Yesterday I heard the news that the incomparable Maya Angelou had passed away at age 86. Later that afternoon, I received word that one of my longtime writer friends had been killed in a car accident.
When Maya read her poem On the Pulse of the Morning at Bill Clinton’s inauguration, a whole nation listened in awe. My friend, Luana, never experienced a moment like that with her writing. She had a few pieces published in respectable markets, but she never knew the high praise or stunning success of a Maya Angelou.
Still, in the twenty years I knew her, she went steadily about the quiet business of being a writer. She was at her best when penning essays about nature, and she had an eye for detail that I admired. She would rework a piece over and over again, as any good writer does, trying to get it right. I’ll never forget the look that would cross her face when our writer’s group critiqued her work. It was a mixture of stubbornness and frustration and acceptance, much the way I imagined my own face to look when it was my turn to be reviewed.
I knew Luana in the moments when she was thrilled to announce a new acceptance and in the moments when she wanted to throw in the towel and quit. She never got a big book deal, never saw any of her stories made into a movie, never won a major award, but she wrote what she wanted to write, and she relished the company of fellow artists.
Though Luana was many things to many people, in my mind, she will always be first and foremost a writer. As will Maya. On our last day on earth, what will matter most is not whether we achieved fame or success, but whether we lived our art. And both of those amazing women did just that.