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25 April 2013

Remembering Ray Andrews

I recently viewed a wonderful film by Jesse Freeman based on the life of Georgia writer Raymond Andrews, Somebody Else, Somewhere Else. The documentary really brought back some great memories for me. 

Back in the late 1980s, I was pursing a graduate degree at the University of Georgia in Athens, Georgia, and at that time Ray Andrews was a legendary Athens figure. I was introduced to him one night, if memory serves me correctly, at a place called The Georgia Bar.

The bouncer, who's name I cannot now recall, said to me, "hey, you're a writer! I want you to meet Ray. He's a writer, too."

I was a grad student majoring in creative writing who had published a few short stories in campus and local literary magazines, so to say I was a writer was being rather generous. But Ray, well, he was a writer. 

At that time, he had written several books that had been out of print but were being reprinted by the University of Georgia Press, so he was being re-discovered by a larger and larger audience and really just coming into the prime of his career. I had heard of him, of course,  but I hadn't yet read any of his books.

Anyway, I spoke to Ray for a few minutes; he seemed incredibly nice--and incredibly drunk! He told me he'd give me a copy of his book, Apalachee Red.

He asked me, "what's your address?"I told him, but Ray wrote nothing down. 

As I was leaving, I'm thinking to myself, how's he going to remember my name or even where I live? But the next day when I got home from school, right there in my mailbox was a signed copy of Apalachee Red.

"I hope you like this book--Ray Andrews." 

Safe to say he made an indelible impression on me. 

After I actually read Apalachee Red, in one sitting that same night, I was blown away, not even so much for his artistic vision and talent, but that he took the time to talk to me the previous night and the next day brought a book over to my house. He didn't mail it, he just brought it over and put it in my mailbox. He made it a priority. Why would he do that? I mean, he was a famous writer, and all he had to do that afternoon was to bring a graduate student a free copy of his book? I was puzzled.

Image reference

As the days passed, I would often run in Ray at a few downtown Athens locations, especially a place called Rocky's Pizza, where we had many conversations over a beer and slice about writing, mostly my writing. Can you imagine? I'm talking to this amazing writer about my writing, a graduate thesis of short stories that I was agonizing over for one reason or another. 

Didn't we once talk about his writing or his dedication to a life of writing or the amazing artistry and vivid worlds within his prose that were completely unique and at the same time universal in their appeal? No, he always asked me how was my writing going? Always offering advice, trying to keep me motivated.

That's what kind of person he was. Encouraging, incredibly kind, and for having the kind of talent he had, extraordinarily unpretentious and downright humble. He taught me more lessons than I ever learned in graduate school, but lessons mostly about being human. He treated everyone the same, always offering respect and a genuine interest in one's  life.
I learned from the film that Ray had a great deal of personal struggles going on during that time. but I never had a clue. He always seemed so happy. 

But he made very little money for all his books, awards, and recognition. All these years later, I cringed over the suicide note explored in the film. He committed suicide in 1991 about a year or so after I left Athens for good. 

I can't dwell on the sadness of it all. All I can do is smile when I hear his name. I always felt warmth in my heart whenever I spent even five minutes with Ray. He was simply one of the finest souls I ever met. That's the bottom line for me. He'll never be forgotten either.

In 2009 Raymond Andrews was inducted into the Georgia Writers Hall of Fame.



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