Letters from Byrne’s past
One of my favorite parts of writing the memoir about my relationship with Byrne Miller is what I call, in quotes, “doing the research.” That term sounds so boring, like a job. But in reality it’s hearing from people who read this blog and combing through her personal papers. I love reading letters people wrote to Byrne, even my own. I sent her postcards from Washington DC and all of my travels and I can hear my 20-something-enthusiasm in the block-print words – big enough for her to see. Byrne kept letters that touched her, so reading them feels like seeing into her heart.
Here’s what I mean. It’s coming up on 21 years since Byrne won the prestigious Elizabeth O’Neil Verner Award – South Carolina’s highest honor for individual contributions to the arts. Mary Whisonant, one of my sisters-by-Byrne, helped organize all the nomination requirements. So there are letters. Dozens of them. All practically demanding that the governor give Byrne this award!
An original member of the BMDT performing group, Annie Griffey, wrote “through her choreographic genius, she was able to transform plumbers, teachers, Marine Corps drill instructors, architects and social workers into dancers.”
Beaufort’s Joan S. Taylor wrote “All this time, when many of us with aesthetic aspirations had simply to struggle to maintain the domestic and economic status quo, Byrne’s presence, sometimes as painful as a thorn in the side, pricking the conscience, has reminded us that life must be exuberance, that life, celebrated in art, in dance, resists the slow sinking toward the inert, and in so doing, creates a livelier, more intense life for us all.”
A dancer from Charleston, Elaine Dickinson-Commins, wrote of “how important is it in these to be given the joy of being in control of one’s body, of loving its moves, of using your whole self to communicate what you think is beautiful, sad, funny, strange, what is inexpressible in words but deeply felt and clearly understood by those who see you dance.”
But my very favorite letters were written by kids. This one was taped to her refrigerator from a little boy named Thomas Damron. He was one of literally thousands of Beaufort County school kids who got to see the Nutcracker in partnership with the Beaufort County Public Schools.
“When we went to Beaufort I thought it was just another play. And then POW (scribbled within a hand drawn red star) I loved it.” I hope Thomas Damron still loves the arts.
6 thoughts on “Letters from Byrne’s past”
August 31, 2010 at 11:32 AM
It’s this active archiving, as Mary W. has done…and as you’re doing with this project…which both keeps present those people who brought us to this point -and which makes it possible to build on these remarkable earlier accomplishments and explorations. The archive – the memory – is essential for our progress.
September 1, 2010 at 6:52 AM
I love that term – active archiving! Can I steal it?
August 31, 2010 at 2:06 PM
POW! I loved it, too… to quote young Thomas Damron. I have no doubt his life was forever changed by Byrne. Your work in keeping her spirit alive is so important, Teresa. It is also such a great pleasure to read. Thank you!
August 31, 2010 at 3:44 PM
Getting kids interested in the arts at an early age is so important.
I’m glad that you’re bringing her contribution into perspective.
I look forward to your talk on Byrne Miller in September.
September 1, 2010 at 6:58 AM
Don’t you wish Byrne was around to see Beaufort turn three hundred years old? Next best thing though, is to have the Beaufort Three Century project consider your life’s work essential to the city’s history. That’s why they asked me to give the presentation. I’m sure lots of folks in the audience will remember her, but I’m really excited about the chance to introduce a whole new generation to Byrne’s legacy.
September 1, 2010 at 7:00 AM
Too funny. Here we writers struggle and struggle to capture the essence of a person’s spirit and a kid comes along and says “POW! I loved it.”