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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.
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.
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.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org 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.