Monday, September 6, 2010

The Story Behind the Jenny McKean Moore Fund and Writer-in-Residence


"A few years ago the fund endowed the Jenny McKean Moore Writer-in-Washington to perpetuity. As long as there are creative writing classes at this university, our students and faculty will be able to profit from the presence on campus of writers like the one we showcase tonight."
-Prof. Faye Moskowitz, in opening the 2002-2003 JMM Lecture Series

Jenny McKean Moore: hers is a name one frequently hears around the GW English department. For students of Creative Writing, her name means the ability to experience a different published writer each year that you're at GW, the JMM Writer-In-Residence program. For writers, her name means time, resources, a fellowship of sorts. A fund that encourages an emerging writer to become an established one. For some GW English professors, her name reminds them how they got here. The residency has served as a stepping stone for several writers, who went on to seek a more permanent position at this university.

These are things we know about the late Mrs. Moore; still, specifics, things about her character, I felt compelled to seek out. Logically, I started with someone who knew her, Prof. Faye Moskowitz. Faye served as president of the board in charge of managing the sum Moore left behind. Faye mentioned Jenny published a book before she got ill, so I hit up Gelman.

The People on Second Street is a memoir Jenny wrote about the years she and her children spent stationed at the Grace Church Rectory in the impoverished blocks of 1950s Jersey City where her husband the Bishop Paul Moore had taken a post. (The book takes the reader through the summer of 1964, at which point the Moore family has left Grace Church and relocated to D.C., where Paul serves as Suffragan Bishop.)

The memoir made clear to me why the Community Workshop component of the JMM Fund for Writers exists; namely, it is in keeping with Jenny's belief that to accomplish anything you must forge friendships and engage in human interaction. For a writer to hope to affect a community they must first encounter its varied population in the way Jenny and her husband did, in their own parlor. Malcolm Boyd states in the introduction, the work's genius is that "[Jenny] shares persons with persons."

**Fun fact: Maxine Clair swears it was participating in the community workshop that motivated her to leave her career as a medical technician, and "turned her into a writer."

The People on Second Street is sad in one way, in that what might be a first published piece, was also Jenny's last. It was when Jenny moved to D.C. that she decided she deserved to devote time to her writing. Jenny's daughter, the poet/playwright Honor Moore, recalls how unfair it was that her mother was diagnosed with inoperable cancer when "everything was just starting" for her life as a writer. Nevertheless, Jenny embraced writing as an analgesic. With the encouragement and aid of playwriting Prof. Astere E. Claeyssens, Jenny wrote, which Faye says "made [Jenny's] death easier."

On her deathbed, Jenny acknowledged she'd been unable to harness the full potential writing held for her. She turned to Honor and said, "I've had enough children for both of us. You must write." Honor took these words the way they were intended to be taken, as a gift. In the same way some 30 years later, The Jenny McKean Moore Fund gives this gift, only on repeat, year after year after year.

For this gift, though I knew the giver not, I give my thanks.

1 comment:

Shell Crockett said...

That's a beautiful story...