This week, the news spread via the international media and the Internet that popular writer Maeve Binchy has died after a short illness. Rest in peace, Maeve. And thank you for all those loveable and highly readable stories and books.
I didn’t know Maeve Binchy–at least not personally.
Once, she was the judge of a short-story contest in which my entry made second place. So I can guess she had good taste, yes? Also, I once flew back home from Ireland to Boston while sitting next to an off-duty airline stewardess. Needless to say, we got chatting. And needless to say, I got her to spill about who she’s waited on and what they’re like.
She said Maeve Binchy was a joy.
My first and best memory of this iconic Irish writer was an interview on a Saturday-night T.V. show in Ireland. I couldn’t have been more than 17 or 18 (was I 20?) at the time, and Maeve Binchy was a comparitively neophyte published writer.
From that T.V appearance, I remember two things:
1. She assured the interviewer that writing was really like sitting in a pub and just telling someone a story. It was that exciting and that uncomplicated.
2. I remember her extraordinary warmth and grace–and for some reason, this came as a shock.
Can You Be Quotable, Famous and Nice?
Until Maeve, our iconic Irish writers–our Joyces, our Becketts our Kavanaghs et al–had been … well … mostly male. And, gender aside, our national writers had been quotable, talented and erudite–yes-but what had they taught us about being or playing nice? About combining grace with literary fame?
So this is what I remember most about Maeve Binchy. Not her books, not her plots, not her characters, not her books-turned-feature films or astonishing literary output. But her grace.
Take a look at this week’s newspaper tributes to Maeve Biinchy’s life and death, and it’s clear that, beyond the works and awards, her grace and charm didn’t go unnoticed. The term “popular” described way more than her 40-million in worldwide book sales. These good manners, this altruistic consideration of others–her readers, the airline worker, the T.V. interviewer. These are the hallmarks, the legacy of a truly “good writer.”
And of course, this leads us to ask: What if she’d been just as successful but also one of those ice-queen, prima donna writers? This week, would we flood the Internet and media with our memories and our heartfelt tributes?
No. Or if we did, we would just write the usual “life and work” tributes. We would write and speak about her in that distanced, awe-struck way in which we pay tribute to other impressive but inanimate constructs like .. oh … say … the pyramids of Egypt or the Taj Mahal or Donald Trump.
To me, the way in which Maeve Binchy conducted herself on-screen, in life, on air or in the air is just as important–actually more so–than her status as a bestselling woman writer.