Ama Patterson turned her morning commute into an exploration of the human condition – using overheard conversations for her short stories, according to friend, Andrea Hairston, 64, of Florence, Mass.
Patterson died on May 1 at her home in Merrick after an extended battle with ovarian cancer. She was 56.
With work in literary compilations alongside Charles W. Chestnutt, W.E.B. Du Bois and other renowned authors, Patterson’s writing has been called “gorgeous and tough” and “unbearably poignant” by Publisher’s Weekly.
Patterson is survived by her 29-year-old twin sons, Garrett and Benjamin Armwood, both of Merrick.
“I re-read [her stories] now and I think that’s one of the benefits of having a parent that chooses to write,” Garrett said. “That part of them will always stay with you throughout your life and it will always mean something different to you at different points.”
Garrett added that he and Benjamin never wrote like their mother, but she provided the inspiration for them to succeed on their chosen career paths. Garrett is now the Long Island regional director for Sen. Chuck Schumer and Benjamin is a business systems analyst for Altice.
Patterson was the daughter of Raymond Patterson, an English professor and board member at City College in Manhattan, and Boydie Alice Cooke, a writer. She graduated from Calhoun High School in Merrick in 1978 and graduated cum laude from Spelman College in Atlanta, Ga., in 1982. She received her Juris Doctorate from Emory University School of Law, also in Atlanta, in 1987. She was admitted to the State Bar of New York in 1990, while working as an attorney-editor at West Publishing in Westbury and West Group in Eagan. She later became a contract attorney, practicing for 25 years.
In 1999, Patterson attended Clarion West, a six-week intensive professional workshop for fantasy and science fiction writers in Seattle, Wash. There she met Andrea Hairston, who said that students praised Patterson’s work for revealing “insight into the everyday” that was as uncanny as it was eerie. After graduating from the program, the two joined fellow Clarion West writers and formed their own writing group called Beyon’ Dusa.
Hairston recalled laughter-filled nights watching low-budget horror films with Patterson. She also remembers walks on the beach where Patterson would convince her to run into the ocean. “Ama loved the ocean,” Hairston said. “I liked looking at it, but she loved it.”
Hairston said that Patterson would often visit her and their friends in New England. Her last visit was in 2014 before the diagnosis, Hairston said. “While she was struggling with cancer, she still came up.”
Patterson’s works include a short story, “Hussy Strutt,” which appeared in “Dark Matter: A Century of Speculative Fiction from the African Diaspora.” Another short story, “Sea Monsters,” is among her short fiction included in “80! Memories and Reflections on Ursula K. Le Guin.” She also served as a board member for the Walt Whitman Birthplace Association from 2001 to 2008.
A memorial service was held for Patterson on May 6 at the John Moore Funeral Home in Roosevelt.