Blog Post

Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick, My Friend, 1950-2009

All day I have been adding sentences, phrases, memories to this memorial to my dear friend, Eve KosofskySedgwick, who passed in the night, with her lovely partner of forty years Hal Sedgwick at herside. These scattered thoughts interweave her words with my memories and those of her friends, students, and loved ones. Prayer flags, as my friend Michael says, fluttering in the internet wind.


Eve was first diagnosed with breast cancer in 1991 and livedwith that disease and with the condition of mortality more powerfully,beautifully, and profoundly than anyone I have ever had the privilegeto know. My deepest sympathies to the many, many whose lives were changed by her, to the multitudes who love her, and to Hal, her mother, and other family who will always hold her in their hearts.


If living is a practice, then more so dying. She was already diagnosed with breast cancer when she was writing the essays in Tendencies, a disease she understood by embracing her own mortality even as she extended her loving arms and outrage to all those dying of AIDS, so many beloved queer young men especially. She writes about this in "White glasses," underscoring powerfully and poetically her vehement connection to the good dying young.


She went through so much, so many treatments and loss over many years, and I never heard her complain but, instead, she steadily accepted each stage of her diminished physical capacity as yet another entrance into a life read queer and rich, each new change in capacities offering her a new in-sight into worlds to which the limited, limitlessly normal are denied access. When Ken and I had dinner with her and Hal in January, the cancer had progressed so far that she had stopped reading, stopped making books--writing them or shaping beautiful volumes from pressed and colored paper--stopped making art, stopped thinking, even, she said, but she was spending most days quietly playing solitaire online. There was no self-pity in that admission. Eve playing solitaire was a meditative practice of loving, living, loving, dying, loving. When she told us how she was spending her days, there was no anger in her voice, no sense of injustice that this was her condition, only a simple and yet profound description of the pass to which life had brought her. Who else could say that productive work had dwindled to a game of solitaire without making it sound like a recrimination?


Here's the anecdote I keep savoring, morsel by morsel, in memory today: That dinner in January came at a magical time. When our plane from North Carolina was landing, it circled LaGuardia over and over. Only after we landed did we find the frantic messages on our cell phones, friends and loved ones fearful that ours was the North Carolina plane in the Hudson. The flight crew on our plane then told us of the other plane, the one in the river. By the time we picked up our baggage, people were saying everyone from that plane was out on the wings. By the time we entered a taxi, they were all saved, every one. A miracle. Only the next day did I read in the Times that our friend David was on the wing, returning from just having buried his beloved brother. His flight to Raleigh-Durham had been cancelled and he was rerouted through Charlotte and then, soon after, he was the last person to exit onto the left wing of a plane in the Hudson.


The whole trip to NY was colored that beginning. It was on that trip that I first met my wonderful new agent (I love her kind, canny wisdom) and my sharp-as-a-tack new editor (so witty too, and perceptive). My book, a lifelong dream, was coming to be true against odds, a success story at a terrible time in the publishing industry, and I felt the gift of it and felt inspired to write with urgency and insistence. A beloved former student and her marvelous partner celebrated with me the expectant time before the birth of their first child. I spent an afternoon with Esther Broner, my beloved co-author from many years past, over eighty now, still radical, with a new novel The Red Squad (still fighting!) about to appear, too. And dear Robert, her partner, who had created so many beautiful paintings and woodblock prints of miraculous survivors of plane crashes. "Bobby's plane crash," we were all calling the miracle on the Hudson. Bobby, with his advanced Parkinson's, laughed too that the miracle of his art had been imitated by life. And there was even that crazy Torii red Japanese jacket in the shop window. Of course it fit to an asymmetrical T.


At dinner with Eve and Hal, feeling auspicious and bold, I ordered a meal freeform, in a way that I had never done before or since, just saying "yes" to all three specials, appetizer, main course, dessert without thinking about it, because I felt so hungry for something special and didn't know what. After the waiter left, I had no idea what I had ordered, couldn't remember, didn't have the faintest idea, didn't care. I felt giddy that night and, equally, unsettled and moved deeply. I had seen seen my friend Eve walk toward me. In the cold rain and wicked wind, Eve leaned on sweet strong Hal, and I could see what the illness had done to her. She was bent and still, always, Eve and beautiful, summoning what she called her "teaspooon full of energy" to spend an evening together with us. So I left the ordering to fated happenstance, as demanded by the night. When it arrived, each course was a surprise and, happily, everything was perfect. Everything was what I wanted even though I hadn't had a clue, before, that it's what I'd wanted. A tasting of unanticipated delicacies. I turned to Eve and on that most special of nights I said the thing one sometimes thinks later but rarely actually says at the time. I compared our long friendship to this surprising, delicious meal: "Your friendship has been that for me." And in her wind-chime high voice that never, ever needed an explanation twice (or even once), she answered "Me too."


At the end of the meal, at the doorway of the restaurant, back out in the rain and the wind, I knew we were saying goodbye.


Precious Eve. A former student of Eve's (and mine) wrote today, remembering how "textured" was one of Eve's favorite words. Textured is how she liked her criticism, her literature, her art, her friendships. Jessamyn also made me laugh by recalling how Eve called families, in their new forms and old,  "nutty clusters." (Dear Evie, I will miss your pitch-perfect wit and wisdom.)


She said she was proudest of "having a life where work and love are impossible to tell apart"  O, there's a goal.


Eve was a practicing Buddhist and, in the week before her passing, blessings were said in Tibetan Buddhist ceremonies all over the world to help with her passage to the next life, a passage that brings along the loving connections she made to the next life. She leaves those connections behind, to those of us fortunate to have known her or been touched by her writings and her spirit.


All day, people I have not heard from in years or whom I have never met have been writing, wanting to be in touch. Touching Feeling. (I am re-reading that lovely book again in this week of insomniac missings of Eve.  Buy it today.  Its beauty leaves me breathless.  No one loved words like Eve who knew their limits.)   


Here's another unforgettable phrase from Eve recalled todayby another friend, "the promising closeness of transmissable gifts." Thank you, dear Eve, for so many gifts of transit and intimacy.


She gave much and, as Tyler says, made it a practice to give much away, which, in her Buddhist way of being, were the same thing.


And I add this courtesy of our dear friend Carolyn W.: "According to The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying -- which Evie did aseminar on, at Duke -- she will be in the Bardo of Becoming for 40 days after thecessation of respiration. According to her belief, thoughts and prayersof the living will steady her soul as she passes through the bardos tothe next life. And there _will_ be a next life."


Please send your thoughts and prayers to steady her way. It is what we can do for this luminous Eve who carried us far.


4 comments This is a rather dull and flat-footed tribute that misses the generosity of Eve's perspective, the brilliance and importance.


Here's the url for the New Yorker Tribute:

"The book that resulted from her breast cancer diagnosis, “A Dialogue on Love,” relates her conversations with her therapist as she is recovering from chemotherapy. “What I am proudest of,” she tells him in one session, “is having a life where work and love are impossible to tell apart.”



And this is the link for Richard Kim's lovely tribute in The Nation


  • I feel Eve's passing with great grief, even though we met only twice. We were on a panel together in late 2003 and then had lunch a few months later. Recently, though, we had intense contact around a piece of writing that she'd agreed to do for the journal I edit, Studies in Gender and Sexuality. Long story short, I was able to use only part of what she'd written and, although she was put out by my decision, she was not put off. She was exceptionally gracious. As, in fact, I somehow sensed she would be.
  • When I asked whether it would help were I to explain my thinking, Eve eagerly accepted the offer. Her openness allowed me to draft something which in effect I've been trying to articulate for a couple of decades: the difference between the academic and the clinical use of psychoanalysis - between intellectual debate and therapeutic action -  and the importance and difficulting of finding a way to talk across that divide. Eve's response was immediate and comprehending and gratifying.  Although she said, wistfully, that she would like the chance to rewrite with my explication in mind, I thought it best to leave things as they were. She agreed, and I am looking forward to publishing her work; SGS will be honored by her presence.
  • Sometimes, when you shed blood together, you become even closer. It was true of us personally as well. Last summer, about halfway through the writing process, we had one very long phone conversation about our respective and shared feelings regarding cancer, chemo, and wigs, and were able to sustain further iterations of this exchange throughout our collegial negotiations. In our last communications about the excellent wig shop she had found, I learned with deep dismay that she'd lost all functioning below T2. With a limpid frankness that made me feel even more tender toward her, she told me she was "confused," Still, she remained hopeful and we made a plan to meet for lunch in the summer when she could, as she put it, "get around."
  • My condolences to all who love her.
  • Muriel Dimen

Muriel Dimen, Ph.D.