Justin Kaufmann remembers his friend Amy Krouse Rosenthal
Always Trust AKR
By Justin Kaufmann
“Whatever you Do will be insignificant But it is very important that you do it.”
That’s a quote from Ghandi. But it was shared by my friend Amy Krouse Rosenthal.
Amy Krouse Rosenthal spent the better part of today trending on the internet. Mostly because of a story she wrote last week in the New York Times. She asked if anyone wanted to marry her husband. Amy KR was dying.
It was classic Amy. Making people cry, laugh and smile at the same time. Talking about emotions, but really bringing us together to talk about love, death, but most of all, life.
I met Amy Krouse Rosenthal as a 21 year old producer. She wrote a funny essay. She was good at that. And at the time, I would have no way of knowing that I’d spend the next 21 years working with her.
Amy is a writer by trade, but a creator by heart. She has written several memoirs (one alphabetized) and several great Children’s books. Little Pea, Spoon, It’s Not Fair. She became a New York Times bestseller and a heavyweight in the kid lit world. But that was just one way you would know her. If you were in the Chicago arts community, chances are you crossed paths with AKR.
Amy and I worked on a show called “Writers Block Party.” at WBEZ. We sold it as a 5-7 min variety show that would air within another show. The premise was simple – pack as much creative goodness into as little time as possible. And it was so fun. Amy would get accomplished writers and performers side by side with new artists and edit and direct them to perform tiny pieces. 1 minute essays, etc. And that list included writers like Bill Zehme, Elizabeth Crane, Sarah Karp, Tony Rogers, Megan Stielstra and so on. and helped launch the careers of great writers like John Green or Claire Zulkey or Mark Bazer to name a few.
It was just one of several projects I’ve worked with her on. Radio, video, writings and performances. I’ve spent many a day sitting next to Amy, editing audio or discussing the right running order. She was a great producer, a great creative force. After all, she was Chicago and she had that Chicago hustle. So no project was ever too big, ever too hard to accomplish.
I’ve had a hard time articulating Amy’s strength as a writer. Maybe cause it not really about writing. Amy was on a mission. And that mission was to get us all to stop, for just a second, and recognize that there was beauty nearby.
While we live our lives, There were moments we skip, we ignore or just plain dismiss. Amy did a bulk of her work forcing us to stop and recognize these moments. To share in a quirky word play, or to leave behind notes on grocery shelves and other odd places. She dedicated her life to making us look closer at ours.
I’ll give you an example of some of the tremendous stuff Amy Krouse Rosenthal worked on. Always Trust Magic was a interactive video project where she would leave notes at ATM machines. So she’d go to random ATM machines and put a post it note up saying “You are beautiful” or something else uplifting. She asked her readers to do the same. And after that, we would get videos and pictures from AROUND THE WORLD – people writing notes in different languages in far off lands. It was tremendous. And magical.
And Amy loved numbers. Loved to play with the meaning around certain numbers. Loved celebrating them. Like on October 10, 2010. 10/10/10. She told her audience to show up at 10:10 on 10/10/10 down at the Bean for a celebration. Again I was hesitant. Who would want to do that? Boy, I was wrong – I am still amazed that about 1000 people showed up to celebrate this once in a lifetime moment.
Or what about the time Amy asked her audience to meet her at the Belmont EL stop on a Saturday morning. They were going to ride around the Loop and back to Belmont. The project was called Going Nowhere…Fast. And I thought there would be nobody. And low and behold, hundreds of people showed up and hopped the Brown line for stories, a sing-a-long and a shared moment. And when the train arrived back at Belmont, everyone left.
And I could go on. I really could. She did hundreds of these ideas throughout the years. And I consider myself to be lucky enough to be a part of it. Because at a very young age, Amy proved to me that you can be creative. You don’t have to put your ideas away, or keep them bottled up. You are a creator, and your job is to create. That’s an unbelievable lesson to teach, especially to a 21 year old kid.
Amy Krouse Rosenthal died from cancer today at the age of 51. She leaves behind a loving family, a grateful artistic community and a world that will Always Trust magic.
Amy ended every episode of Writers Block Party by saying:
This isn’t Goodbye, it’s just so long for now.