The past two weeks have been filled with heartache and joy related to our dear friend Dudley Clendinen, who died on May 30 only nineteen months after being diagnosed with the cruel affliction known as Lou Gehrig’s Disease. My eulogy for him is posted in the previous blog. Several noteworthy events converged randomly and serendipitously, just as Dudley would have relished.
Sadly, he did not quite make it to the show in Baltimore of the forthcoming film from Fox Searchlight, Beasts of the Southern Wild. Jed Dietz of the Maryland Film Festival worked diligently to arrange a closed screening while Dudley was still alive, because Dudley was so delighted for his young cousin Lucy Alibar, co-screenwriter of the film based on her stage play. Advance reviews are stunning, as Beasts has captured top prizes at both Sundance and Cannes. The theater release coming soon in July almost certainly will make new stars of the untrained lead actors, Dwight Henry and 6-year-old Quvenzhane Wallis, while opening bright career doors for Alibar and the visionary director, Benh Zeitlin.
To safeguard public impact, and prevent pirate videos, gremlins confiscated for later return all cameras and cell phones from the lucky patrons who entered the June 5 screening. After the film, which transported viewers through a world of grim and fantastic apocalypse into the healing mysteries of nature, Lucy Alibar answered questions on stage in an interview with WYPR radio host Tom Hall. Emotions from the audience ran deep over the film as well as Alibar’s remembrances of the senior cousin she knew as “Unca’ Dudley,” whose funeral had taken place only the day before.
Tom Hall conducted a remarkable series of 25 public radio interviews with Dudley about his swiftly approaching death at the hands of the intimate killer he called “Lou.” Those conversations served as raw material for a book Dudley was writing until his final day. The book project had grown from a stark essay he wrote last July for his beloved New York Times, where Dudley had been a reporter in the 1980s. With its courageous reflections on how to die, his essay “The Good Short Life” attracted worldwide attention from terminal patients as well as ordinarily reluctant mortals. Algonquin Books, a division of the Workman Press, plans to publish Dudley’s posthumous memoir within a year.
In one of our closing moments, I got to pass along from Julian Bond the inside story of the NAACP’s surprise endorsement for full equality rights in gay marriage. This news was especially important to Dudley because of his youthful travail as a closeted homosexual and his mature work with Adam Nagourney of the Times as historians of the gay rights movement (Out for Good, 1999). The news was equally important to Julian, a pioneer of the civil rights movement and long-time Board chair for the NAACP, because of his long quest to make gender rights an issue of human freedom and respect like racial justice. Julian and I have been friends for nearly 45 years. At our home for dinner, with his wife Pam Horowitz, he told Christy and me of the parliamentary breakthrough at the NAACP Board’s May meeting—of the inspiration to embrace gay marriage not only in discussion but in a formal vote, and how he drafted a simple statement of principle that evaded snares over wording and procedure. Struggles continue as always, but word of the victory cheered Dudley, which cheered Julian, and should cheer us all for the long run.