Honoring Mary Rynes
We were very sad to learn that longtime literary community member Mary Rynes passed away in February 2023. As noted by her family: "She was a fixture in the local writing community, writing poetry, short fiction, and memoir. An active member of the writing groups Ladies of the Night and the Lliterary Llamas, she made devoted friends and shared great work. She was published several times and put out a chapbook of her own poetry."
Mary's family requested that donations be made to Literary Cleveland in lieu of flowers. "We had several groups in mind that promote writing and lifelong learning, but when we re-read Literary Cleveland's mission statement, it seemed the perfect way to honor Mary. She was a fixture in the Cleveland writing community and nurturing and encouraging other writers was one of her joys and goals in life."
As a community writing organization, members like Mary embody the spirit of support, friendship, and creativity that we aim to foster. We aim to carry on her legacy in all the work we do.
After Three Months on Siesta Key
By Mary Rynes
I’ve got a belly full of birds.
Such surfeit follows weeks of delight in shore birds that imprint the pristine sand with acres of cuneiform, in egrets fluffing Mae West boas, flamingos mirrored in watery mazes, leathery pelicans pumping the sky.
I don’t realize how jaded I am until, returned to the frozen north, I startle at the sight of a single bird perched atop a leafless tree.
I’m revived by its solitude, its singularity.
Below are remembrances from several of Mary's friends, including those in her poetry workshop Night Vision and her fiction writing group the Lliterary Llamas.
In addition to Poets' League of Greater Cleveland business, Mary and I, along with our husbands, shared inspired times on Siesta Key. Mary had a literary voice like none other, fey and charming. I remember a magical short story with peacocks in it. If anyone has that story, I'd love to read it again, and pass it along to those who've never had the pleasure of Mary's voice.
Things I love about Mary:
Her sincerity, her hunger for learning, her profound intellect;
Her incredible memory for poets’ and writers’ words;
Her growing edge as a fine photographer--the fact that she has allowed herself to do it, reveled in it, enjoyed sharing this with Ed;
Her flowering as a poet, and finally believing in herself enough to compile a chapbook of her unique, deep, and remarkable poetry.
Mary was sweet and soft, with a wonderful spirit. She put herself into everything that interested her such as photography, birds, and gardening.
Mary and I met in 2004 in a writing class at Poets and Writers League of Greater Cleveland, for which I’ll be forever grateful. I didn’t know it at the time, but it was a day that changed my life. Not only because I was introduced to Mary, but because we formed the writers’ group—extended family, really—that would become the Lliterary Llamas. The Llamas have enriched my life in countless ways. I can’t even imagine life without them. But I have to do more than imagine life without one of them, now that Mary is gone. We tend to buy a lot of llama tchotchkes for each other, and the other day I saw little llama charms that I decided to buy. I automatically picked up four and then realized I only needed three, which, of course, made me sad. But it also made me think about the many treasured years we had with Mary, and the myriad of stories we shared. Her way with words was legendary, and our group would marvel at her clever “Mary-isms,” even in simple emails. She could turn a phrase like no other. I don’t think she ever intended to be an inspiration, and yet she was, in so many ways.
When I met Mary, it was one week after my mom had passed away. And although Mary obviously didn’t fill that role for me, she did end up filling so many others—dear friend, gracious listener, teacher, wise advisor, grammar consultant, encourager, and sometimes persistent nudger—gently pushing me to write more, to keep writing, to “get my work out there”—and she filled a role I didn’t even know I needed, didn’t know was missing until then: Mary was my ideal reader. From a writer, there is no higher praise.
When I met Mary, I could have never guessed how much she would come to mean to my life, not only as an important editor, cheerleader, and often teacher of my writing, but as an invaluable friend.
We Llamas became a sisterhood. Our love for each other forming a bond that transcended age, race, and sometimes distance. Together we celebrated our joys, and provided a safe space to recover from the inevitable hardships that long-term friends endure, always with a kind word and Mary's unmatched sense of humor, that somehow always seemed to make the worst seem just a bit better. I'll never stop hearing her voice urging me on towards my writing dreams. I'll be forever grateful to have been given the time to let her know that her wish for our writing--finding an audience -- was finally coming true. With every success, I'll take a moment to think of the beauty of her smile. With every disappointment, I'll think of her telling me to keep going. We'll forever miss her, but her words will live on forever. Cheers, Mary Llama.
My first introduction to Mary was as a runner. She was part of a runner’s group I briefly joined. We ran through Forest Hills Park a few times a week, then gathered for coffee and conversation at Irv’s Deli on Coventry. The coffee was so-so, but the talk was wonderful. What I noticed right away about Mary was how genuinely interested she was in what everyone had to say -- a rare quality. I was delighted when Mary joined a monthly poetry workshop I started in 1990. She was gracious, funny, curious, and an astute (and always diplomatic) critic. I can still remember some lines of her poems -- musical, acute observations only Mary could have made. I especially enjoyed the poems about her childhood in Louisiana, a place I have never visited, but can now imagine, thanks to Mary. She had an endless inventory of stories from every stage of her life. Almost any topic of conversation could elicit one-- funny, bizarre, poignant, memorable. Mary told stories well, and she never told the same story twice.
I met Mary in 2007 at my very first writing class, which was given by what was then called the Poets and Writers’ League of Greater Cleveland. The instructor was Linda Goodman Robiner, who has also become a friend. It was a small group, but I was enchanted from the first time Mary read by her stories and her ability to tell them. To convey so much in so few words. To take me to places I’d never been. The lilt of her slightly Southern accent just added to the magic. She was also thoughtful and considerate in her insights and suggestions for my fledgling writing. I had only retired a few months before from corporate America, deciding my next step would be to write the great American novel. So, to say that my writing was raw would be polite. But I had heard that writers needed to have a writing group—other trusted writers who would offer feedback on a regular basis. I didn’t know how much more a writing group could be. Would be.
When the last class ended, I fortified my courage and went up to Mary, planning to ask her if she was interested in forming a writing group. To my surprise, before I could get the words out, she asked me: would you like to be part of my writing group? Saying I was thrilled to hear those words would be an understatement. I joined the group thinking they would be a small but important niche in my life, related only to getting feedback on my writing and giving feedback on theirs. Boy was I wrong.
We call ourselves the Lliterary Llamas. The two L’s in “Lliterary” is just a little writer, word-nerd humor. We fed our first and last names into an anagram program, and two of the words that appeared were literary and llama. It was meant to be.
Mary became a beloved friend, coach, cheerleader, sharer of secrets, and part of the reason we survived the pandemic with our faculties mostly intact. After a few months of lockdown, we decided to keep meeting, but at my condo instead of a restaurant. It was a monthly haven for a few hours from the crazy outside world.
I am self-publishing my first novel in the next few months and am sorry that Mary, who played such a key role in its growth from idea to rough draft to (I hope) polished manuscript won’t get to hold it in her hands. I did read the dedication to her, though. Here it is:
To Mary Rynes
A woman of grace, wit, grit, humor, and talent
I loved your writing from the first time I read it
and even more when I heard your words in your slightly Southern silver voice.
I was thrilled when you generously invited me to become part of your writing group.
I joined a writing group and found a family.