The Loss of Author, Poet and Teacher Judith Ortiz Cofer #JudithOrtizCofer

Judith Ortiz Cofer

Poet, author and teacher Judith Ortiz Cofer died December 30, 2016 at her family home in Louisville, Georgia. A native of Hormiguerros, Puerto Rico, Judith was only 64 when her life ended. She retired as a Regents and Franklin Professor of English and creative writing at the University of Georgia in 2013 and leaves behind, her husband, John, daughter, Tanya, brother, Rolando, grandson, Elias and many extended family members. She also left us with a wealth of poems and stories to cherish.

I had the good fortune to meet Judith in 2005 when I interviewed her and reviewed her third volume of poetry, A Love Story Beginning in Spanish, for Athens Magazine. She brought me several of her books that night and we had a long conversation over pasta at DePalma’s about writing and family, plus living and working in Athens, Georgia, where we both agreed creativity floats in the air. We talked about her literary inspirations that night. Her favorites included Georgia-born writers Flannery O’Connor and Alice Walker, as well as Virginia Woolf and Lillian Hellman. She told me about emigrating with her Puerto Rican family to Paterson, New Jersey as a child and how living in those two very different worlds influenced her life as well as her poetry and prose. Judith also loved living in Georgia. I enjoyed running into her at several literary events after interviewing her that night, including the Decatur Book Festival where I sat in a crowded roomful of festival attendees and savored Judith’s voice as she read her poetry.

Judith Ortiz Cofer was a literary writer who wrote, thought and spoke in both Spanish and English. Her work won many awards, including a 1991 PEN/Martha Albrand Special Citation in Nonfiction and a Pushcart Prize for her memoir Silent Dancing: A Partial Remembrance of a Puerto Rican Childhoodand a Pulitizer Prize nomination for her first novel, The Line of the Sun. In 2010, Judith was inducted into the Georgia Writers Hall of Fame.

Writers live in a dual world. There’s the physical world where they go through their days doing many of the same things non-writers do. And there’s the inner world where a writer is always writing, where the words flow but don’t appear to readers until they are displayed on a book page or an e-reader screen. When a writer dies, the heart stops beating and words stop flowing. But what remains, in addition to those who loved the writer as a family member, friend, or reader is the written words. Judith Ortiz Cofer’s published words still float in the air over Athens, Georgia and all over the world, including her beloved Puerto Rico. Judith the person died too young, but her beautiful, lyrical words live on in the hearts and minds of readers. The depth and music and meaning of her words will comfort us in the days and weeks and months and years to come.

#JudithOrtizCofer

 

 

You can read more about author Judith Ortiz Cofer on the Georgia Writers Hall of Fame website.

Wishing Everyone a Happy Holiday!

2016 has been an interesting year for our family and for our country. In the Seagraves family, we welcomed a new grandson, Patrick fullsizeoutput_5041William Seagraves, on July 4th! Of course we are all in love with him, as well as his big brother George. We look forward to watching both boys grow up and hope we can spend more time with them in the coming year. Our grown children and their families both moved. One to a new condo in Atlanta. The other up to Johnson City, Tennessee. And we purchased a building lot back in our hometown. We plan to move, too, sometime in the new year.

The year we are about to say goodbye to, 2016, has been a year of surprises, to say the least. At our house, we love everyone, despite their voting actions. We learned a long time ago to love the person even if we don’t love his or her actions. So, though I am doubtful of a bright future for our country in the near future, given what has happened politically, I continue to have hope.

Yes, I am an optimist, no matter what. I continue to hope despite feeling like a dark cloud is hanging over our world. I continue to hope even with doubts and yes, fears, about the coming days and months and years.

fullsizeoutput_503dDespite the cloud of hate that seems to be settling over our land, at our house, we will continue to care about climate change. We will continue to believe in equality for all. As always, and especially now, we will continue to wish for peace all over the world and we will work towards making the world a better place for our grandchildren and yours.

One thing that we have learned during our long years of life is that change is the only thing we can count on. Things change. Maybe not as quickly as we could like, but they will change. Leadership will change. Dark clouds will eventually lift. Good will always trump evil. We have to believe that, especially now.

In the coming new year, there is hope and love all around us. And for those of us, and there are many of us, who were disappointed and hurt and damaged by what happened this year, it is more important than ever for us to hang on to hope and love and the change that will most certainly come eventually. That change will lift the dark cloud. It will restore what we have recently lost. It will make the future bright again. We can help lift that cloud. We still have the power within us, along with hope and love.

Summers of my Childhood in Athens, Georgia

Summers of my Childhood in Athens, Georgia

 

Summer 2016 has arrived and life is good as we await the birth of our second grandson. He’ll be a July baby, born in the hot, humid heat of a Georgia summer. Thinking of the tiny boy to come and his older brother George, who will be 20 months old when his brother arrives, I find myself drifting back to my own childhood summers growing up in Athens, Georgia.

The best days of my Athens summers were spent floating and splashing in the cool, chlorinated waters of Legion Pool. This huge, popular oasis located near the University of Georgia campus was filled with the shouts and laughter of countless Athens kids back in the day.

It also was the site of my first swimming lessons. I really tried hard to learn how to swim at Legion Pool. I say tried to learn because I never really became a confident, or even a proficient swimmer, despite numerous swimming lessons during my childhood.

Later, on a visit to nearby Lake Wellbrook (before it became a subdivision), I found myself drifting deeper and deeper, bouncing up from the muddy lake bottom numerous times, listening to Peter and Gordon sing “World Without Love” on the concession stand jukebox, hearing laughter and happy voices on the beach as I bounced my feet into the mud one more time and failed to break though the water’s surface. I was in too deep, holding my breath, attempting to move toward the more shallow water with my feet pushing against squishy mud.

As I finally broke the water’s surface and floundered around with my tired arms, spouting dirty lake water, I realized no one on the beach had noticed. For the first time in my young life, it dawned on me that I could sink into the water, my feet could mire in the mud, I could go down and never come back up and life would go on. Just not for me. The music would keep playing, the people on the beach would continue to drink Nehis and Cokes and Pepsi and the world would continue to revolve without me. The world didn’t need a small girl who didn’t work hard enough during her Legion Pool swimming lessons to go on.

This was a heavy swimming lesson for a young girl on a hot summer day in Athens, Georgia and it helped to make me who I am today.

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Legion Pool in Athens, Georgia has been open for 79 years! Visit this website to learn more about swimming in Legion Pool.

Read about the history of Legion Pool here.

Remembering Muhammad Ali

Remembering Muhammad Ali

Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee. The hands can’t hit what the eyes can’t see.-Muhammad Ali

In 1968, staff members of the Athens (Georgia) High School Thumb Tack Tribune flew to Chicago over the Thanksgiving holiday for the National Scholastic Press Association convention in the Palmer House hotel. When we weren’t attending journalism classes, checking out Chicago’s Hippie headquarters in Old Towne, or shopping downtown, we explored floor after floor of the grand, old hotel, riding up and down in the elevators, running through hall after hall, and causing way more noise than was allowed.

Finally, there was just one more place to conquer: the top floor which housed the Penthouse Suite. Up, up, up we rode. TPalmer House Hotelhe elevator stopped. The door opened and there, in the hallway stood Muhammad Ali, surrounded by bodyguards. He would have been 26 years old at the time and was stuck in that time of no fights due to refusing to be inducted into the armed forces in 1966.

We were all in awe of Ali that day. In 1964, after beating Sonny Liston in a major upset and winning the heavyweight title, Cassius Clay (his original name) declared, “I am the greatest! I shook up the world. I’m the prettiest thing that ever lived.”

At that moment in time, on the top floor of the Palmer House Hotel in Chicago, I thought Muhammed Ali was the prettiest thing that had ever lived. Young, massive, strong, gorgeous, he looked perfect that day and totally unapproachable.

Of course that didn’t stop me from walking up to him and asking for his autograph, even though, as I stared up at Ali, he looked eight feet tall. I thought he’d refuse my request, but he didn’t. He took the scrap of paper from my outstretched hand and scribbled his name.

I still have the scrap of paper and the memory of being in Ali’s presence during my visit to Chicago’s Palmer House hotel. Was he the greatest? Maybe. No doubt, he had gifts that most humans can only dream about. Athletic ability. Good Looks. And he knew the power of words.

I wrestled with an alligator, I tussled with a whale, I handcuffed lightning . . . last week I murdered a rock, injured a stone, hospitalized a brick. I’m so mean I make medicine sick.

But this strong, heavyweight champion of the world, couldn’t beat death. Like many around the world, I mourn his passing and now I cherish even more those few moments in time when I stood in his presence and he signed his name.

Marigold Magic

Marigold Magic

     Way back in June 1995, when I used to write freelance articles for Athens Magazine, I wrote an article about Winterville, Georgia and included a sidebar called “Marigold Magic” about the popular Marigold Festival. Today, in celebration of the upcoming May 21, 2016 Winterville Marigold Festival, I am posting this article here.

Marigold Magic

by Donny Seagraves

     Donny Seagraves at the Winterville Ga depotThe morning before Winterville’s Marigold Festival Saturday dawns humid and cloudy. At city hall, Wesley Whitehead attends to last-minute details before the arrival of hundreds of visitors the next day. 

     “It never rains on Marigold Saturday,” the former Winterville mayor assures a concerned citizen who asks what will happen if the weatherman’s prediction of thunderstorms comes true. 

     City clerk Frances Brooks, a former five-term member of the Winterville City Council, doesn’t have time to worry about possible rain as she frantically answers telephone calls from craft and food vendors and other festival participants, asking for directions to the “Marigold Capital of the World.”

     Outside in the park, arts-and-crafts chairperson Mary Quinn, welcomes vendors and serves as a community liaison and one-woman information service for out-of-town guests. Other Marigold Festival Committee members, including general manager Ray Shockley, join Mary to offer assistance and make sure things run smoothly.

Winterville Marigold Express Train     Marigold Festival Saturday morning finds clouds still hovering over Winterville. But overnight, the magic of the festival has appeared: kiddie rides at Three Flags over Winterville; a bustling village of vendors hawking everything from antiques and collectibles to stained glass and woodcrafts; antique vehicles polished and ready to join the parade.

     There also are several portable Coke Wagons (large metal concession trailers) where members of the Winterville United Methodist Church, Winterville First Baptist Church, and Family Worship Center youth groups sell soft drinks and hot dogs to the gathering crowd.

     Sausage and ham vapors from the country breakfast cooking in the depot float on the air as runners, sweaty and winded from their efforts in the 10K road race, catch their breath and gulp Gatorade. Teenagers test their pitching speed at a booth that features a radar machine, while dogs sporting ribbons from the Canine Fun Time Dog Show sashay by on their way to the fountain on the square.


Police sirens announce the parade, which winds through town. The tantalizing aroma of roasting Bavarian almonds drifts through the crowd as a caravan of deep green John Deere tractors rolls down Main Street. Little Miss, Junior Miss and Miss Marigold wave. A float holding “Marigold John’s” empty rocking chair injects a touch of sadness into what one journalist calls a “communion of the community.”

     At the old Winterville High School auditorium, former classmates gather for a class reunion with retired teachers and Dan Bramblett, the last principal of the school. Class spirit still lies in the hearts and memories of these native sons and daughters who travel to Winterville from all over the country each June to remember their high school days.

     Four teenaged girls fill paper cups with ice and top the cool cubes with fizzy Coca-Cola from the United Methodist Church Coke Wagon concession stand near the square. Wesley WhiteheadHot dogs steam in the cooker. When the Youth Fellowship boys take over that night, a loud country band rocks the town during the traditional street dance. As festival participants line-dance to Brooks and Dunn’s ” Boot Scootin’ Boogie,” the boys join in the fun, swaying and carousing with each other until the Coke Wagon threatens to tip over.

     Wesley Whitehead walks through the Square with his wife Mary, a gifted pianist and classy former first lady of Winterville. As official host and hostess of the Marigold Festival, they have just finished a whirlwind week that included a banquet, a scholarship pageant and more marigolds than most people can imagine in a lifetime.

     As the band plays “He Stopped Loving Her Today,” Whitehead inhales night air and smiles. This year’s town celebration is almost over. Soon the Marigold Festival Committee, under the guidance of the council and Bill Orr, the new mayor, will meet and begin planning next year’s event.

     “It really ain’t as easy as it looks,” Whitehead says, melting into the dancing crowd.

This article originally appear in the June 1995, Vol. 7, No. 2, issue of Athens Magazine.

 

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