Monday, October 08, 2007


Good bye to this good man, Ken Smith. He died last night, which is hard news. He taught fiction at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, my undergraduate alma mater. Mysteriously ill for some time from a never quite understood or diagnosed immune system disorder, he had been recovering from heart surgery this summer. The old story: complications followed.

When I taught there two years ago, he was newly struggling with whatever was wrong with his body. He had to wear these white gloves to protect the skin of his hands. He looked tired. He was tired. It was the last year he'd teach.

I never took his workshop but I knew him him all the same. Sweet and tender, at the long, wine-soaked final parties for the Meacham Writers Workshops, he would sometimes kiss the top of my head as I was leaving.

Laurel, my old friend from the same days, speaks well of him too.

He was the sort of man that was easy to love and I did.

4 comments:

bp said...

When I read the e-mail, the first image that came into my head was of Ken sitting on Rick's sunporch at Meacham. He was a very good man, and this is just really, really sad news. He and Madeline are two of the kindest people I've ever met.

Probably my favorite specific memory of him was sitting at a Meacham party, and one of the Meacham regulars -- a guy who was excessively preachy with his political opinions, to the point of being a caricature -- was going on about soldiers he had seen. And Ken, who as in Viet Nam, was as polite as he could be, but at one point, after discussing the issue as rationally as he could, and the visiting writer increasing his vitriol with every sentence, Ken finally just said, "B---, you are so full of shit!" and just let him have it. I don't remember the exact things they said, but I remember the sound of their voices exactly, and where B--- was the sound of someone reiterating one of their common talking points, Ken had the sound of someone who knew what he was talking about, and was speaking without bullshit or received knowledge or political agenda. It was so obvious at that point that B--- was totally full of shit and Ken was 100% NOT full of shit, that B--- just shut up. It was just a great moment for anyone who appreciates the tone of truth.

Melanie said...

There were many moments like that with Ken and Meacham; as you both say, the kindness was apparent.

Pamela said...

Ken Smith was a friend when he taught here at Murray State. I am sorry to hear this--glad I knew him. Kindness is one of his major legacies to his students and co-workers. Often when I'm looking for a tactful way to conduct a workshop, it's WWKSD? Thanks for the update--I'm tearing up o this one.

Madalyn said...

Thank you all so much for your generous comments about Ken. I'm too heartsick now to think life will ever get better, but if it does, people like you will have made it so. ~~ Madalyn