Today I typed you name into google to find your address. I am applying to Sotheby’s Institute of Art in London to study Art Business, and the application requires two academic references. I of course wanted you to be one of them, and I needed your address to mail the recommendation form to you. The first result on google is your website. That surprised me because I’m pretty sure I’ve googled you before and I didn’t know you had a website. I don’t remember the next google result. All I saw was “death reported.” At first I was too scared to read the entire title, but eventually my eyes drifted to the left of the screen. “Arkansas Blog: Donald Harington death reported.” I am so sad. I read the entry and about 10 others, on the U of A website, the Fayetteville Flyer, Wikipedia, even a publication in the UK reported on your life, work and death. They all say pretty much the same thing. November. I can’t believe it has been two months and I didn’t know. You are the first person I have known whose death left me with regret. My grandmother passed away a little over a year ago. I had seen her just days before and we had had the most lovely conversation. Maybe if you run into her in the Great Beyond you can give her my love? Ruby Anderson is her name. But I have been wanting to get in contact with you for months, to ask questions about art history and graduate schools and careers paths and the art world. And now it’s too late. The reports all said you had been battling cancer for a long time. This surprised me. I did not know that was why you were sick. I remember you telling some things about your condition and health to the class, but not anything about cancer. All the reports gave very high praise to your writing skills, listing all your awards and mentions and calling you the greatest unknown American author. This makes me even more sad that I never got around to reading any of your books, which I have wanted to do from the first day of class. I am starting now though, and I remember that once you said your favorite was Lightning Bug so maybe I’ll start with that. And your latest just came out and I remember you talking about it in class too. And I can not believe you were good friends with William Styron! I am actually reading Sophie’s Choice right now, which I consider more than a coincidence. The reports mentioned that you began your studies for your PhD but say you left to teach. It made me laugh that no one seemed to know the real story – it is such a good one! How your thesis was “too flighty” and needed to be rewritten but you thought it was just fine and you decided they could just keep their PhD. I hope I have that kind of bravery and self-confidence one day. One student who wrote about your death remembered how you yelled in class. That made me laugh too. But there are some things that just need to be yelled. And some people who just need to be yelled at. I am still going to try to use the recommendation letter you wrote for me, even though you can not sign off on the application. It touches my heart each time I read it and I hope I can live up to the accolades you give me. I will keep you posted on everything art related in my life since you were my strongest influence and my biggest encouragement.
I hope you are having a wonderful afterlife, full of art and literature and all your favorite things.
Your student always,