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Amanda Davis, 32; 1st-Time Novelist

Times Staff Writer

Amanda Davis, a promising writer who was on a tour promoting her first novel, died March 14 in a North Carolina plane crash.

Her father, James Davis, was the pilot of the small plane in which he and his wife, Francie, were ferrying their 32-year-old daughter to a bookstore where the author was scheduled to do a reading of “Wonder When You’ll Miss Me” (William Morrow). All three perished.

For the record:

12:00 AM, Mar. 27, 2003 For The Record
Los Angeles Times Thursday March 27, 2003 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 0 inches; 27 words Type of Material: Correction
Davis obituary -- An obituary of novelist Amanda Davis in Monday’s California section misspelled the last name of Susan Orlean, author of “The Orchid Thief,” as Orleans.

In response to Amanda Davis’ death, there was been an outpouring of remembrances from the writing community of which she had become a beloved part.

Davis was deeply involved with writers and writing. She taught undergraduate and graduate fiction at Mills College in Oakland and had previously received fellowships from a number of prestigious writing programs, including the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference, the Wesleyan Writers Conference, the Blue Mountain Center, the Djerassic Resident Artist Program, the Tyrone Guthrie Center, the MacDowell Colony and the Corporation of Yaddo.

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Her work, which included “Circling the Drain,” a collection of short stories published by Morrow in 1999, had appeared in Esquire, Seventeen and other magazines.

Davis was described by her fellow writers and friends as “the magnetic core around which a lot of people swirled,” as her friend, novelist Heidi Julavits, put it.

Many writers posted tributes to Davis in an online literary journal, Timothy McSweeney’s Quarterly Concern (www.mcsweeneys.net), in which Davis’ work had previously appeared.

Among those recalling her with affection, humor and grief were, besides Julavits (“The Mineral Palace”), writers Michael Chabon (“The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay”), Dave Eggers (“A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius”) and Susan Orleans (“The Orchid Thief”).

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“Her work floated somewhere between poetry and prose, untethered by narrative but always concerned with matters of the heart,” Julavits said.

Chabon, who also is author of “Wonder Boys,” said of Davis: “As with many people who are both small of stature and truly funny, there was something fierce” about her.

Chabon continued: “You sensed that if she had been a fraction more powerful -- had possessed the ability to fly or shoot flames from her hands -- she would have kicked ... evil-doers all over the world.”

Eggers recounted an evening in San Francisco when Davis came to his rescue when his car wouldn’t start. Before he knew it, she was stopping motorists as they drove into a parking lot, asking them for jumper cables, “while telling stories about teaching at Mills, while complaining about the publishing world ... while making fun of everyone, herself first. It was a stand-up comedy show in the parking lot ... while looking for a jump-start.”

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“Amanda was fearless,” Eggers said, adding that Davis “saw this little problem -- and every little problem and big ones too -- as her own, and into every last quandary she jumped with a glee that bordered on weird.” She was, he said, “everyone’s favorite eccentric aunt who could save you from anything.”

And Orleans, who became a friend of Davis at Bread Loaf, said, “I kept thinking today, after hearing this preposterous, hideous news, that Amanda would have been the one to write something about this, to observe with her bright, cracked, affirmative voice about the strange story of the buoyant girl who fell from the sky.”

Davis’ novel, which is about a 16-year-old girl who joins the circus after being gang-raped under the bleachers at a football game, was called an “auspicious debut” by Publishers Weekly. Kirkus Reviews said her “heartbreaking if not flawless” novel “manages to express the unutterable anguish of a child cast into an adult world of hatreds and cruelties that ought to be fatal,” but aren’t.

In an interview a few weeks before her death, Davis said she was enjoying the launching of her novel, which had been selected by Elle magazine as a readers’ choice for March.

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“You spend three years writing, and you don’t know how it’s going to work out,” Davis said. “I’m very happy doing what I’m doing ... and I’m fortunate that people are receiving it so well.”

Davis, who grew up in Durham, N.C., was living in Oakland, where she was an assistant professor of English at Mills College. She had a bachelor’s degree in theater from Wesleyan University in Middletown, Conn., and a master’s of fine arts in fiction from Brooklyn College in Brooklyn, N.Y.

Her father was chairman of the neurology department at Stony Brook (N.Y.) University School of Medicine, and her mother was an assistant professor and librarian at Dowling College in Oakdale, N.Y. They lived in Setauket, N.Y.

Davis is survived by her sister, Joanna Davis of San Francisco, and a brother, Adam Davis of Lancaster, Pa.

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A memorial service will be held at 7 p.m. April 19 at a Clean Well Lighted Place for Books, 601 Van Ness Ave., San Francisco.

Davis’ friends and the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference are setting up a scholarship fund in her name. For information, contact Noreen Cargill, Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference, Middlebury College, Middlebury, VT 05753.


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