7 responses to “In Memoriam: Gary Iorio”

  1. Cheryl

    I first met Gary Iorio when my writing spirits were lowest. He saved me, sort of; then dropped me into a disastrous complication that Peter Sellers as Inspector Clouseau would have admired. I last saw him 36 years later on one of the best writing days of my life, which he shared with me by happy accident. In-between we lost touch with each other, the rule during the pre-internet age. But I hadn’t forgotten him. Indeed, I had embroidered upon our first meeting, not with false details, but with admiration and amazement that this bolt of energy had intervened on my behalf. After reconnecting, I read his stories and poems that he was furiously producing to make up for time lost, caught glances of his cannonball personality as it bounded around, felt heartened as he mended fences torn during a period of what seems to have been hell-bent carousing. Losing him feels all wrong. We were just getting started again.

    There was a party thrown for the IWW tribe the night of the first day of classes. New arrivals, jaded second-year types, teachers and scores of others. I sagged into the crowded living room. That day I’d put up a story, the first of our workshop. The teacher opened class by saying he hadn’t read it. The effect was like throwing a herring into the Orca tank at Sea World. My new classmates–those who didn’t say they hadn’t read it either–tore it apart. Welcome to Iowa, rookie. After that, the party was a blur. Then someone spoke my name. A powerful voice, shouting. Roaring. I’d never seen this guy in my life. Strong Italian features, burly torso, a blue streak of profanity. My story was great, he said. I read it, he said. I can’t believe the fucking teacher didn’t read it. Come on, he said, and dragged me through rooms until we were facing the teacher-who-mustn’t-be-named. Who began to apologize, as if realizing the storm that was about to break on his head.

    A stranger, Gary Iorio defended me. Of course, being Gary–as I later found out, a most profane, explosive, self-anthropormophizing creature as ever lived–he did so by first dropping to his knees and baying like a hound. The moment became surreal, awkward, then awful, then beyond nightmare. Worse, I must admit, than leaving sleeping dogs alone. Sure, the teacher never forgave me that moment and slipped the shiv into everything I put up after, careful this time not to leave fingerprints. Sure, I had a sense of having prayed for a Golem and been given a Gary. But, god damn it, I could never hear any criticism of my work at Iowa after that without hearing the baying of his hound.

    So 36 years later I come out to Manhattan, sick and feeble from a cancer that tried its best to kill me. I’m on the mend, unsteady on my feet as I wait on Maiden Lane to see Gary and Bill McCoy, another friend with whom indelible adventures were shared during those years at Iowa. We’re meeting at a Lebanese takeout joint, not even a restaurant, when my cell rings. It’s my agent calling. My book–circulating for 15 months, on its last legs–has been bought. So, of course, the great Gary voice broke out and it was as nothing had changed. The Madman of Massapequa was on the loose–again.

  2. Cheryl

    Gary, in the Neverland that is Facebook, you found me, although really you found me before that, when Eric began his journey that would reconnect the Iowa dots, even at a time that I’m finding it hard to connect this dot to the rest of them, this dot that filled itself in without anyone of us ever knowing.

    Eric Olsen began his treks from California to New York City, to places North, South and back West, to find the lost and found souls of our Iowa years together. Eric gathered you up in that journey, and he gathered me. I don’t know about you, Gary, but Eric and I had been talking for years about writing as a habit, as something that kept us close to the abyss, but there’s something to be said for that, as it kept us interested in living, too.

    You became a lawyer sometime after you left Iowa, and it was when you were back at it again that we reconnected. You wanted to know about my doctoral program. You were going to apply to Ohio University, but when I gave you the lowdown, you changed your mind and simply began writing again, began sending your work out, began to write quite a lot of flash fiction and plays and poetry, and what you were writing was really good. I read a bunch of it, as you began to publish in small and then bigger places. You kept up with me, and you were oh so kind, wanting to know what was up, and you were supportive, and very recently you were really, especially supportive. And now I’m talking Facebook because that’s where I saw when things were published, and I navigated from there, and I pieced together your story, saw how accomplished not only you were but your daughter was. I read one of her stories, as well. And two years ago, at the AWP, I met one of your childhood friends and told you about it—she was not living in Massapequa anymore, but she was doing one-woman shows, an actress, and for a while we talked about you, and then we talked about motherhood.

    Little did I know that that would be the closest I’d get to you—in Chicago—outside of one of those auditoriums, after a panel I happened to be a part of—Eric’s panel. So difficult to accept that for the last three years, you’ve only been 17 miles away from me, and although we wrote about this eventual meeting we would have, we never made it happen. We “talked” over this transom, this box of light, and it couldn’t have been more than a month ago you were reposting my son’s videos, telling your friends about him, and just two weeks ago, you insisted on buying the small anthology my story was in, and then you read it, as you’d promised to, and reviewed it so kindly. I wrote back saying we had to keep egging each other on. And now I will have to imagine your doing that and writing in Heaven somewhere. Your work was fantastic—and your generosity, your kindness, your remembering about our drive back to NYC from Iowa, where you remembered where I was living 35 years ago! How sharp your mind, how charged with love your heart, and how trim you are in the photographs. I remember hearing about your bicycle trips! How can it be that you’re not here! I remember looking at the photographs of your beautiful mother and the stories of her childhood that you wrote. I can only think you must be in a better place.

    From Gary’s interview, “Crack the Spine”
    It’s a cliché, but we write with the door closed, and we edit and revise with the door and our minds open…. And it’s fun, real fun, to be read.

  3. Bill McCoy

    If it hadn’t been for Gary, I’m pretty sure I would have run sobbing back to Pennsylvania within weeks of having arrived at the Workshop. We were sitting next to each other in the same writing class. As one given the gift of extreme sensitivity to others, Gary must have intuited within seconds how out of place, how undeserving I felt being there. As one given the gift of extreme extroversion, he knew exactly how to deal with the problem. He, of course, had already made loads of friends in the space of several hours. Some of those people quickly became my friends, too——or so it felt after several hours at the Mill.

    As the year went on, he asserted himself as the most vocal champion of my work——not that many people were clamoring for that honor——and a reliable source of insights about others. I still remember a number of his most accurate and funny judgments on our colleagues and their work, polished nuggets (you knew he’d spent a long time formulating exactly the right words) that he would repeat at appropriate moments. Unlike some of our classmates, his intention was to be generous. He saw he had no real competition and reserved his most withering comments for those who put Workshop politics ahead of the reason we were actually there: to delight each other.

    That spring break I went home with him to Massapequa Park. The first night there we drove around and he introduced me to a world as full of life and weirdness and passion as any fiction writer’s turf, real or invented. We stopped in front of a stone house in a prosperous older development and he said, “Guess who lived there.” I couldn’t, of course. Stabbing his finger at the front door, he proclaimed: “Durward Kirby.” (No demerits if you don’t recognize the name of the sidekick on Candid Camera.) We drove past a place called the Stumble Inn, and decided to, in fact, stumble in. We went past his high school, and he said, “There are guys I remember from that school whose lives peaked when they were 17. Life is never going to get any better for them than senior year.”

    We were never quite as close after that first year –— I became engaged to a woman whose sense of humor was not fully engaged —– but we were always friends. It had been some time since I’d seen him when he joined Don Wallace and me for lunch on a winter day a little over a year ago. As we were laying plans to meet, in a very Iorio way he told me exactly what trains and subway lines he would be taking to the restaurant, as if this was information I would be expected to memorize. Then he repeated it. It strikes me now that this was his peculiar kind of precision, his way of believing in details. Even if you didn’t know why a detail was important, even if you only had a sense that it was, if you kept turning it over in your mind and repeating it, you’d eventually figure things out.

    At lunch we didn’t stop talking for two hours, and there was a lot of laughing. But it wasn’t nostalgic, not entirely and not even for the most part. It was, instead, three middle-aged men who had known each other as young men, sharing the way they looked at the world now. As usual, Gary dominated the conversation. At the time, I was glad for that, and I’m even gladder now.

  4. Jennie Fields

    Gary was one of the most colorful people at the Workshop and one of the dearest. He was so enthusiastic about his writing. He’d talk about a story he was working on as someone might speak of a love affair. It gave him pleasure. It gave him pain. It thrilled him. It disappointed him. I remember I loved a story he wrote about his mother called “Lady Diseases.” There was so much vulnerability and bravado in that story, a combination that was humbling. In fact, there were so many stories of his I liked, he gave me his bound thesis as a gift, and I still have it all these years later.

    We Wanted to Be Writers (thank you Eric and Cheryl) and FB finally brought us in touch again, and Gary was so kind to write enthusiastically about my books, especially my first book, Lily Beach partially set at The University of Iowa. I wish I’d had a chance to see him one more time at least. It’s almost impossible to believe he’s gone, but he’ll never be forgotten.

  5. Jan Jasion Cubbage

    What a blow! Gary was one of my very best friends and like me, a wannabe writer and a published poet back in 1971-2 at Hofstra University. Gary was full of life and so darn funny! I can not count how many times he made me laugh out loud! Best of moments… the all-night writers’ workshops, overnight campouts at Sam Toperoff’s home. You were too young to leave us Gary. I feel for his wife and family.

    Jan Jasion Cross, author of Screaming Ponies

  6. Doug Borsom

    Here’s what I can say about Gary.

    He hid no part of himself. If he liked you, he made sure you knew. And likewise if he didn’t. His volume-level ranged from 7 to 10. The same for his passions. He had no mute button. Gary would say things like, “I go to a little writing workshop at a library. I suffer through the little spiritual shit some of them write, and then I take it out of my pants.” Those lucky enough to have read his stories knew that in fact what Gary exposed when he wrote was his heart. His work was sensitive and closely observed and never sentimental. Attempts to one-up him in a discussion rarely worked. He would surprise you with his knowledge of an obscure author or book you thought only you knew.

    Other things: He was fearless. At Iowa, he took a pail and rags and scrubbed out the car in which a friend had killed himself with a gun. He asked women he slept with to rate him against previous partners. When he fell short in the scoring, he claimed he thanked them for their honesty. And I believe it. He was crazy in love with his mother, and would tell anyone who would listen that she was one of the most beautiful women he had ever seen. He had the same large love for his sister, Karen, and his daughter, also Karen, named for his sister, who died in a car wreck during Gary’s time at Iowa. When Gary reconnected with his daughter after years of estrangement, he wrote me, “I see an end to my suffering.”

    Not long ago, he wrote that he had a previously-untold story, something crazy that happened while he was at the Workshop. But it had to be conveyed over the phone or in person. Now I’ll never know. Always the story-teller, Gary left me wanting more.

    1. Bill McCoy

      You got him.

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