I shall honor of one of Dudley’s own rhetorical strategies and list many of the things he was: Journalist, editor, prize-winning essayist, teacher, collector of outsider art, devoted father, lover of men and blackberry cobbler and conversation, vintage car owner, dedicated AA sponsor, world traveler, reporter for The New York Times and The Atlanta Constitution, sexy silver daddy, extraordinary storyteller, fiercely loyal friend, unabashedly liberal Southerner, fabulous listener, and, as my partner Steve and I knew him first and best, the most amazing host in town.
We met Dudley in March 2004 at a dinner for six at his house on Bolton Street. He had heard via another friend that we were “interesting.” That was all the introduction one needed for Dudley. How he loved putting people together. One was in for no mere moment chez Clendinen. Those with blood sugar issues knew to eat beforehand. One could turn up at the appointed dinner hour and find Dudley blithely unpacking the groceries for the meal to come. One filled up on honey roasted peanuts and pickled garlic cloves and terrific conversation with a guest list that might include the founder of the American Visionary Art Museum, a Pulitzer Prize winner, the gay rabbi next door, and a leather dom from Sandtown. All were made welcome and all joined hands for an impromptu prayer that ended with thanks for The New York Times.
In 2010 he faced his ALS diagnosis with characteristic courage and humor. His series of radio interviews he made on WYPR’s “Maryland Morning” with Tom Hall called “Living with Lou: Dudley Clendinen on a Good, Short Life” is a heartbreaking example of making lemonade from lemons. His untimely death leaves a hole in many overlapping communities.
To get an idea of Dudley’s mind in print, I recommend his Out for Good: The Struggle to Build a Gay Rights Movement in America, which he co-authored with Adam Nagourney, or his memoir of his mother, Canterbury Tales: Tales of the New Old Age in America. For a sense of the Southern storyteller in action, his unforgettable baritone rumble can be heard to hilarious effect in the archives of StoopStorytelling.com.
James Magruder writes and teaches fiction in Baltimore. His second novel, Let Me See It, comes out this August.