Austin Jewish Book Fair

Death Becomes Her: Marion Winik

Austin Jewish Book Fair

Author, creative-writing teacher, NPR commentator, and former Austin Chronicle contributor Marion Winik returns to this year's Texas Book Festival with her new nonfiction collection, The Glen Rock Book of the Dead, a collection of remembrances of the dearly departed who touched Winik's life, directly or otherwise. The resulting document is not only an autobiography; it is a gentle attempt to recover Winik's loved ones from the ravages of time and memory while also serving as an account of late-20th century life told through the lens of an archive of death, an archive that forced Winik to revisit a number of deeply profound and intimate relationships.

"It was surprisingly pleasurable, considering it's a sad thing that all of these people are dead," Winik says of the process. "I worked on it very early in the morning almost every day from February to September of [2007]. It was really like spending time with the person and thinking about the person and the person's life and my relationship with them, sometimes doing some little bit of research. Not only was I filling in the blanks with people who were important to me, but I was often connecting with other people about the people."

The connections so valued by Winik – from her former neighbor ("The Dentist") to a liberal socialite ("The Democrat") to her tragic first husband ("The Skater") – fit together to form a narrative of one woman's life, a life both marked and shaped by the cultural forces that we all experience.

"I wanted it to have a subtle social-history quality," says Winik. "At the end of the book, it becomes much more prominent because it's something that you're more aware of [as you age]." So, alongside the numerous deaths from AIDS and the poignant lament that there are no gay couples of Winik's generation, there is a house ravaged by Katrina, a soldier lost in Iraq, the World Trade Center, Winik imbuing each departed with a dignity and grace everyone deserves in death but might not have had in life.

It is also a profoundly Austin book, populated as it is with local personalities and their relatives. Even blues singer Vala Cupp makes an appearance toward book's end, news of her 2005 suicide triggering Winik's husband's fresh torrent of grief as he culls his recently deceased brother's CD collection. "It was odd because I was so driven to include his family members, three brothers and his stepfather, I wanted to put his grief into it in a clearer way. It was vicarious grief for me; his loss had to be in it somehow."

Soon, though, Winik experienced fresh loss of her own, which effectively ended her creative journey with her Book of the Dead and the comfortable relationship with death it afforded. "My mother died in April, and I found out that she had lung cancer back in September [2007]. I was glad that I was ending it, because the whole thing reflected this leisurely process of memory and relaxed attitude about loss that I suddenly didn't have anymore."

Death comes, they say, like a thief in the night. It comes for all of us; if we're lucky, there is a Marion Winik in our lives to document who we were and what we meant as we cool our heels in the VIP lounge of the afterlife. We all deserve it, and, as evidenced by this book, no one knows that more keenly than Marion Winik.

Sunday, Nov. 2, 1-1:45pm
Capitol Extension Room E2.012

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