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Ama Patterson, attorney, writer with ‘gorgeous’ style, dies at 56

Ama B. Patterson, a writer, attorney and longtime

Ama B. Patterson, a writer, attorney and longtime resident of Merrick, died at home on May 1, 2017, of complications from ovarian cancer. She was 56. Her works include a short story, "Hussy Strutt." Credit: Family photo

Book reviewers called Ama B. Patterson’s writing “gorgeous and tough” and “unbearably poignant.”

And in a collection of writings, some of her work appeared alongside that of African-American author, historian and civil rights activist W.E.B. Du Bois.

Patterson, a writer, attorney and longtime resident of Merrick, died at home on May 1 of complications from ovarian cancer. She was 56.

“She was a wonderful mother who raised us completely on her own,” recalled one of Patterson’s twin sons, Garrett W. Armwood, 29, of Merrick. “When I was younger many of my weekends were spent going to poetry readings. Her father [the late Raymond Patterson] was a poet who started the Langston Hughes Festival at City College — he was very involved in cultivating writers.”

Armwood noted the family still has some of his grandfather’s correspondence with Langston Hughes, a poet, novelist, playwright and social activist who was a major figure in the Harlem Renaissance. The cultural, social and artistic movement spanned the 1920s.

Armwood said his mother, an only child, definitely inherited her talent for and interest in writing from her family, though she was a contract attorney for 25 years and “wrote on the side.”

“She wrote primarily speculative fiction and science fiction — stories about the fantastical and supernatural,” said Armwood, Long Island regional director for Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.). “Her father was a poet and poetry is that type of expression — a lot of inferences are made.”

Patterson’s mother, Boydie, was also a poet, Armwood said, but “she mainly stayed at home with my mom [when Patterson was growing up].”

Armwood said Patterson, who was born in Queens and moved to Merrick “around the age of 5,” was a graduate of Sanford H. Calhoun High School in Merrick in 1978 and then graduated cum laude from Spelman College in Atlanta in 1982 before receiving her Juris Doctor from Atlanta’s Emory University School of Law in 1987.

Patterson was admitted to the New York State Bar in 1990 and worked as an attorney-editor at West Publishing in Westbury and later at West Group in Eagan, Minnesota, before becoming a contract attorney.

She studied fiction writing at Loft Literary Center in Minneapolis and was a 1999 graduate of Clarion West, an intensive six-week program for writers preparing for professional careers in science fiction and fantasy. In addition, she served as a board member for the Walt Whitman Birthplace Association from 2001 to 2008.

Andrea Hairston, 64, an author of fiction and fantasy novels who lives in Florence, Massachusetts, and met Patterson at Clarion West, said the two became friends and took bike rides and walks together.

“We were there when it was the first year they [Clarion West] had a large group of African-American writers and we were excited to find a bunch of people of color geeks,” said Hairston, who teaches writing, literature and theater at Smith College.

Hairston said Patterson “was the crafter of perfect sentences,” who brought “compassion, intelligence and humor” to her work and personal relationships. “She was amazing at supporting writers,” Hairston added.

Among Patterson’s own works are a short story, “Hussy Strutt,” which appeared in “Dark Matter: A Century of Speculative Fiction from the African Diaspora.” Another short story, “Sea Monsters;” and her short fiction are included in “80! Memories and Reflections on Ursula K. Le Guin.” Le Guin is an author of novels, short stories and children’s books whom The New York Times called “America’s greatest living science fiction writer.”

Sheree Thomas, 44, of Memphis, is another writing colleague who met Patterson at Clarion West. It is in her book “Dark Matter” that Patterson’s work appears with that of Du Bois and other noted authors such as Amiri Baraka, Derrick Bell and Samuel Delany.

Thomas said Patterson was such a “wonderful writer” that she decided to put “Hussy Strutt” at the end of the collection of works in “Dark Matter” to leave a great lasting impression on the reader.

In addition to Armwood, Patterson is survived by Armwood’s twin, Benjamin, also of Merrick, a business systems analyst for Altice, formerly Cablevision.

A 10 a.m. memorial service will be held Saturday at John Moore Funeral Home in Roosevelt. Interment will be at Greenfield Cemetery in Uniondale.

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