Black Mirabelli. How can I bring to life for you a woman I
have known for more than 30 years, a woman whose recent, untimely
death has brought such deep sorrow and loss?
I don’t want to say the things longtime Metroland readers
already know—that she was smart and insightful, a terrific
writer, an invaluable critic and gifted editor to whom many
authors are indebted.
things are all true. But I want you to know of her brightness,
her generosity, her insatiable sense of inquiry. I want you
to know what a good mother she was to Francesca, Gabriella
and Gino, what a loving wife she was to Gene, what a patient
friend to so many. I want you to know of her equally inward
and outward beauty—which age did not wither nor custom ever
And I can only do this partially and imperfectly, in glimpses
from across the decades:
There is Margaret the first time I met her, wearing a shiny
black rain slicker and carrying a typewriter, long, dark hair
There is Margaret in her house while we are over for one of
our many, many brunches and dinners. She has made the curtains
and the napkins and the Liberty cotton tie her husband is
wearing, or his well-crafted vest. She has gotten out the
crates of Fisher Price little people her children had played
with, and now my daughters are in the living room in front
of the fire, making believe, while the adults are at the table—the
table her husband made, with each family member’s name carved
into it—talking about books or art or politics.
There is Margaret in any number of the different places I’ve
lived, one time effortlessly rescuing me from a London broil
fiasco, other times sitting on the couch talking with unfeigned
interest to one or the other of my daughters, other times
looking radiant in the candlelight at the table.
There is Margaret talking enthusiastically about all the things
that interested her—which was everything as far as I could
tell. She knew about Kabuki theater and children’s books and
Moral Treatment and string theory and Thomas Aquinas and tapping
maple trees (which she and Gene did, along with growing coffee
beans) and every film you could imagine.
Of course, for the benefit of Metroland readers, Margaret’s
taste in books was varied and she read a lot. In an
e-mail from last fall she wrote to me: “I am now reading about
three books simultaneously (not a Good Plan).”
Margaret could say—without sounding intimidating—how relieved
she was to come to the French passages when she was reading
War and Peace in Russian.
The last time I saw Margaret was New Year’s Eve day. The weather
was terrible, the roads were sloppy and I thought about rescheduling
our lunch date. But I hadn’t seen her since dinner with friends
a month before and I wanted to have the kind of conversation
we could only have one-on-one.
We pulled into the Creó parking lot at the same moment and
sloshed our way into the restaurant. Hours later, the sky
was clear, the roads had been salted. We hugged good-bye,
promising to do this again soon. It still seems unreal that
we never will.
There are no useful words to capture a sense of grief. There
are no useful words to describe loss. Margaret’s death was
sudden, unfair, wrong, a cruel rupture in the lives of her
husband and her children and all who loved her.
The best that can be hoped for is that she knew how much she
And we who mourn already know how much we miss her.
act: Empire State Book Festival speaker Gregory Maguire.
POWER After we read a book we usually curl up for a long winter’s
nap. But after theater artists Kristen van Ginhoven and Leigh
Stribeck read “Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity
for Women Worldwide,” they founded a philanthropic theater
company. Yeah, we’re impressed too. The mission of WAM
Theater (think Women’s Action Movement) is twofold: “First,
to raise funds to create professional theatrical events that
explore issues relating to women and girls. Second, to donate
a portion of proceeds from those events to organizations that
turn oppression into opportunity for women and girls.” This
weekend, the new kids on the Berkshire theater block are presenting
their inaugural event “A WAM Welcome” at Barrington
Stage Company’s Stage 2 (36 Linden St., Pittsfield, Mass.).
Starting tomorrow (Friday, April 9) the artists of WAM Theater
will present four performances of the benefit show, which
features three theater pieces created by women. Regional stalwart
Brenny Rabine will perform a staged reading of The Last
Standing Protester, which Stageworks/Hudson called “a
forceful, beautifully written portrayal of one woman’s final
stand against the threatening tidal wave of our society’s
self-inflicted woes.” Mirror, Mirror, an ensemble piece
created by a cast of Russell Sage College students, will explore
image, empowerment and the “tyranny of the media.” And NYC-based
writer and comedian Robin Gelfenbien will present a selection
from 2008 New York City Fringe Festival Hit My Salvation
Has a First Name: A Wienermobile Journey, declared “the
highlight of the Fringe” by New York Magazine. The
benefit will raise money for Women for Women International,
which provides tools and resources to help women survivors
of war and civil strife achieve stability and self-sufficiency.
Tickets are $20, $10 for students. For more info visit wamtheatre.com.
To purchase tickets call (413) 236-8888 or visit barringtonstageco.org.
CALLING ALL BOOKWORMS Speaking of the inspirational force
of books, this weekend the New York Library Association celebrates
“New York State’s Great Literary Heritage” with the Empire
State Book Festival. The event kicks off with a gala affair
at the Crowne Plaza (State and Lodge streets, Albany) tomorrow
(Friday, April 9). Seventy-five dollars will get you a gourmet
dinner, cocktails, and a place at the induction of the first
10 honorees into the New York State Writers Hall of Fame.
And for the rest of us, Saturday is chockablock with free
literary excitement at the Empire State Plaza Convention
Center (Empire State Plaza, Albany). The day is packed
with an almost overwhelming array of vendors, publishers,
exhibits, readings, signings, workshops, speakers and kids’
activities. Prospective authors and illustrators can garner
trade wisdom from seasoned professionals; kids can try their
hands at illustration or settle in for a story. Bibliophiles
and lovers of language can immerse themselves in a sumptuous
all-you-can-consume buffet of words and wonder. There’s even
a stand-up show about the intricacies of grammar for us editorial
types. Keynote speaker and Wicked author Gregory
Maguire starts the celebration at 10 AM, the free festivities
continue until 5:30 PM. For more info, including the full
20-page schedule of events, visit empirestatebookfestival.word