Today, guest blogger, Cynthia McCloud (Nonfiction '19) contributes this week’s blog post in memory of her friend, Okey Napier, Jr. (Nonfiction ’19):
“There’s a queen-sized hole” in our MFA community, wrote Jonathan Corcoran (Faculty) in tribute to Okey Napier, Jr.
Okey was our encouraging classmate and devoted friend, who was also known as sassy drag performer Ilene Over.
Okey died July 17, 2018, two days after the end of summer residency. He was entering his fourth semester with big goals – to adapt some of his memoir into a play while also writing the critical essay with Jonathan as his advisor.
“He was in the process of writing down his story, a story that wowed us in the writing workshop and certainly would have wowed the world,” Jonathan wrote.
Sincere and selfless, Okey’s fierce love wowed everyone it touched.
For many of us, Okey was the first friend we made at residency, and for some he was the friend we maybe didn’t know we needed.
Julia Kastner (Nonfiction '19) wrote, “My friend Okey was a caretaker. The first, last, and middle memories I have of him involve him inquiring into my various small troubles: He wanted to be sure I was safe, healthy, and had what I needed to be happy. He wanted to give advice and assistance where he could. He was concerned for me. He wanted pictures of any man I would consider dating; he wanted to know how my mother was doing. He had many fine qualities: He was funny, sassy, wise, and selfless. But what I remember most was his deep concern for me, and in this respect I know I was not special. He cared for the many people he loved in this way. He wanted to take care of us.
“Others in this program have written about him finding a home here, support and community that he needed. I’m glad we had that to offer him, and I don’t doubt the truth of these statements. But I never much considered what we had to give to Okey; I always saw much more what he gave to us. Thank you, friend.”
We enjoyed Okey’s friendship for only 18 months, but it felt like we had been friends forever.
“I felt like I had always known Okey, even though we were relatively new friends,” wrote Sharon Waters (Nonfiction '19).
“I remain stunned and deeply saddened by Okey’s loss,” Sharon wrote. “I had just spent 10 days writing, talking and laughing with him before he passed. I can still feel the huge bear hug he gave me when we said goodbye. Okey was planning on coming to my church in the next few months to hear me preach. I had promised to attend his Bar Mitzvah when the time came.
“He said several times during our residency, ‘Have you noticed how everything on campus looks greener, lusher, and more beautiful this time?’ I told him I believed this was so because he had opened a new chapter in his life and was seeing everything with ‘new’ eyes. Okey was happy, excited about all that lay ahead, and making plans he could barely wait to see unfold. I take comfort from that, as I know he did. I am devastated to know I will not see him again on this side of life. I will miss you, sweet friend. Rest well in the arms of the One who created such a beautiful you!”
Okey’s absence leaves some of us feeling a duty to continue his life’s work, whichever aspect of it we feel called to take up. May we welcome everyone without prejudice. May we be for others the kind of encourager Okey was for us. May we create a community of love and acceptance. May we write our passions.
Okey was a contributor to the 2017 collection Unbroken Circle: Stories of Cultural Diversity in the South and was slated to be included in a 2019 anthology of LGBTQ literature from Appalachia. Okey valued diversity and inclusion. To honor his memory, the West Virginia Wesleyan MFA program has established a memorial scholarship to offer tuition assistance to incoming MFA students who identify with underrepresented or marginalized communities. The fundraising goal is set at $20,000 to enable the school to endow the scholarship and ensure a consistent annual yield for scholarship disbursal. To give, please visit https://mfa-scholarship.everydayhero.com/us/wvwc-5.