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Noel Dorman Mawer. 1940-2016

On June 3 one of my heroes, Muhammad Ali died. Two days later another of my heroes, my sister, died. Noel Dorman Mawer was Book Review Editor of Lost Coast Review from 2011 until 2016. Mostly, she wrote reviews herself, her first a review of three novels by Albert Camus and her last a review of The Great Courses audio courses on music by Robert Greenberg.  Needless to say, her interests were wide-ranging. Her final reviews, which were on audiotaped courses, were dictated to her ex-husband Randy because her vision had deteriorated to the point that she could no longer read books or use a computer to type.

Noel was always the smart one in our family. My brother Pete and I both knew it. My parents knew it. All of our friends knew it. My daughter, Andrea knew it too. She idolized Noel as much as I did. Andrea described Noel as “a relentless tutor, not just by trade but by life. She was constantly teaching.” Andrea and Noel had a special bond, as Noel took Andrea under her wing to both teach her and to share. Andrea said, “she was a strong mentor and advocate in my life. She introduced me to young activist folk singers in my twenties, like Joan Baez.” I remember visiting Noel when she was in college and listening to her perform folk music herself, singing and playing the guitar.

Noel was well educated. A Bachelor’s degree from Willamette University, a Master’s degree from Duke and a Ph.D. from Bryn Mawr. (she also picked up an MSW degree from Rutgers along the way). Her 642-page dissertation was “From Relationship to Metaphor: Mind and Language in Shelley,” completed in 1980. She published additional studies of Shelley in Prose Studies and Essays in Literature. Despite her love of Shelley, her interest in literature was not confined to the Romantic Poets. She loved mysteries. In 2004 she published A Critical Study of the Fiction of Patricia Highsmith: From the Psychological to the Political (Edwin Mellen Press). She reviewed books for Utopian Studies, including some of Philip K. Dick’s science fiction. She was a great fan of the thriller writer Gerald Seymour and constantly sent me his most recent books.

As Andrea has said. “Noel always spoke her mind about civil rights issues. She envisioned the world in comparison to how the world actually is and she carried through creating positive changes…” Noel was an activist. She was a union organizer as a social worker, then again as a professor. She was a book reviewer for Labor Studies Journal. For many years she taught English at Edward Waters College, the oldest Historically Black College in Florida. Her pay was meager. As a union organizer among the faculty she had difficulties with the administration, but she loved teaching.

Noel was a feminist, proud of her lesbian sexual orientation and defiant about women’s rights. She battled alcoholism and won. As we both got older, she and I became closer (although never as close as she was to my daughter). I remember visiting her in Jacksonville and marveling that her bookshelves (which lined the entire wall of her house) contained so many of the same books that were on mine. I’d had no idea that she was interested in evolution, loved the philosopher Daniel Dennett as much as I did, or read science fiction with the same avidity as I.

Noel lost her struggle with cancer. Before she did, both my brother and I got to spend time with her, enjoying our mutual interests (and she was very close to my brother’s son Ryan, who also shared her interests), and reminiscing about our family’s history. She was an introvert, someone who enjoyed her privacy and her books, but was constantly engaged with the world, often in ways that took courage and brought her hardship. During her later years she shared her house with her ex-husband Randy (the Lost Coast Review poetry editor), who was a widower, and our family owes him much for taking care of her during her illness.

Whenever I talked with Noel or read her writing, I was entertained by her brilliance and her humor. She had a clever, dry wit. I hope that those of you who read this will take the time to look through some of the book review archives on the Lost Coast Review website to read some of her reviews. Every time she wrote about an author I hadn’t read, I went to that author’s work and read it. She and I enjoyed our relationship and our similarities. I will miss her.

Reader Comments (2)

Casey, a beautiful and moving tribute to your sister.

June 8, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterChuck Spooner

I was saddened to learn today that Noel has died. I have known her for many years, and we would run into each other on occasion. She was a brilliant woman with whom I shared similar thoughts about life. I loved her timely and witty comments. I will miss her too.

September 8, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterSue Illingworth

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