Letters from Max
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.
Like this book? Sign up for occasional updates
Praise and Prizes
“Revelatory in every way, Letters from Max is an unusual, beautiful book about nothing less than the necessity of art in our lives. Two big-hearted, big-brained writers have allowed us to eavesdrop on their friendship: jokes and heartbreaks, admiration, hard work, tender work.”
“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.”
“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.”
“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.”
“Deeply moving, often heartbreaking . . . a captivating celebration of life and love.”
“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.”