Writer and teacher Sandra Moran died on Saturday, November 7, at the age of 46, after a brief battle with cancer.
Moran was born in Topeka, Kansas, on Dec. 20, 1968, and grew up in Dover. She earned three degrees from the University of Kansas: a bachelor's degree in journalism, and master's degrees in public administration and in anthropology.
She served as a reporter at the Topeka Capital-Journal and the Lawrence Journal-World and later, as deputy press secretary for Kansas Gov. Bill Graves. For the past 14 years, she taught anthropology classes as an assistant adjunct professor at Johnson County Community College.
Moran turned to writing fiction at the age of 40. Between 2013 and 2015, she published three novels with Bedazzled Ink: Letters Never Sent, Nudge, and All We Lack, as well as The Addendum, a companion to Nudge. As described by publisher Bywater Books, her works explored "flawed characters struggling to find themselves within the cultural contexts of gender, religion, and sexuality."
Letters Never Sent, her first published novel, won four awards, including Rainbow Awards for historical fiction and lesbian debut novel. The story of a daughter discovering love letters after her mother’s death — written to another woman, but never mailed — it was a finalist for the Edmund White Award for Debut Fiction, Triangle Awards, and a runner-up for the Rainbow Award for best lesbian novel.
“She was just so engaging and bright and lively,” says Kaite Stover, Kansas City Public Library's director of reader's services. The library hosted an event featuring Moran last year, and according to Stover, “Sandra really dropped her very accessible, very readable, and compelling novel in a greater context for the attendees.”
In 2013, Moran told the Capital-Journal: “I’ve always known I was going to be a writer. I didn’t think I had enough story to tell, but sometimes you just have to jump in.”
In September, on the last blog post on her website, Moran announced that she and her partner, Cheryl Pletcher, planned a move to Asheville, North Carolina, where she would focus on a career as a full-time writer: “I have been blessed with the opportunity to take on every career that interested me. Newspaper reporter – check. Politics – check. Archaeology and teaching at the post-secondary level – check. And now, it’s time for the next chapter (see what I did there?).”
But in late October, after experiencing back trouble, Moran was diagnosed with an aggressive stage IV cancer. Doctors predicted she had three months to live. Moran died on Saturday, reportedly in Pletcher's arms, and flanked by family and friends.
News of Moran’s death started to spread on social media. Mark Manning, host of Wednesday MidDay Medley on KKFI 90.1 FM, wrote on Facebook: “Last night I saw a shooting star in the eastern sky. I want to believe it was for Sandra Moran who was such a bright light and who always lit up the room with her dashing smile, her brilliant and beautiful brain, and her big compassionate heart that she shared so openly with her family of friends.”
“It’s hard to capture a brilliant meteor,” says Elizabeth Andersen, who co-hosted The Tenth Voice, an LGBT public affairs show on KKFI, with Moran.
“Sandra always said she wanted to be kind and to make a difference. She was kind and good, and she made an enormous difference to the LGBT and literary communities here in Kansas City.”
Two of Moran's novels were scheduled for release in 2016. State of Grace, due out in April from Bedazzled Ink, is Moran’s first self-described “mainstream book,” telling the story of a young girl’s murder in small-town Kansas in the 1980s.
"We have always said that Sandra was the quintessential Bedazzled Ink author, because she liked to explore different themes in all of her books and surprise the reader with her creative approach to each idea," wrote managing editor C.A. Casey in an email.
Work was also underway on a novel, slated for fall 2016 publication by Bywater Books, exploring the lives of five Harvey Girls, waitresses at the Harvey House in Kansas City's Union Station, in the 1920s and 30s. In an interview with Camp Magazine, Moran said the working title was Ordinary Girls: "One of the things that I'm known for doing is writing characters that are really pretty ordinary people, just placed in extraordinary circumstances."
Moran is survived by Pletcher, as well as her parents, Cherie Moran Myers and stepfather, Tom Myers, her father, Allen Moran, three siblings, and a niece and nephew.
A memorial for Moran is scheduled for Saturday, November 14, from 1 to 3 p.m., in the Capitol Federal Room of the Regnier Center on the Johnson County Community College campus, in Overland Park, Kansas. Instead of flowers, the family suggests a donation to the Golden Crown Literary Society.
Laura Spencer is an arts reporter at KCUR 89.3. You can reach her on Twitter, @lauraspencer.