“What constitutes a life worthy of being remembered? How do you want to be remembered?” These are the kinds of questions Amy Krouse Rosenthal always asked in her work. When Amy died this week at 51, her obituary described her as a “children’s author, memoirist, and public speaker” who found “an extraordinarily large readership this month with a column in the New York Times titled “You May Want to Marry My Husband.” But Amy was far more than her final, heartbreaking column. Amy Shearn details what Amy did with her brief, inspired time, and how she came to inspire others.
Amy was one of those writers who simply saw more than your average human. Her work vibrates with synchronicities that are often barely noticeable until she points them out to you. In her TED talk “7 Notes on Life” (which uses seven musical notes as its organizing principal), Amy talks about finding a heart-shaped rock, and then seeing heart-shaped rocks everywhere. “Whatever you look for,” she says, “you will find.” Once you read Amy’s books or watch her videos, you start to notice more Amy-ish things in your own life. Life seems more, you know, heart-shaped. You feel more prepared to adopt Amy’s 7-word life-song: “Make the most of your time here.”
Her viral Modern Love column—a dating profile for her husband, wishing him happiness after her death—is classic Amy. She turns a form on its ear in order to say more than you would have ever thought possible, creating something that makes the readers run to their own loved ones, and hold them tight.
Amy wrote over 30 children’s books, stories characterized by wordplay and brain twisters. Uni the Unicorn, follows a unicorn who believes little girls are real, and I Scream! Ice Cream!: A Book of Wordles, makes my kids roar with laughter and look for their own mind-bending word puzzles. Amy was the Lorrie Moore of the preschool set. Her last book, That’s Me Loving You, is about how a mother’s love is always with her children, even when they have to be apart. Ostensibly for little kids nervous to go off to school, it includes lines like “That feeling you always have in your heart? / That’s me loving you.” Amy’s three children are grown, but one is never grown enough to lose one’s mother.
Amy’s memoir An Encyclopedia of an Ordinary Life is the rare book that makes your own life mean more as you read it. Divided into small pieces, in alphabetical order, it contains scalp-tingling lines like “People are just dying everywhere, all the time, every which way. What can the rest of us do but hold on for dear life.” Her last memoir, Textbook Amy Krouse Rosenthal, invited audience participation: Readers were asked to text messages of luck for someone, which were later thrown into the sea.
My book was also written by Amy. And yours, too. She was always invoking you, me, the reader, to create.
YouTube offers a treasure trove of Amy’s work. Her videos are gifts to those of us who find it challenging to always trust magic, or who need help seeing the beauty in the ordinary. One of her recent creations was “The Wisdom Project,” in which she interviewed kids on their ideas about life, and had their elders read their words.
Amy always invited the audience to take part in her work. Her signature performance, “The Beckoning of Lovely,” began with a friendly invitation: Let’s make something together. The result was four gatherings in Chicago’s Millennium Park, on 8/8/08, 9/9/09, 10/10/10, and 11/11/11, in which people did just that: They made things together.
My hometown of Chicago considered her a crucial and generous part of the literary scene. “Writers Block Party” was Amy’s audio magazine that showcased local talent, giving a voice to, among others, a then-aspiring John Green.
Amy was always growing, always changing, always making something. Her last ongoing work, #project123, was the creation of daily “1.2.3 lists” which she posted every day at 1:23 on Instagram. Her final post said: “I have loved this project so much.” She had planned to make 123 lists—she made it to 61.
Amy’s name—and my name—means “beloved,” or “friend. Although I never met Amy, she always seemed like a friend. I know I’m not alone in that. It’s clear she was beloved by friends, by family, by readers, and by writers. She made a career of kindness, of loveliness, of beckoning it. (And, numerologically speaking, the name Amy equals twelve.)
My final thought is this: Amy is not finished, as she and her readers’ matching tattoos request: More. I think that her next project might be:
You. Amy was always invoking the reader, the viewer, the maker, with her work, always inviting people into her world. As her “Thought Bubble” video asks, “At the end of a life, at the end of your life, when everything else falls away, what essence emerges? What did you fill the world with?” It’s clear, after Amy Krouse Rosenthal’s anything-but-ordinary life, that she filled the world with wonder, attention to beauty, the desire to create. Amy reminds us to make things, any things, and most of all,to make the most of our time here. So, what will you make today?
Amy Shearn is the author of the novels The Mermaid of Brooklyn and How Far Is The Ocean From Here. Her writing can be found in many publications including the The New York Times, Real Simple, Coastal Living, Oprah, Poets & Writers, The Rumpus, The Millions, and Brooklyn Quarterly. She is an editor at JSTOR Daily.