Michael Steinberg Made the World Better

Hi folks. Julie here. We are early this week. It’s a hard day, and we needed to talk about it…

Carole just wrote to us. Michael has died. We are staggered. We are staggered the way we are all staggered, trying to imagine the world without our loved ones in it. It’s unimaginable. And it should be, really. Hard to fathom. Anything less would say so little about the life. We should all aim to leave a hole in the world that staggers people.

Michael Steinberg.

Mike.

Many thousands of writers and readers could walk arm-in-arm through the hole Mike has left us. It is enormous and raggedly edged.

And that’s because Mike invented and taught us a whole new way to tell our stories. Then he made sure our stories were heard.

Really, what better gift could a person give the world, what better legacy could a person leave than giving us a new way to connect, one to an other? By giving us a Fourth Genre, he showed us how creative non-fiction can transport us to someone else’s place and time and experience.

And he poured more of his life into teaching and celebrating other people’s writing than anyone we knew. He celebrated Jack’s poems too, because he was generous that way. He listened to Jack’s stories, and Jack listened to his, and Carole and I were very patient, taking walks to stare into woods or along shorelines,  when many… well, most… of those stories centered on sports.

He introduced us to so many writers. And by us, I mean Jack and Julie, but I especially mean you, and the world. Editors paid attention to the writers Michael paid attention to. Careers quietly and not so quietly launched by his careful reading and coaching, his boundless energy for this work.

No. It’s hard to walk through this day, and it’s hard to imagine tomorrow without Michael. And if it’s hard for us, we can hardly dip a toe into Carole’s pain.  So let’s go to her now, and tell her we will never forget him. Not ever. Impossible.

Without looking for it, this poem landed in my lap this morning. It makes me think of that kid in Brooklyn, playing baseball anywhere he could hunt up a game. And then finding his girl.

Carole, we love you…  J&J

Psalm

I am still on a rooftop in Brooklyn
on your holy day. The harbor is before me,
Governor’s Island, Verrazano Bridge
and the Narrows. I keep in my head
what Rabbi Nachmann said about the world
being a narrow bridge and that the important thing
is not to be afraid. So on this day
I bless my mother and father, that they be
not fearful where they wander. And I
ask you to bless them and before you
close your Book of Life, your Sefer Hachayim,
remember that I always praised your world
and your splendor and that my tongue
tried to say your name on Court Street in Brooklyn.
Take me safely through the Narrows to the sea.

–Harvey Shapiro
From A Momentary Glory — Last Poems, Wesleyan University Press

39 thoughts on “Michael Steinberg Made the World Better

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    Hi Jack, Best wishes to you and the family, hope all is well. Please change my email to: niles.karen7@gmail.com cell: 714.742.6738

  2. Jack & Julie,
    There is an Irish saying, “It is in the shelter of each other that they people live.” And when we lose someone close to us that shelter feels like it has a leaky roof and there is rain coming in off the ocean. My thoughts go out to you as you move through this loss.
    John

    • John, you know what to say. Such a gift, and all the more at this time.
      It’s snowing here. A calm, slow, good snow.
      My abundant gratitude
      Jack

  3. He showed me too paths which I’ve walked often; I’d always hoped we’d gather thoughts together again. I’ll go back to his works. My sympathies to all of you who shared with him.

    • Arlene, dear Pal, I am so glad you told us this. You and he will
      be together again when you go back to his work. He helped so so
      soooo many, and loved doing so.
      Thank you–so much.
      Hugs

  4. Jack, Ginny Foster is one of my dearest friends. I know she counts you as a good friend. Right now she is recovering from a severe fall and having a difficult time of it. She was in the hospital a couple times and has difficulty talking. I’m shut she would appreciate a note tho.

  5. I read this news and gasped! I’m stunned and reeling! I’m almost finished reading “Elegy for Ebbets,” and thinking of a praiseworthy review. I thought of Mike as a mentor and hero. He opened the world of creative nonfiction to me. I’m saddened and shocked. Sympathy to Carole and all who loved him.

    • Oh dear Pal. I have nothing of comfort to offer.
      Wasn’t that amazing that Julie found that Brooklyn poem this morning.
      Julie is such a grace-filled writer. Do let Carole know what you
      write here. It will matter so much. I am so glad you had him and
      that he had the gift of dear you.
      Hugs of some comfort

  6. Dearest Jack and Julie,
    I know that Mike had been ill
    because of an email from Carole
    that I received in my inbox, but I am
    still shocked and saddened by his
    passing. Such a wise and generous
    soul. I remember when he read his
    stunning work for our Contemporary
    Writers Series at Aquinas College.
    The students and audience loved
    him—and who wouldn’t? And I
    remember how generous and
    supportive he was to me and my
    poetry: even accepting a prose
    piece for his Peninsula anthology
    from this “dyed-in-the-wool” poet
    from Cleveland. Years ago, Mike and
    Carole came to Grand Rapids to
    hear Sydney Lea, one of his good
    friends, read for the CWS at Aquinas.
    Later that night, there was a bad snow
    storm and we insisted they spend the
    night at our house—it was a great
    sleep-over, filled with baseball
    talk with this Cleveland Indians fan and
    many wise discussions about the
    writing life. I will always hold these
    memories in my heart. And Tony
    and I hold Carole in our hearts now.

    • Isn’t Julie a remarkable writer! She wrote that in about ten minutes. Amazing.
      Thank you. We’re fine. We’ll miss Mike, but as Meridith taught us, it will be
      “a good miss.”
      You are such loving friends.
      Hugs and snow!

  7. I never had the pleasure of meeting Michael Steinberg. But I can imagine Yogi Berra saying he was quite a man, & you can look it up!

    So, I did look him up and not to my surprise I found out Yogi was right! What a vast literary history he provided for us all! He did, I’m certain, leave a large hole in the hearts who knew him but it will be filled with dreams, stories and a passion for life. Those memories will live forever in your hearts.

    Thanks for sharing his loss with me. You & Jack, and all your friends and family who knew him have my sympathy in your hours of bereavement & sorrow!

    Nick

    >

    • Thanks so much, Nick. Wasn’t Julie’s tribute amazing! And as amazing is
      that she wrote it in ten minutes. She is a remarkable writer, truly
      remarkable.
      Peace, hugs, snow!

  8. I am so sorry for Carole’s loss and for the loss of your dear friend, Jack and Julie. For all of our loss. Poet Marc Sheehan introduced me to Mike when he was putting “Peninsula” together. I met Mike, in person for the first time, several years later when he came to present at OU, where I was using “Fourth Genre” to teach a course. I was blown away by his generosity. Such a fine writer who was so very generous with the time he spent with and the support he gave to other writers and to students, generous in what he created, both by example and by anthology, showing how creative nonfiction works and providing venues for it to work its magic on us. Thank you for sharing your tribute to him.

    • What an absolutely beautiful, thoughtful, deeply accurate description of dear Mike.
      Yes and yes and yes. And it’s so very you.
      Hugs

  9. Oh … oh … I feel I should talk, but I can’t right now. Such a loss of a man who cared so deeply about the work we all do.

  10. The world is, indeed, a narrow bridge. I think Mike knew that, but he was not afraid. He ventured into so many realms–teacher, writer, director, editor, conference founder, journal founder. Perhaps most of all, Mike was a supporter of other’s projects. Oh, so many of us benefited from that. I mentioned in a note I wrote today to Carole that Mike was “the genuine article.” I don’t use that clause lightly–it’s been said of famous others–but what word works for Mike better than “genuine.” I can’t think of one. He was always honest. He spoke his mind. He listened. He supported people he believed in. And, Mike could hold opposing views in his mind, genuinely. All of us who knew him will miss him. Today has been a hard day for many of us, I know.

    • So accurately and movingly written, Ruth. Genuine. Exactly.
      And heart-achingly recognized. So easy to love that man and
      it takes a genuine soul to make that so.
      Sigh

  11. I have bern in tears since I read Carole’s post last night. Thank you.
    What Michael teaches us—still does—is that if you really want to tell your story you’ll work very hard to write it. I watched Michael work on his writing through the over half century I knew him, and it’s a sad pleasure to see that he succeeded in telling most of it so beautifully. Our tribute to Michael is to tell our own stories—and what we knew of his—just as well.
    Thank you for giving us this piece.

    • You might be referring to the piece that Julie wrote. Carole then was unable.
      Your loving words here and so movingly accurate. He was like a fine tradesman, working
      and working and working on every sentence. A light of showing the way of caring about
      what you do and why. Thank you for your thoughtful response, Etta.
      Sigh

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