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Memories of Amanda Davis

Mills College Weekly

When English professor Amanda Davis died in a plane crash, no
one at Mills was prepared for it. Now, just over a year later,
Davis is being remembered by many for her warmth, her intelligence,
and her goodwill.

Just barely 32 years old, Davis and both of her parents died on
March 14, 2003, in Asheville, N.C. while on a promotional tour, in
a plane being piloted by her father. Just before her death she had
published her second work, Wonder When You’ll Miss Me, and been put
on tenure-track at Mills, after starting in the fall semester.

“Amanda created friendships and made a difference,” said English
professor Elmaz Abinader. “She really helped the English department
think differently and was a huge part of the process for the new
major. We refer still to points she raised and the ways in which
she brought them forward.”

“As the youngest member of our faculty, she allowed us to feel
new again,” Abinader said.

Elizabeth Sosa, MFA creative writing candidate and a student of
Davis, said, “She was amazing. She was very accessible as a
professor.” Sosa said Davis was passionate about students’ work,
often spending extra time helping them with their writing. “As new
writers, you’re confidence isn’t always there yet,” but she said
Davis helped everyone feel good about what they were doing.

Sosa was one of about a dozen students that gathered last week
to remember Davis. “It wasn’t as much a memorial as it was just
enjoying each other’s company,” she said.

“She was just full of life,” said Cornelia Nixon, another fellow
English professor, who has given four eulogies in three different
states for her friend Davis. The two quickly became friends as well
as colleagues after Davis applied for the position at Mills. Nixon
said she quickly grabbed the copy of Davis’s first book Circling
the Drain that was with her application, and then jumped at the
chance to meet her that summer in New York. They hit it off, and
what was supposed to have been lunch turned into a whole afternoon
together around the city.

“It’s been a long time since I liked anyone that much on first
meeting,” Nixon said.

Their friendship only strengthened when Davis was hired at Mills
and moved into an office just a couple of doors down. One day Nixon
was having trouble with prescription eye drops, Davis dropped her
work, made phone calls and searched the Internet for answers, and
drove Nixon home.

“She didn’t do anything halfway.”

The walls of Nixon’s office are dotted with a few different
pictures, including one she said showed Davis’s characteristic
attitude: relaxing with her feet up on the desk, but still working
on the keyboard in her lap with a smile playing across her

“Really she seemed about 19 in some ways, and she was incredibly
bright,” Nixon said. “We were all affected by her loss.” She said
Davis’s students refused to meet in the building after her death,
meeting instead at one of their houses.

President Janet Holmgren said although Davis had only been with
Mills for a year, “In that year, she burned so bright. She was just
a bundle of energy.”

The 2003 senior class gifts included two benches in front of the
pond by the music building: one for Davis and one for Suzanne
Adams, a trustee who also died last year.

Both of Davis’s parents were professors, and her father had
dreamed of learning to fly. The oldest of three children, Davis and
her brother and sister had given their father flying lessons for
his sixtieth birthday.

Davis’ first collection of 15 short stories, Circling the Drain
was published in 1999. Her novel, Wonder When You’ll Miss Me, was
published in 2003 just before her death.