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Morning Shift

Remembering Chicago Writer Amy Krouse Rosenthal

Chicago writer Amy Krouse Rosenthal died Monday at the age of 51 after battling ovarian cancer since 2015. Krouse Rosenthal was an acclaimed author of books for children and adults with more than four dozen titles to her name. For years, she was the host of The Writers’ Block Party, a literary and music variety show on WBEZ’s Eight-Forty Eight, the radio news magazine that was the predecessor to the Morning Shift. As she put it, the Writers’ Block Party aired “sporadically but emphatically” in the early-2000s. 

A few weeks before her death, Krouse Rosenthal wrote a “Modern Love” column in the New York Times called “You May Want To Marry My Husband” where she praised her husband Jason for being a great father, an excellent cook, and much more. 

Morning Shift host Tony Sarabia talks to Justin Kaufmann, host of The Download on WGN Radio. He started the Writers’ Block Party on WBEZ with Krouse Rosenthal. We also hear from John Green, author of the young adult novel The Fault In Our Stars. Krouse Rosenthal was his mentor and friend.

Here are some highlights from their discussion. 

Tony Sarabia: Describe Amy.

Kaufmann: She was a Chicago hustler, if you will.

Susan Karp: She was the kind of mentor you would absolutely dream of having. She kept throwing opportunities my way. She was never like, “This is my success.” She was always willing to share it. 

John Green: I wouldn’t be a writer if it weren’t for Amy, not only because she gave me lots of opportunities, but because she, through her work, taught me about how writers need to think of readers. I think Amy’s genius is in her ability to understand and imagine the reader. When I was younger, I kinda thought writing was about showing off or trying to prove to people that I was smart, and Amy showed me that writing was really about making gifts for people.

Sarabia: What do you think Green means by “gift to readers”?

Kaufmann: It’s interesting because she found a way to write about the beauty in our lives -- the parts that we’d skipped. The things in between our rush from point A to point B, routines, the sleepwalking thru our own lives. And Amy slowed it down and pointed out the things happening right next to us or right behind us. 

To me that was her strength. She was almost like our professional spirit guide. A good example is our ‘Going Nowhere Fast’ experiment. If you would’ve stepped on that train a moment later, it would have just been mundane commute.

Sarabia: What was she trying to accomplish with experiences and projects like that?

Karp: I think she was trying to give the gift of happiness, honestly. Especially as she became a public figure. She made it look simple. But it’s really not simple. I would try to replicate her videos, like “17 Things I Made,” and no.

The Encyclopedia of Ordinary Life was genius. I’m an essayist and she covered the form of it in such an incredible way. It had such range. They stay with me. She was really impactful. I read it just a few weeks ago and it came out before the iPhone, so it’s such a time capsule. 

Kaufmann: Rosenthal, like many of us, was a creative person who had several ideas. Instead of packing them away or not being sure of yourself or second guessing the ideas that you put out, Amy was fearless. In the way that she would latch onto an idea and be able to craft it and put it out into the world, like the Writer’s Block Party, and move on to the next idea. 

The lesson from her is that you have to trust your instinct and trust your ideas and, in a way, be responsible for executing them. Every thing she did was an idea she had and executed. It’s amazing.

Karp: We should honor her as a Gertrude Stein or Dorothy Parker of the Chicago lit scene. Amy was a collector of talent that she fostered.

Kaufmann: As John said, the genius is in the generosity. The legacy for all the people in Chicago and people putting shows on is to be generous and to craft and support other writers, come together and make things.

This interview has been edited for brevity and clarity. Click the "play" button to listen to the entire interview. 

Krouse Rosenthal's literary agent and friend, Amy Rennert, sent Morning Shift a statement after the segment. 

"Everything Amy did was life and love affirming," Rennert said. "She was such a bright light with a great sense of wonder. Amy loved her family. She loved words, ideas, connections. She taught us that life's seemingly small moments are not really small at all. Amy's final essay, written under the most difficult of circumstances, a love letter to her husband Jason, was the ultimate gift to him and also to the rest of us. She leaves behind a legacy of love and beauty and kindness."

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