Job of the Day: Obituary Writer

early-1Once more with feeling! I’ve written about Margalit Fox before, she of the amazing name and amazing-er job, writing obits for the NYT. This time, she’s interviewed in the Paris Review [DAILY] and I want to quote a million things from it:

Does the work you do change the way you think about death?

This work does skew your worldview a bit. We all watch old movies with an eye toward who’s getting on in age. I watch the Oscars memorial presentation and sit there going, Did him, did her, didn’t do that one. For obit writers, the whole world is necessarily divided into the dead and the pre-dead. That’s all there is.

How did you end up in the obituaries department?

I’d never planned for a career in obits. The child has not yet been born that comes home from school clutching a composition that says, When I grow up, I want to be an obituary writer. I started as an editor at the Times Book Review. It was wonderful to be around books and people that love books, but the job itself was copyediting. I was afraid that all they’d be able to put on my tombstone was “She Changed Fifty-Thousand Commas into Semicolons.” I started contributing freelance to the obituary section and ended up getting pulled in as a full-time writer.

She talks about what it’s like to call a grieving family member and interview them (they’re usually flattered the Times is calling and someone wants to remember them), the evolving euphemistic language of obits, and this, heh:

I have maybe one suicide a year and they all seem to be poets. If I were an insurance company, I’d never write a policy for poets.

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