Letters from Max
In 2012, Sarah Ruhl opened an application for a playwriting class she was teaching at Yale University: Dear Professor Ruhl, Thanks for reading this application. My name is Max Ritvo—I’m a senior English major in the Creative Writing Concentration. All I want to do is write.
Ruhl was a distinguished, two-time Pulitzer Prize finalist; Ritvo was an exuberant, opinionated, intensely curious and intensely gifted poet in remission from pediatric cancer. But after Ritvo’s illness returned that semester, the two began to trade e-mails, letters, and texts.
Over the four years that followed—as Ritvo’s health continued to decline, even as his productivity bloomed—the teacher found herself becoming first a friend, then a colleague, and finally a student. Reincarnation, the loving playfulness of postmodernism, the afterlife as an Amtrak quiet car, good soup: in Ruhl and Ritvo’s exchanges, all ideas are fair, nourishing game, shared and debated in the spirit of generosity and love. “We’ll always know one another forever, however long ever is,” Ritvo writes. “And that’s all I want—is to know you forever.”
Studded with poems and songs, shimmering like stars set in the heavy blanket of the sky, Letters from Max is a deeply moving exploration of love, art, mortality, and joy.
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Praise and Prizes
“Deeply moving, often heartbreaking . . . a captivating celebration of life and love.”
“Letters from Max is a story of two brilliant beings unfolding each other’s hearts and minds until even death is a gift and listening never ends. I read it once without stopping and read it again and again. Every page is a revelation about the unflinching mysteries of life.”
“Wholly original . . . Sarah Ruhl is one of America’s most frequently produced playwrights.”
“Electric . . . The distinguishing quality of a Max Ritvo poem is a leap from the literal to the fanciful, from the pedestrian to the performative. Although he is inimitable, his example is there for young poets wanting to forsake simple transcriptive dailiness for the wilder country of the afflicted but dancing body and the devastated but joking mind.”