In memoriam of Anthony So

From Courtney Rein:

Anthony started every 2A class with a wild, inspiring, deep quote, usually from whatever he was reading (he was VORACIOUS and all-encompassing in his reading); they ranged from Joseph Conrad to Claudia Rankine, and one that I found in my notes was this, from Toni Morrison: “Like failure, chaos contains information that can lead to knowledge—even wisdom. Like art.”

Anthony seamlessly integrated whatever was alive in the literary world into his teaching. He often had such surprising, inventive, and cerebral offerings for students, and he could move from the prison industrial complex to an exercise around spirit animals, within minutes.

He created a project for his 2A students to trade essays with students he worked with afterschool in Marin, bridging two communities that were so different in their backgrounds and resources. And he managed the risks and challenges of this project in honest, moving ways.

There was so much care in how Anthony met each student, whether in the genuine curiosity he expressed in every email response to them individually, or in the conversations we had about students that took them seriously as whole people at every moment.

At some point in a class, Anthony responded to a student with this line: “Sometimes being confused is the appropriate response.” And I have to admit I feel not just confused but stunned by Anthony’s death. It gives me a little solace to feel that it’s a shared loss, and that we can remember him together, even despite all this distance.

From Amanda Moore:
Anthony and I shared a love of contemporary literature, and we were always comparing notes on which authors we were reading and the best literary events in the city. He introduced me to so many young, contemporary poets I might never have otherwise found, and we often talked about our personal canons, the books that made us want to be writers. One author we both adored was Maggie Nelson, MacArthur Genius winner, and an Urban grad, and we worked together on a lesson for our 2A students on her book Argonauts that I never would have been brave enough to try on my own. He had such a great way of connecting with students and could get them invested in challenging texts, and I learned a lot from following his lead. We were lucky enough to have Maggie Nelson visit campus later in the year, and it was fun to geek out in advance with him and then watch him ask her such insightful questions, opening up topics and responses we might not have heard from her otherwise. He was good at drawing people out and unafraid to make deep, personal connections quickly.

Anthony’s love of visual arts and his visual arts practice heavily influenced some of the more rigorous aspects of the 2A chapbook project that endure today, and I love opening documents each fall that still have his notes and instructions, most notably on the wintergreen transfers I suspect no 2A student has undertaken since his tenure. Social media helped me stay in touch with Anthony after he left Urban to pursue his creative writing at Syracuse with writers I admired, and I loved getting tidbits and gossip from him as his literary star rose. It was wonderful to see him back in the Bay Area right before the lockdown, and I was excited that our debut books were coming out from the same press within months of one another. We didn’t share an editor, but he offered me advice and boosted my confidence as I was engaging with the business end of the literary world—he was so generous with his time, attention, and affection. I looked forward to a lifetime of reading his writing and bumping into him unexpectedly at readings and book gigs.

From Kate Randall:
He was soft-spoken and warm, funny and proud to be queer. He always arrived into our advising meetings having thought about something fun to ask everyone or bringing a new song. He was sharp and insightful and not afraid to share details from his own life. He visited one of my Printmaking classes and created a whole lesson plan for us. He was thorough and eclectic. He was tender and real. His artwork touched on his family’s history, all the stories of the past, many painful or traumatic. He stood close to me when we talked. He was curious and listened. He had a big, spontaneous, generous laugh. He threw his head back in delight. That is how I will remember him. Full of delight. A bright light.

From Max Dugan ‘20:
He would come into our advisory and share with us his music that we compiled into a Spotify playlist. He was an imaginative and quirky guy who seemed to click really well with my advisor Kate Randall. He was quiet with us but shared enough to be heard and to make us feel heard when he would take over for Kate during our meetings.

From Isabel Sheppard ‘20:
Every time he walked into the room he was smiling, regardless of whether or not he had had a tough morning. He would often make our advisory laugh, and as freshmen not quite feeling comfortable around one another yet, he most definitely made an impact on us. He spoke so passionately whenever he would talk about what he was reading or about his class: He will be dearly missed.

From Nathan Susser ‘20:
I remember him as a super kind and energetic person who wanted to get to know and bond with everyone. I appreciated his welcoming energy in advising especially as a freshman. My condolences to his friends and family.

From Xela Vargas ‘20:
Anthony So could carry a conversation with a joke or he could check you in class- and I loved that about him. He was funny, kind, and also didn’t care for BS.

From Caroline Sloan ‘20:
He had a very calm and welcoming presence. He was the kind of person you could immediately tell had a very pure and kind heart.