—by Nick DiChario, former fiction editor of HazMat Review and former director of Adult Education and Programming at W&B
Writers & Books and the Rochester writing community suffered a great loss on Friday, September 13, when Norman Lorain Davis died in his hometown of Wellsville, New York, at the age of 85. Norm was a mainstay of the Rochester poetry scene, making it his mission to promote local poets, writers, musicians, and artists. He curated W&B’s own Wide Open Mic for more than thirty years and supported many literary events in and around Rochester, including readings and performances at the Greenhouse Café, Java Joe’s, Jazzberry’s, and Daily Perks, among others. He was a brilliant teacher and staunch advocate for W&B, and he loved to help people of all ages and backgrounds discover their voices, express their unique worldviews, and celebrate their talents.
In addition, during his lengthy career as an educational psychologist, Norm helped hundreds of highly creative, at-risk youth find purpose and direction—and many of those young people stayed in touch with him throughout the years.
A gifted writer in his own right, Norm often read publicly from his volume of poetry Rome Gothic, a book that is still cherished among the Rochester literati nearly twenty years after its original publication in 1991.
In 1996, Norm realized a lifelong dream by founding and becoming editor and publisher of his own magazine, HazMat Review, and used this forum for ten years to print socially and politically hazardous material featuring mainly local authors.
Well known for his skills as a conversationalist, Norm was intensely curious about every individual he met. He looked at human interaction as a challenge and opportunity to help us think critically, look deeper into ourselves, or simply laugh harder at the ironies and absurdities of life. He considered poetry a living thing that carried its own meanings, messages, and social implications far beyond the author’s vision. Most importantly, he believed that words could heal, and he never missed a chance to convince others of this truth.
Norm was profoundly antiwar, a recurring theme in much of his writing, and he often struggled with his role in what he called “the industrial war machine.” In addition to being a Korean War veteran, he served as a special weapons technician in the mid-1950s, responsible for loading and arming thermonuclear bombs. He returned to Korea after the war where he learned the Korean language, taught school, met and married his sweetheart, and eventually came home to America, much to our advantage. Along with countless friends, he leaves behind two sons, Foster and Walter; his daughter Lorraine; and his granddaughter Hana.
On a personal note, Norm was one of my oldest and dearest friends. He was among the first people I met at W&B (at an open mic) when I was a young man in my twenties. I remember thinking “Who is this strange guy in the black leather vest, wrinkled T-shirt, and frayed flat cap, wearing dirty glasses and carrying an armload of books?” Imagine my surprise when I saw he was running the show. I learned later that his wife, who could never quite master the English language, regularly accused him of dressing like a “bill-hilly.” He found this so funny that I think it shaped his wardrobe for the remainder of his days.
I was fortunate to see Norm a week before he died. While his health had been failing for some time, he was alert and in good humor that afternoon, and we sat outside on the porch with a group of friends reminiscing about the old days at W&B, our HazMat editorial meetings at Salena’s Mexican restaurant, and the quirky characters of the early open mic scene. I loved him dearly, and I’ll remember him always.
Of course, now that Norm is gone, we can only thank him for his service and commitment to the arts in Rochester. To say that he was a special person who will be greatly missed is a vast understatement, but it must be said nonetheless. Soon W&B will announce a celebration of Norm’s life and work. In the meantime, let us all remember him for the way he enriched our lives, for the gentle spirit, kind soul, and inspiration he was to so many.