Davis, Amanda 1971-2003
DAVIS, Amanda 1971-2003
PERSONAL: Born 1971; died in a plane crash near Asheville, NC, March 14, 2003; buried in Carrboro, NC; daughter of James (a physician) and Francie (a librarian) Davis. Education: Wesleyan University, B.A.; Brooklyn College, M.F.A. Religion: Jewish.
CAREER: Writer. Esquire (magazine), New York, NY, fiction assistant, 1997-99; City University of New York, Brooklyn College, adjunct lecturer in English, 1997-98; 92nd Street Y, New York, NY, instructor, 2000; Antioch University, Los Angeles, CA, mentoring instructor, 2002; Mills College, Oakland, CA, assistant professor of English, 2002-03.
MEMBER: Author's Guild, Writer's Room, Associated Writing Programs.
AWARDS, HONORS: Short story prize from Story magazine, 1997, for "Prints"; Tara fellow, Heekin Foundation, 1998; fellow, Bread Loaf Writer's Conference, 1997 and 2000, Blue Mountain Center, 1998, MacDowell Colony, 1999 and 2003, Djerassi Resident Artists Program, 2000, Wesleyan Writers Conference, 2000, Tyrone Guthrie Center, 2001, and Corporation of Yaddo, 2002.
Circling the Drain (short stories), Rob Weisbach Books (New York, NY, 1999.
Wonder When You'll Miss Me (novel), Morrow (New York, NY), 2003.
Contributor to books, including Best New American Voices 2001, Harcourt, 2002, Burned Children of America, Minimum Fax, 2002, and Lit Riffs, MTV Books, 2003. Contributor of short stories and articles to periodicals, including Book, Poets and Writers, Black Book, Failbetter.com, Yale Literary Magazine, Bookforum, McSweeney's, Esquire, Seventeen, and Story.
SIDELIGHTS: Amanda Davis garnered critical recognition for her books Circling the Drain, a collection of short fiction, and Wonder When You'll Miss Me, a novel. Davis was the winner of Story magazine's annual short story contest in 1997 and was awarded fellowships from the prestigious MacDowell Colony, Bread Loaf Writer's Conference, Wesleyan Writers Conference, and Corporation of Yaddo.
Davis, who had been writing short stories since junior high school, moved to New York shortly after graduating from college in order to seriously pursue a writing career. She worked at a public relations job for a corporation—a job she hated—and waited tables, but the job that was most helpful was her stint in the Esquire fiction department. "It was tremendous—I learned a lot, got to read a lot of great stuff—but so frustrating," Davis told Ron Hogan in Beatrice Magazine. "There'd be a two-foot stack of submissions that I'd be looking at, twice a week. And you have to get through it, because there's another stack just like it coming." Davis avoided having her work end up in stacks like that through some lucky timing. She got a scholarship to the prestigious Bread Loaf writer's conference and there met Lois Rosenthal, the editor of Story. She sent Rosenthal her story, "Chase," about a girl who kills a boy's horse so that she won't have a rival for his affection, and Rosenthal bought it.
"Chase" is one of the fifteen stories in Davis's 1999 collection Circling the Drain. Many of these stories focus on troubled—or troubling—relationships between men and women. In "Red Lights like Laughter," a couple waits out a blizzard in a hotel room. They seem normal enough until Davis reveals the violent act that they are fleeing from. In the title piece of the collection, a woman falls for a man who works at the shoe-rental counter at a bowling alley. He turns out to be a shoe fetishist.
Other of Davis's stories explore different territory. The seventeen-year-old heroine of "The Visit" bonds with a grandfather who's suffering from Alzheimer's disease. "Testimony" tells the tale of a woman convinced that her late brother could actually channel the voice of God. "The Very Moment They're About" focuses on a teenage couple on the last night of summer camp, who are about to experience a first kiss that will mark the dividing line between childhood and adulthood. In one of Davis's most experimental stories, "Faith, or Tips for the Successful Young Lady," a slimmed-down high schooler is stalked by her fat former self—an entity she can actually see and who goads her to take revenge on those who used to taunt her.
Several critics found a gentle, calm quality in Davis's stories. "Amanda Davis writes gently, even poetically, about extraordinary brutality," Mary Elizabeth Williams noted in her review of Circling the Drain for the New York Times Book Review. "With a calm tone, the sensibility of a Southern writer, and a twinge of magic realism, [Davis] probes the lives of girls and women for whom boys are a painfully enthralling necessity," wrote Touré in the Village Voice. "It's amazing how deep Davis's stories run because most of them are as short as a few pages." Other critics remarked on Davis's narrative skill. Polly Morrice in Salon.com, for example, found that "in nearly all of these stories . . . things move right along....By combining her talent for narrative with her willingness to take risks . . . Davis might really soar her next time out." "There is nothing groundbreaking here," Gaelle Eizlini admitted in FFWD Weekly, "but Davis introduces an edgy voice laced with fear, insecurity, exhilaration and rage. . . . A talented newcomer."
In February of 2003, Davis published her first novel, Wonder When You'll Miss Me, the story of a teenaged girl who is raped at her high school, survives a subsequent suicide attempt, and then decides to join the circus and leave her troubled past behind. Faith Druckle also imagines she has an invisible companion, The Fat Girl, her own overweight former self, who goads her into violence. Faith's work at the circus, where she takes on the new name of Annabelle Cabinet, leads her to a kind of psychological healing among the freaks and circus performers. "Davis never lets us assume," Shannon Bloomstran wrote in Mostlyfiction.com, "that Faith's . . . new life is perfect....Weare left, however, with a measure of hope." The critic for Publishers Weekly praised Davis's "tensely lyrical prose and fullbodied characterizations." According to Sarah Rachel Egelman in her review for Bookreporter.com, "Davis has created a lucid, compelling page-turner that defies categorization." Meredith Parets in Booklist concluded: "This is an astonishing debut: dark, disturbing, and fiercely openhearted."
In March of 2003, while on a national book tour to promote Wonder When You'll Miss Me, Davis was killed when the single-engine plane she was flying in crashed into a mountain some eighteen miles from Asheville, North Carolina. Her father, who was piloting the plane, and her mother were also killed in the accident. Janet Holmgren, president of Mills College, where Davis taught, stated in the San Francisco Chronicle that Davis was "a talented new voice in American fiction and a highly respected new member of the faculty who brought great energy and passion to her teaching." Davis's friend Heidi Julavitz, in a tribute posted at the McSweeney's Magazine Web site, called the writer "one of the funniest, self-effacing, chutzpahcharged and big-hearted human beings anyone could ever hope to encounter."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Booklist, February 1, 2003, Meredith Parets, review of Wonder When You'll Miss Me, p. 971.
FFWD Weekly, July 15, 1999, Gaelle Eizlini, review of Circling the Drain.
Kirkus Reviews, December 1, 2002, review of WonderWhen You'll Miss Me, p. 1714.
Library Journal, May 15, 1999, Christine DeZelar-Tiedman, review of Circling the Drain, p. 130.
New York Times Book Review, June 20, 1999, Mary Elizabeth Williams, review of Circling the Drain.
Publishers Weekly, May 10, 1999, review of Circling the Drain, p. 57; November 18, 2002, review of Wonder When You'll Miss Me, p. 40.
Village Voice, October 23, 2002, Touré, review of Circling the Drain.
Beatrice Magazine,http://www.beatrice.com/ (October 23, 2002), Ron Hogan, "Amanda Davis: 'I Have No Idea What I'm Doing, but I'm Enjoying It."
Bookreporter.com,http://www.bookreporter.com/ (March 19, 2003), Sarah Rachel Egelman, review of Wonder When You'll Miss Me.
McSweeney's Internet Tendency,http://www.mcsweeneys.net/ (March 21, 2003), Heidi Julavits, tribute to Amanda Davis.
MostlyFiction.com,http://www.mostlyfiction.com/ (January 29, 2003), Shannon Bloomstran, review of Wonder When You'll Miss Me.
Salon.com,http://www.salon.com/ (June 7, 1999), Polly Morrice, review of Circling the Drain.
Wonder When You'll Miss Me Web site,http://www.wonderwhenyoullmissme.com/ (March 19, 2003).*
News-Observer (Charlotte, NC), March 18, 2003, Rah Bickley, "A Life of Letters Cut Short."
New York Observer, March 21, 2003, Joe Hagan, "Amanda Davis, 1971-2003."
New York Post, March 17, 2003, p. 12.
New York Times, March 18, 2003, p. C14.
Register-Guard (Eugene, OR), March 16, 2003.
San Francisco Chronicle, March 18, 2003, p. A22.*