Amy Grimm—I heard her voice before I met her.
My house was quiet, a rare moment. My young son was sitting on the floor occupied and content with his thumb, my daughters outside. I was nervous to make the phone call, but needed to know if I had been accepted. There was a decision to make about a job.
I did everything in my application to present myself as artistic and sophisticated. Complex, if a little modish. Did I sell my soul to the devil and neglect to mention the scope of my family—four children? Absolutely.
As it happened, the moment I introduced myself to Amy, my son commenced his earsplitting bawl, so pitched and blaring I lost her voice and so abandoned ship, running with the phone to the room at the top of the stairs, closing the door. I could hear the girls returning to the house; and, while this eased my anxiety around my son sticking a slobbery finger into an electric socket, their presence only escalated the moment as they launched into full-bellied, piercing shrieks over their brother’s tears. This was the horrid game the girls enjoyed when their brother cried, their shrill and deafening howls delighting and distracting him, making him laugh. The game, however, amounted to the most horrible sounds ever made in the history of the world.
So much for sophisticated.
“You have children?” Amy asked. Every Wally knows Amy’s voice, a sweet generosity tinged with playfulness.
“I was hoping you wouldn’t hear all that.”
“Oh it’s fine.”
During her tenure as Assistant to the Director, most every student has acquired an Amy Grimm story, more likely a dozen, each uniquely climaxing in Amy easing anxiety, creating a celebration, or otherwise performing miracles. During my seven residencies I witnessed Amy clothe the naked (checked baggage doesn’t always make connecting flights into Asheville) and heal the sick (she hauled a baseball player to the ER). She made sure the masses were fed. She cast mice out of a dorm room. She handled a snake (a boa constrictor). When we were not in residency, Amy saved many with email reminders and for the rest us, finagled extensions here and embraced our best excuses there. She was known to respond to emails at midnight, to talk many a writing student down from a cliff. She celebrated our victories—she inserted glitter in the envelopes containing the formal acceptance of the academic essay. She rained glitter over our heads when the thesis was submitted. She made juggling a job and kids and a graduate program in writing a little bit easier because she looked for ways to celebrate the journey, to ease the load. Her respect and care for the MFA Program for Writers ultimately spoke to her high regard for literary art and was ever a message to us that what were up to was of supreme importance. Amy Grimm, her devoted and bountiful spirit, was an ever reminder of why we were writing annotations and living by packet deadlines. We write because we are after the truth. Amy Grimm is one rare and true human being.
In so many ways Amy Grimm gave our posse of writers the coat off her back—her heart is that big. She has loved us that good; her humor and spirit are that rare and wonderful. She tended the garden of the program and enriched the soil for all of us. Amy’s spirit won’t dissipate when her sweet voice is no longer answering our calls and emails, isn’t greeting us in the offices. Her spirit has staying power; it’s the kind that lingers. It’s in the mortar of the place now.
That first time I called, with the kids screaming in the background, she asked, “How many children do you have?”
“I’d rather not tell you.”
“Because they might not let me in the program.”
She laughed again.
“Okay. Well so, I have four children but if you would not mention it, that would be great.”
“It’ll be fine,” Amy said.
And it was fine, very fine, the whole deal and finer still for each of the 467 students Amy supported and de-stressed and rescued by her unstinting and munificent light shining out of Sunderland. She is going now to share more time with the people closest to her, to read more books, to write her own poems. For fifteen years she walked among us. We count ourselves so very lucky to know her.
Amy Grimm, we wish you Godspeed. May the thousands of good gestures you delivered us be returned to you one thousand fold. We are grateful for your presence among us. Know that we adore you, that we will miss every ounce of you. Mostly, we thank you. Above all, we glitter you.
To honor her great service to the MFA Program, Friends of Writers has renamed the fund it maintains to support students in times of unexpected need The Amy Grimm Student Emergency Fund. Add your appreciation by sending a donation, by check mailed to Friends of Writers at PO Box 128, Marshfield, VT 05658, (note “Amy Grimm Fund” on the memo line) or by appending the same note to a secure credit card donations made at www.friendsofwriters.org.
Judith Whelchel graduated from the MFA Program for Writers in July, 2013. She worked as an Episcopal priest for fifteen years, before pursuing the MFA. After her family, Warren Wilson is the best thing that has ever happened to her. Judith lives in Asheville in a drafty, old house with bats in the attic. She is currently finishing her first novel.