A Yale professor and her playwriting student forge an extraordinary friendship.
In a tender, intimate memoir, award-winning playwright Ruhl (100 Essays I Don’t Have Time to Write, 2014, etc.) honors the life and remarkable mind of Max Ritvo (Four Reincarnations: Poems, 2016, etc.), a poet of exceptional grace and insight who died in 2016 at the age of 25. When Ritvo walked into Ruhl’s classroom in 2012, he seemed markedly more mature than her other students: “Some rarefied combination of a young Mike Nichols and an old John Keats, he seemed eighty years old and not of this century.” In remission from a rare cancer that had been diagnosed when he was in high school, Ritvo soon wrote to Ruhl that the cancer had returned. In the next four years, he underwent multiple surgeries, chemotherapy, experimental treatments, and radiation, all the while graduating from Yale, completing an MFA program at Columbia, marrying, giving exuberant poetry readings, and publishing his work to great acclaim. Wracked by suffering, facing death, and immersed in writing, Ritvo deepened his friendship with Ruhl, reflected in the letters, emails, and poems that they shared and which Ruhl has selected for this deeply moving, often heartbreaking volume. It is both testimony to the evolution of their friendship and to a wise and passionate young man. “Max,” writes the author, “had a wild gift of eloquence; he married this gift with his singular gift for listening.” A year into their relationship, the two decided to write letters “in a more self-conscious way,” hoping to collect them into a book. Thoughts about spirit, God, identity, the meaning of an afterlife, and, especially, grief, recur as Max moved closer to death. “I do believe consciousness persists,” Ruhl wrote to Max; something of the soul “travels and arrives somewhere.” Suffering from “overwhelming bodily discomfort,” Max admits, he could use a God who would “maybe start to care enough to intervene.” Maybe, he adds later, “my grief and your inspired calm are part of a greater consciousness.”
A captivating celebration of life and love.