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Remembering Margaret Black

Margaret 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.

These 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 stale.

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 gleaming.

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).”

Only 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 was loved.

And we who mourn already know how much we miss her.

—Jo Page

Opening act: Empire State Book Festival speaker Gregory Maguire.

Art Beat

GIRL 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 To purchase tickets call (413) 236-8888 or visit

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

—Kathryn Geurin

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