Dear Ms. Mary,
You always knew it was me, I guess by the drawl in my voice when I say “miss.” I’ve tried to write you this letter without crying—guess that’s why I put it off for so long. But I know that you would welcome me back either way, just like you did last semester when my father was gravely ill.
Some remember you for the numerous revisions you submitted in workshop. It became common, a signature of yours like the gap in your smile. I told you I wasn’t coming back to the MFA program. You paused and then you gave me that puzzled look you had and said, “No, keep going.” I’ve quit about five times since then and Kep has tricked me each time into staying.
Giving up is really hard to do. I suppose that’s what I learned from you. You were never satisfied with a first draft; there was always something to change and learn. I suppose that was just your spirit. Like a note in Coltrane’s Love Supreme, beginning and ending until it perfected itself.
Thank you Ms. Mary, for the encouragement and reminding me of a deep strength. I so need it now.
Mary Stone Hanley, Ph.D., was a playwright, poet, educator, scholar, and researcher. She wrote nine plays for young people and two screenplays produced as films. She came to AU in her retirement as a student and earned her MFA in poetry earlier this year. Mary passed away September 28th in Washington D.C.
Mary’s family will hold a poetry reading and memorial potluck in Mary’s honor on Saturday, October 28th at 3:00 PM in Letts Formal Lounge. We will celebrate Mary’s life, her poetry, and the poetry she loved. Mary’s poetry collection, Road Trip, will be available for purchase ($20) at the memorial. Cash or checks (made out to William Hanley) will be accepted. The proceeds from the book sale will be sent to Mary’s family in lieu of flowers.
Image: Mary Stone Hanley
Jessica Harris is staff editor at Café MFA and a second-year candidate in American University’s Creative Writing MFA program.