The book: In March 2017, Jason’s wife, Amy Krouse Rosenthal, penned her final goodbye – an essay called “You May Want to Marry my Husband”. It was published in the New York Times’ Modern Love column only days before she passed away. This memoir is Jason’s response to the column and exploration of how he coped with Amy’s tragic death from ovarian cancer in her early fifties.
The author: Jason B. Rosenthal is an author, foundation board chair, public speaker and lawyer. He is also the subject of an essay written by his wife, Amy Krouse Rosenthal, called “You May Want to Marry My Husband” that went viral and was read by millions worldwide. His first book, written in collaboration with his daughter Paris called Dear Boy, debuted on the New York Times Bestseller list at #1. His response to Amy’s piece titled, My Wife Said You May Want to Marry Me was published in 2018.
Amy died of ovarian cancer just 10 days after her article appeared in the Modern Love column of the New York Times. When his bride died of ovarian cancer after 26 years of marriage, Jason got in touch with real pain. He immediately reevaluated his life’s work. Now, he speaks publicly and writes about issues related to processing grief and finding hope and joy among the pain.
His future is a blank space waiting to be filled. Bio courtesy of JasonRosenthal.com.
Amy Fish: I just finished reading your book last night and I could not stop crying. Do you hear that a lot?
Jason B. Rosenthal: Yes. I think many people have that kind of response.
AF: My first question is: were you always this emotional? In the book, I notice you are in tune with your feelings, and I’m wondering if that was you in general or if you changed as a result of your wife’s illness?
JR: I was always emotional. Always expressive. In private life, I have always showed a lot of emotion. I think I have the romantic gene.
AF: Your tone in the book is informal, conversational. Can you tell me more about this and whether it was difficult to achieve?
JR: I think the tone is conversational because all of this came out of Ted Talk in 2018. I realized that I needed to tell this story in an important and meaningful way.
AF: In the book, you tell many stories of your home life with Amy. Did anything get cut from the book that you were disappointed about? Any edits that you wish stayed in the final manuscript?
JR: This is my first long-form book. I was given certain guidelines in the contract regarding word count, which I followed, so it wasn’t like we were looking for things to cut. Nothing hit the floor, I wasn’t disappointed with any of that. In fact, sometimes, I was asked to expand, talk more, elaborate more about a certain story.
AF: Can you give me an example?
JR: The Grieving Temple at Burning Man. The editor really pushed me to show more what I was thinking about. Originally, that section was more about the description and she pushed me to show some of what I was thinking about.
AF: I love the Burning Man part. I think you could get a whole other book out of just that experience, staying in the trailer, the whole thing.
JR: (Polite laughter)
AF: You mention Emily McDowell in the book and that resonated with me because I love her work. I follow her on Instagram. Anything about her that you find particularly interesting?
JR: I met Emily at the Matter Gathering, either in San Francisco or Los Angeles that Greg Folsom was putting together. He had worked his event out with Amy in a prior iteration. Greg started to sponsor a grant in honor of Amy, and I found myself to be one of the speakers.
AF: You also have a quote in the book about how, in Japan, broken objects are often repaired with gold. The flaw is seen as a unique piece of the object’s history, which adds to the value of the piece. Did you know Emily McDowell has a greeting card with the same principle?
JR: Haha. Yes, actually, I didn’t know when I wrote the book, but after, someone gave it to me.
AF (Humor attempt): Oh, so I shouldn’t send it to you then?
JR: (Polite laughter)
AF: Are you a “mender” or a “fixer”?
JR: Depends for what. I have t-shirts that I’ve been wearing since High School, but in the kitchen, if it breaks, you replace it.
AF: Oh, right, you mention that you’re a cook. Any interesting corona-cooking that you want to share?
JR: I have two adult children that have been back living with me so the reality is I have been cooking a lot. Last interesting thing I made was my mother-in-law’s ribs for Memorial Day.
AF: Reading anything good that you want to recommend to Hippocampus readers?
JR: Nobody Will Tell You This But Me by Bess Kalb. I like it because it’s all told through her grandmother’s voice. Also Finding Chica by Mitch Albom. I read widely – novels, and non-fiction and memoir. During this lockdown, I’ve read Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese and Witness: Lessons from Elie Wiesel’s Classroom by Ariel Burger. For great memoirs I’d have to say Amy’s Encyclopedia of an Ordinary Life.
AF: Final question. What would be your number one tip for people starting out to write a memoir?
JR: I would say start writing. The first draft is sort of piecing life together in a chronological fashion. You can figure out later how the story is going to wave around. My advice: Stop talking and do something about it.
My Wife Said You May Want to Marry Me is out now with Harper Collins.