Authors / News

Rest in Peace, Max Ritvo

Daniel Slager — 08/24/2016

One Friday afternoon this past May, I received an email from Martha Collins. She asked me to consider a manuscript by a young poet named Max Ritvo. Jean Valentine had selected his work for a chapbook competition, Martha explained, and Lucie Brock-Broido had selected some of the poems in the manuscript for publication in the Boston Review. Martha added only that there was some urgency, as an illness had thrust this young man into what would become the final stage of his life.

I read the manuscript over the following weekend, and I was completely transfixed. It is not easy to describe Max Ritvo’s poetry adequately. Along with the intelligence, the music, the beautiful lines, there is a profoundly boundless energy at work. And yet this boundlessness confronts throughout a real, concrete grasp of the finite nature of life. I had never encountered such a rapprochement of ecstasy and pain, of beauty and dread. Put simply, reading Four Reincarnations for the first time, I had an overwhelming sense of awe and admiration—an initial sense that has only deepened.

I spoke with Max that following Monday. We hit it off immediately, and when he explained the circumstances around his cancer—the pain, the treatments, the dire outlook—I pledged to do everything possible to publish the book in time for him to hold it in his hands. And so we pressed forward on an accelerated schedule, determined to publish Four Reincarnations quickly, if also with the kind of attention and energy it so richly deserves.

We learned yesterday that Max Ritvo passed away on Tuesday, August 23. Life has not been the same here at Milkweed Editions since this news arrived. We mourn his passing, and all of us here at the press extend our most heartfelt condolences to Max’s family, to his wife Victoria, and to the many friends who have supported him over the years.

Max possessed the rarest kind of genius. Even more uncommon, his brilliance was accompanied by the most beautiful kind of humanity. Max did hold an advance reading copy of Four Reincarnations in his hands, and I know he was delighted. Soon we will publish the book, and I know his vision and artistry will endure.

—Daniel Slager


The obituary, as published August 24 in The New York Times, follows here.

ED NOTE: On August 27, 2016, the New York Times released a full obituary»

Max Ritvo died on August 23, 2016 at home after a long brutal battle with Ewing’s Sarcoma, a rare pediatric cancer. Born in Los Angeles in 1990, Max graduated from John Thomas Dye and Harvard Westlake Schools. He received his BA from Yale in 2013 and his MFA from Columbia University in 2016, where he earned a fellowship to teach in the Undergraduate Writing Program and served as a writing consultant in The Writing Center. His poems and essays have been widely published in The New Yorker, Boston Review, the Yale Review, Poetry Magazine, and the Huffington Post; his chapbook “Aeons,” was chosen by Jean Valentine to receive the Poetry Society of America Chapbook Fellowship in 2014. His full-length poetry collection Four Reincarnations will be published in the fall of 2016 by Milkweed Editions. A brilliant comedian—a member of the experimental comedy troupe “His Majesty, the Baby”—and a compassionate advocate for human, as well as animal rights, he spoke about creative life, love, and his battle with cancer on various radio programs, including the Dr. Drew Podcast, SiriusXM’s “Just Jenny,” and NPR’s “Only Human.”

Above all, Max had an extraordinary capacity to love. He adored his wife, his parents, family, and his friends. Max is survived by his wife Victoria Ritvo, his mother Riva Ariella Ritvo Slifka, his father Edward Ritvo, his siblings Victoria Black (Rayon), Skye Oryx (Marco) and David Slifka (Michele), his nephews Braylan, Kingston, Echo and Eli and his niece Emma. He was pre-deceased by his beloved stepfather Alan Slifka. Max left us too young. Devastated, we are left with a permanent vacancy in our hearts and an unimaginable life without Max. It is said that some people are larger than life, but Max truly was, and we take forward the many life lessons we have learned from him. We hope to continue his legacy. To live as he did, to make time have meaning as he did, is the wish of all of us who loved him.

My genes are in mice, and not in the banal way
that Man’s old genes are in the Beasts.

My doctors split my tumors up and scattered them
into the bones of twelve mice. We give

the mice poisons I might, in the future, want
for myself. We watch each mouse like a crystal ball.

I wish it was perfect, but sometimes the death we see
doesn’t happen when we try it again in my body.

—Max Ritvo “Poem to My Litter”
originally published in the New Yorker

Funeral Services are private. In lieu of flowers, please make a donation to your favorite charity. See the full obituary here.