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Remembering Ryan Wright

A visionary alum is remembered as an important and gracious presence in SAIC’s community.


Left: “Airsickness,” a project by Ryan Wright. Right: Wright presenting his work. Photographs courtesy of the Writing Department at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago.

“He was so deeply beloved.”

That’s the first thing Anne Calcagno usually has to say about Ryan Wright — the writer, musician, artist, and alumnus of the School of the Art Institute of Chicago’s (SAIC’s) Writing Program. Wright passed away last March, at the age of 29.

After he graduated from SAIC, Wright established himself as an accomplished and multidimensional artist. He became involved with Curious Theatre Branch, where he acted, wrote, and produced shows. He was also a member of the band The Crooked Mouth, which, according to its website, played “Rock/pop/alt-country/vaudeville, if you must have a genre.” Wright played guitar and mandolin, and he sang.)

SAIC Writing professor Beau O’Reilly remembers Wright as a friend and collaborator. O’Reilly worked with him both at Curious Theatre Branch and in The Crooked Mouth.

“I think that whenever a suicide happens, there are a lot of questions about the ‘why’ of it and nobody really knows the ‘why of it. … What I want for myself to remember is that Ryan really loved life,” O’Reilly said. “He was a very, very active person, so regardless of how he ended, he was a very positive presence.”

Calcagno recalled how “he was philosophical, committed, and intently kind. Ryan enabled one to see beyond the expected with his generous heart.” She added, “He was a brilliant and bold ensemble actor, an extraordinary writer, and playful enough on stage to ingest a dozen raw eggs.”

When he passed away, Wright was teaching creative writing at Truman College, and he also worked at the Heartland where he taught music and theatre.

“He was a gift to us, he showed up ready to do good,” O’Reilly said. “He was also very, very funny; he loved to eat … he loved everything.”

There has been an outpouring of sentiments like these on Wright’s Facebook page and in small circles at SAIC over the last few weeks. A memorial was held on March 25, where friends and family shared memories and experiences. His reputation as a talented and generous musician, artist, actor, writer, and friend has painted the portrait of a man who will be dearly missed.

Donations in memory of Wright can be sent to The Curious Theatre Branch; all contact information is available here.

Calcagno said, “We all wish he had not forgotten how much he meant to us when he fell into a dark time; we are utterly grateful to have known him.”

F Newsmagazine reached out to Wright’s parents, Maureen and Rudy Wright, who shared the following:

We are still reeling over this tragic loss. Ryan was a most wonderful son and such a special young man. He had so much to offer the world and seemed to be just getting started achieving his goals of teaching creative writing, acting, composing and playing music, and writing. He really loved being in Chicago from the day he moved there in 2012. Even though he grew up in a smaller town in Kentucky, he came into his own in the big city. […]

The traits that stand out to us, and have also come out over and over again from so many people who knew and loved Ryan, were his kindness, inclusiveness, and genuine caring of mankind. Ryan had a way of gravitating to those who needed a friend. He had no interest in being “in with the in crowd”, he wanted to be his own person, dress in a unique way, be creative and real, and befriend those who could use more human interaction. Ryan was also one fantastic musician … he could play a mean guitar!

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