By Philip Turner in: Books & Writing

A Personal Encounter with Writer Jennifer Homans

Yesterday, my wife and I attended a Scholastic writing awards ceremony with our teenage son Ewan where he was given a medal for a humor sketch he’d written (posted here). The program included a keynote speaker, Jennifer Homans, who was introduced as the author of Apollo’s Angels: A History of Ballet. I knew of her book, which had won awards and been named to many best book lists in 2010, but I knew nothing else about her. She offered good advice to the many young writers assembled in the high school gym, like find a place “inside” yourself to write from and, even while relying on stimulation and information from the outside world, turn off the input, such as Twitter and Facebook, and don’t hesitate to go into yourself. Then she turned to a personal matter. She revealed that her husband, also a writer, had died less than two years earlier, and that she had just written and published an account of his passing, which required her to emerge from her quiet place, not a comfortable place for her, but one that she felt obliged to occupy for a time. She didn’t mention her late husband’s name, and I made a mental note to find out who he was. Before I had a chance to look it up, the essay by Homans on her late husband jumped out at me, in the New York Review of Books. He had been Tony Judt, the prolific author and intellectual historian of modern Europe. Stricken with ALS in 2008, her piece chronicles his last two years, when he maintained many of his intellectual and writerly pursuits, most significantly  ’talking’ out his last book, Thinking the Twentieth Century, in regular two-hour conversation with collaborator Tony Snyder. He was editing passages of it just before his death in the summer of 2010. The book was published posthumously last month. Homans personal essay is a moving tribute and I’m grateful for having had the chance to hear her speak about her writing life and that of her brave and brilliant husband.