Remembering Max Ritvo on His Birthday

Daniel Slager — 12/18/2020


Thirty years ago today, December 19, Max Joseph Ritvo was born in Los Angeles.

I’ve read that he was writing by the age of three. A literary prodigy.

He would go on to study with some of our nation’s best writers. Among others, Louise Glück, who edited and introduced his second collection of poems, The Final Voicemails. And Sarah Ruhl, who would co-author Letters from Max: A Poet, a Teacher, a Friendship, which is among the books closest to my heart.

When I first encountered the manuscript that would be published as Four Reincarnations, in May 2016, Max was in the last stages of a long battle with Ewing’s sarcoma, the disease that would take his life the following August. His poems struck me as exceptionally urgent, original, and daring. Wise beyond his years. “Desperately alive,” wrote Louise Glück.

Over the course of those few months, I came to know Max well. He was fiercely committed to his work, but he was also an uncommonly generous soul. Profoundly perceptive, beautifully empathetic, facing death yet quick to laughter.

Following his passing, I came to know Max’s mother, Riva Ariella Ritvo-Slifka. Ari has become a dear friend, a trusted advisor, and the lead benefactor of the Max Ritvo Poetry Prize, one of the ways we honor his legacy. Today, I feel sure, she is singularly bereft.

Remember Max today, friends, on the occasion of his thirtieth birthday. Share a poem. A thought, or a memory. Create, with us, a digital Kaddish of sorts for this unforgettable gift of life, Max Ritvo.

I begin with a poem from Four Reincarnations.



My poor little future,
you could practically fit in a shoebox
like the one I kept ’pecial bunny in
when I decided I was too old to sleep with her.
I’d put a lid on the box every night.
I knew she couldn’t breathe—she was stuffed,
But I thought she’d like the dark, the quiet.
She had eyes, I could see them.
They were two stitches. My future has eyes,
for a while. Then my future has stitches,
like ’pecial’s. Then cool cotton, like her guts.
Of course there is another world. But it is not elsewhere.
The eye traps it so where heaven should be
you see shadows. You start to reek.
That’s you moving on.


Much love,

Daniel Slager, Publisher & CEO

Daniel Slager

Daniel Slager is the Publisher and CEO of Milkweed Editions. Prior to joining the organization in 2005, he worked in New York as an editor and translator.