Letters from Max
A KIRKUS BEST BOOK OF 2018
In 2012, Sarah Ruhl was a distinguished author and playwright, twice a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize. Max Ritvo, a student in her playwriting class at Yale University, was an exuberant, opinionated, and highly gifted poet. He was also in remission from pediatric cancer.
Over the next four years—in which Ritvo’s illness returned and his health declined, even as his productivity bloomed—the two exchanged letters that spark with urgency, humor, and the desire for connection. Reincarnation, books, the afterlife as an Amtrak quiet car, good soup: in Ruhl and Ritvo’s correspondence, all ideas are fair, nourishing game, shared and debated in a 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, Letters from Max is a deeply moving portrait of a friendship, and a shimmering exploration of love, art, mortality, and the afterlife.
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Praise and Prizes
“Tender . . . A strange and beautiful volume made up of Sarah Ruhl’s correspondence with Max Ritvo.”
“A revelation, as honest and eloquent an expression of what it is like to be sick . . . a resonant and profound contribution from two fully formed artists to the literature of illness.”
“I will read more books in my life but I will not love another book more than this one. I suspect this book has the power to reassure the weary and to instill faith in anyone who needs it. If they let you bring books when you die, I will 100 percent put this one in the tiny stack that goes with me.”
“Immediate comparisons will be made to Rainer Maria Rilke’s Letters to a Young Artist . . . This book is a nuanced look at the evolution of an incredible talent facing mortality and the mentor, never condescending, who recognizes his gift. Their infectious letters shine with a love of words and beauty.”
“Letters from Max is a sublime journey shared by two brilliant minds. . . . It is stunning to see that these letters offer so much peace. They read like guided meditations, lived hymns, the good voices we seek within our own heads.”
“Deeply moving, often heartbreaking . . . A captivating celebration of life and love.”
“With the depth and intelligence displayed, one feels in the presence of literary titans.”
“I expected the letters between these two artists to be profoundly brilliant and profoundly heartbreaking. And they are. But what I didn’t expect, and what makes the experience of reading this conversation a sublime one, is the abiding and generous humor throughout, the element that, as Max Ritvo says, ‘makes our sadness rhyme with joy.’ Resisting any lesson to be found in Ritvo’s impending death, the letters between these two friends instead enact a deep and instructive compassion and pay ardent attention to what it means to continue to live a life, even one that will end tragically and too soon. In giving the world these breathtaking letters, Sarah Ruhl, with humility and humanity, goes far in preserving the legacy of the poet Max Ritvo.”
“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.”