I thought I had more time. What about his family? He was one of the most loyal, kind-hearted people I’ve ever met. This makes no sense.
    Looking at his contact in my phone, I wondered what would happen if I texted him. What will I say? “Give me a sign if you can read this?” “Where are you?” “Why did you do this?” “What should I do now?” Does anyone read his texts? I knew I should delete his contact in my phone, but I couldn’t.
    Later that night, I read over his emails to me. One of them ended with his favorite piece of advice, borrowed from Picasso: “Kill the necessary and magnify the essential…” I never really figured out what that meant, and now I can’t ask him. Why would you kill the necessary? The fact that it’s necessary means that it is, in fact, necessary, right? Another email is quintessential Cort:
    “Key for you is to not lose the energy on this..attack it with passion on one hand and control on the other..your writing is infused with an energy…its hard for a lot of writers to inject electricity—that wont be your problem…for now..think: conflict and your natural storytelling instincts will carry you through character interactions & scenes…dont lose the boldness & keep those uninventable details coming…its your world in this novel..you own it..now let the reader have it.”
    I went to the Thin Man with Cort and the rest of our fiction class one night in November. After several rounds of drinks and a discussion about my book, Cort turned to me and said, without a trace of humor, “If you stop working on this, I will kill you.”
    I never doubted he would kill me. I turned down invitations to go to parties, meet friends for lunch, and ski trips to Steamboat so I could avoid the certain death I would face if I stopped working on my novel. Cort believed my writing was important, so I believed it was important. There would be many winters left for me to learn how to snowboard or listen to my friends talk about their jobs and the pros and cons of grad school.
    Cort always had an answer for everything, and now I feel a bit adrift as I think about finishing my novel without his thoughts in the margins of my pages. So I read the one email that will take me through this novel and many more. I proposed several possible plotlines to Cort, and here’s his response:
    “ahh..what is the magic answer?? answer: its all in the writing. Bukowski gets away with no real story or narrative arc because the reader “knows” that this is not fiction but well crafted pain on the page…the cult of Life. The Bukow way is harder because the writing has too bleed on the page.With a conventional narrative it’ll be more commercial and easier to sell…but a good narrative arc takes careful crafting and has to be smooth…so go with your gut..where your writer instincts take you and see what transp[ires… i would add, its your first novel. dont put pressure on yourself…a good Golden Rule is that if youre having fun while writing it the reader will prob have fun reading it…if youre bored & uninspired then that likewise usually plays out on the page…
    Cort was trying to tell me something it’s taken me thirty-seven years to figure out: we have all the answers inside us. It’s like he always said at the beginning of class, “The first rule of writing is that there are no rules.” I used to think that the answers to life’s questions could be found by asking other people their opinions, studying what other writers did when faced with similar problems in their writing, and learning from other people’s experiences. While I still think these strategies have some merit, now I believe that we know ourselves and our writing best, and no one else can give us the answers. We have to have faith in our own decisions. My favorite email from Cort, though, was still to come:
    “One last thing: I got a few complaints about how loud we are from the next door class. Keep up the good work!

    best,
    cort”
    That email was why I loved his class. We were loud, angry, defensive, hurt, proud, defeated, thought too much or not enough. We buttered each other up with wine and chocolate, even though it never worked. Cort read to us from the Green Hills of Africa, about a new prose that we could write, if only we made time for writing. We were on the frontier of breakthrough novels, genres that hadn’t been written yet, truth and beauty that only we could reveal, pain that subsided when it was shared. The loneliness of being human dissipated when we came together every Monday night to revel in the messiness of life. We left sated, sleepy, and happy.

    • andreadupree
      May 6, 2013

      This is just beautiful, Courtney, and reminds me of what we all miss so much. I love the e-mail congratulating the class on being loud enough to elicit complaints. Thanks so much for sharing.

    • maryga2so
      May 6, 2013

      Courtney- thank you for posting.
      -whatever the book is that he loaned you, it’s a lesson. I’m curious.
      -necessary isn’t necessary, but essential is essential.. i only know what he was trying to say because he taught me. You deserve to know, too.
      -thank you for including his emails.. they were always the best.
      -keep on writing.
      -M

  21. Courtney
    May 6, 2013

    Thank you Mary!!!!! The book was Couples by John Updike. What’s the lesson? I will never stop writing. xoxo 🙂

  22. Pingback: Tribute to Cort McMeel | The Lighthouse Writers Top-Secret Blog

  23. Pingback: Ben the Beacon-Bearer | The Lighthouse Writers Top-Secret Blog

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

Information

This entry was posted on April 22, 2013 by in Good Books, Memories.

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 642 other followers

Follow us on Twitter!

%d bloggers like this: