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Elizabeth Hardwick (1916–2007)

The following statement was sent by Derek Walcott from his home in St. Lucia and read by Hilton Als at a memorial service in New York City on December 16, 2007, for Elizabeth Hardwick, co-founder and advisory editor of The New York Review since 1963 and contributor of more than one hundred reviews, articles, reflections, and letters to these pages.

—The Editors

Distance requires formality, but I cannot be distant writing about Lizzie Hardwick since everything has come alarmingly closer—the curls, the infectious chuckles, the drawl like poured-out honey, the privilege of sharing her astute delight, and the benign devastations of her wit. Because she hated pomposity she was more fun than any American writer I have known. She preferred gaiety to malice and had the laugh to go with it. Memories of her rise like butterflies from a bush, all darting, elate, and light; the use of three adjectives is the signature of her style, perhaps because of the precise languor of her Kentucky accent.

That meter entered her husband’s poems and Cal sometimes sounded as if he were talking in Elizabeth’s voice, as Robert Lowell blended into Elizabeth Hardwick. Laughter is a gift, not mockery; even to giggle at the invisible clothes of the emperors of our fiction and poetry, which she had to do in her criticism, was natural; that quality of lightness lifted us up too. You felt that she wrote for you, you hoped that those brilliant monologues of the best prose writer in America would not ever reach a period, but you also knew that she would outlast it.

They rise thick and fast from the hibiscus bush, merriment in the December sunshine: memories of Lizzie running backstage at the interval of one of my plays, so happy for me; Lizzie being so fond of Margaret, my second wife; Cal and Lizzie with Harriet and my son Peter in Trinidad; and, invisible from that ordinary goodness, the essays that I read with as much care as if they were poems, not only for their meaning but their scansion, with the hibiscus bush now bare of the bliss of her thought, her butterflies.

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