CYNTHIA MACDONALD
1928 - 2015
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MACDONALD--Cynthia Lee,

passed away at the age of 87 after a more than 10 year battle with Alzheimer's. Cynthia was by trade, a poet, a psychoanalyst and an opera singer, and by heart the mother of two children and one grandchild who survive her, Jennifer Tim Macdonald of New York, NY, and Scott Thurston Macdonald of Denver Colorado; and grandchild Liam Skyler Watts of New York, NY. Cynthia was born in New York City in 1928 to parents Dorothy Kiam and screenwriter Leonard Lee, and was raised in New York and Beverly Hills. She was educated at the Brearley School, the Mannes School of Music, Bennington and Sara Lawrence College. Her professional life began as a dramatic soprano, winning both the San Francisco Opera Auditions and singing on CBC Radio. After marrying Shell Oil executive "Mac" Macdonald, their geographic movements as related to his career, made the continued pursuit of a singing career difficult, and so with early support from poet Ann Sexton, she turned her fine intellect and talent instead to the pursuit of the voice of the pen, going on to publish six volumes of poetry. Cynthia taught in the early 70's at Sarah Lawrence where she served as the interim Dean of Studies, and then as tenured faculty at Johns Hopkins University. In 1979, she cofounded the University of Houston graduate creative writing program, which soon became one of the top graduate writing programs in the country. Motivated to help students solve writing blocks, she studied Freudian psychoanalysis, becoming the first non MD student ever to be accepted in to the Houston- Galveston Psychoanalytic Institute. She later joined the faculty of the Institute and maintained a psychoanalytic practice while continuing to teach at University of Houston. Cynthia's last book, "I Can't Remember", uncannily foreshadowed her illness. Cynthia would wish- and will be-largely remembered by her many achievements, but her family will also remember her for the grace and courage she showed as she navigated the collapsing empire of her mind. A Memorial Service, to be held this fall, will be announced. In lieu of Flowers please consider donations in Cynthia's name to INPRINT, Houston's premier literary arts nonprofit whom she participated in cofounding, or the Fisher Center for Alzheimer's Research.


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Published in New York Times on Aug. 16, 2015.
Memories & Condolences
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22 entries
August 27, 2015
Cynthia, a long life, and an even longer time since
we met as fellow writing students at Sarah Lawrence College. You were a graduate student and I a mere undergraduate. It seems like so many writers /teachers in our senior writing seminar are gone: Jane Cooper, Grace Paley, and E.L. Doctorow.
In so many little ways you took me under your wing, and the span of that wing was a long one. The teacher and the lover of language was with you before you took on that role formally. A decade later you introduced me to your daughter Jennifer. A vivid memory remains of all of us meeting in Florence and you Cynthia, perched over the Arno, singing an aria. . .Poetry and opera what a marriage, what a rich and ambitious life! You touched everyone in your path.
Rena Rosenwasser
August 26, 2015
In reading the obituary in the NYTimes yesterday, I was amazed by Cynthia's multiple accomplishments and the number of careers at which she excelled. I had the fortune of meeting Cynthia many years ago through her daughter Jennifer whom I shared a house with for a wonderful summer in Santa Fe when Jennifer worked as a scene painter at the Santa Fe Opera & I interned at the Museum of International Folk Art. Cynthia visited Jennifer during that time & though I never saw Cynthia again, I was struck by her intelligence & wit, as were my own visiting parents. My father asked me two days before I discovered the obituary if I had heard anything about Cynthia & Jennifer over the years. How startling to read about her death so soon after than inquiry. I send my sincerest condolences & warmest wishes to Jennifer whom I have not seen in many years but remember fondly.
Gretchen Freeman
August 25, 2015
Cynthia was among the fiercest, most loving, most intelligent people I've known, and she was a remarkable teacher. She taught me perhaps the most important lesson I ever learned about poetry: that when you find a poem's roughness or weakness, rather than smooth it over or cut it out (as a workshop will often encourage you do to), GO THERE. Where a poem falters is as often as not the site of something important, perhaps its core. I will miss her wisdom and her presence in the world.
Katharine Coles
August 24, 2015
I met Cynthia in 1972 when our then husbands worked together at Shell in Houston. We both felt out of our element as New York transplants, but her extraordinary personality lighted the room. She soon published her first book of poetry, and her husband hosted a party at a local hotel, where the marquee congratulated Cynthia on her "Amputations." We frequently laughed about that later. Thank you, Cynthia, for bringing your creative genius and fascinating self to Houston. You are missed.
Carolyn Truesdell
August 21, 2015
Cynthia was a great teacher: well-balanced between generous and honest in her assessments of a writer's work. She wrote poetry that bears re-reading: complex in form and theme, but human and committed.
Robert Lunday
August 20, 2015
I met Cynthia at the College of Wooster nearly 30 years ago, when she was giving a reading, Charged with picking her up at the airport, I felt nervous, but her feisty charm put me at ease. Her style was down to earth: gray pony tail, backpack. My condolences to her family and friends.
Karen Kovacik
August 19, 2015
Cynthia was an amazing teacher and mentor. I will never forget everything that she did for me and all that she gave me. I loved her and will always love her.
Eva Skrande
August 18, 2015
Nov. 1998: Cynthia came to Michigan
Cynthia was my dissertation adviser and teacher, but reading the other messages here another memory suddenly came back to me: we went out to watch the fireworks one 4th of July together. It was such fun! Cynthia had many childlike qualities that made her fun -- as well as that fierceness & her rich intelligence.
Patricia Clark
August 18, 2015
I was an 'American Studies' major at Baylor, where I was taught Dickinson and Yeats. I returned home to Houston where I became a beneficiary of her program. I loved seeing her around here in Montrose and at the Rothko Chapel. I love her
Rafael Enriquez
August 17, 2015
In Los Angeles, you opened with a soprano yawp so intimidating I wouldn't have the nerve to ask you about it until years later, when I was finally in Houston. You didn't remember that reading at USC. But your manuscript class was more rich than any writing class had a right to be (I have been chasing a pedagogical phantom). Once in a while, we would get Ethiopian food. You met my mother, but neither discerned the resemblance that had seemed so obvious to me. People talk about your fierceness; they don't know that it applied to how you advocated for your students, how you cared about them. And then there was the time we went to Verdi's Don Carlo and you (rightly) commented on the dirtiness of my car. You might be appalled to ride in the one I have now, but I wish we could go see La Traviata or Zauberflöte. On a night like this, you could probably even hit those notes.
Carol Quinn
August 17, 2015
Dear Cynthia, so many years ago in Houston. Thanks for accepting me into the graduate creative writing program with Stanley Plumly. You really are a star!
J Williams
August 17, 2015
I only met Cynthia Macdonald, once, and only for a brief moment. I knew her through her poetry and through her daughter Jennifer. Her poetry tickled me and made me think. Jennifer is a friend and she too tickled me and made me think. By these things I can say that, while I wished I had known her as well as others, I know that she transferred her talent and wisdom into the world and all is not lost.
My condolences to friends and family, rejoice in her going home.
Mark Hicks
August 17, 2015
"The tune rises like the holy ghost."
Brendan Frye
August 17, 2015
Dearest Cynthia, remembered in light and love.
August 17, 2015
In remembrance of Cynthia Macdonald, whose work was witty and heartfelt, who navigated her life with humor, sentience, curiosity, loyalty and zeal; and who loved and was loved by her children and her friends. We first met when I was a young book reviewer smitten with her poetry and we embarked on a friendship that sailed on for quite a few decades. She was singular and special, an exceptional presence in the world.
Elizabeth Stone
August 17, 2015
Oh, dearest Cynthia, how sad to see you go. From far away, I fell in love with your poetry first. And then, of course, you. I will miss you, my dear, sweet friend.
August 17, 2015
Goodbye, my colleague, hostess, lunch date. We taught together at a few different places but for over a decade. A last hug.
James Robison
August 17, 2015
My dear friend for many years. You were the first "real poet" I ever met and it was you who encouraged my own writing. I owe you so much. You were so brilliant and witty and your illness was such a tragedy.
Susan Wood
August 17, 2015
Thank you for being an extraordinary teacher and for sharing so much of your grand wit and fierce intelligence. Much love, warmth and fondness for your heart and words.
Amber Dermont
August 16, 2015
I never knew Cynthia until a few months ago. She was very much in decline and could hardly speak. Her beautiful spirit,eyes, and occasional smile as she realized I was in the room spoke volumes. I watched my sweet wife comb her hair and kiss her cheek and her hugs. Her greatness was, is and forever will be. We cherished the limited time with her, Stan and Dee Ann.
Stan Watts
August 16, 2015
Such a force and so important to adding creative writing to the formidable arts in Houston.
Anne Tucker
Anne Tucker
August 16, 2015

Cynthia, my soul sister.

Forever remembered as the best ever - with love.
Barbara Kellerman
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