Meghan O'Rourke may be this generation's most gifted practitioner and critic of the literature of death and grief. In her celebrated 2011 memoir, The Long Goodbye, about her mother's early death, O'Rourke wrote that Americans are "deeply unprepared to deal with grief" -- especially in a culture that has traded the rituals of mourning for the tropes of self-help. Yet, her recent New York Times essay assessed a new turn in writing about death, as some of our leading cultural figures - from John Updike to Christopher Hitchens - chronicle their own.
O'Rourke began her career as one of the youngest editors in the history of the New Yorker. She's published two books of acclaimed poetry and served as an editor and critic for Slate and the Paris Review. What I find compelling is the way she's tapped a searing personal loss to make us think about what death and dying should mean in our culture. In doing so, she has illuminated how the practices of other times and traditions might help us chart a saner collective path to the inevitability of the end.
Perhaps it's no surprise for a poet, but she's also amazingly precise with words. And if you've ever wondered exactly how a poet goes about their work all day, you won't want to miss our conversation.