Nora Ephron was not only a prolific and piercingly intelligent writer, as so many have acknowledged in tributes and obituaries since she passed away three weeks ago, she was also an amazingly generous supporter of other writers. It is rare that a successful writer actually wishes for other writers to succeed, especially in competitive New York and Hollywood circles. But Nora's cup ran over with a genuine desire to see other writers thrive as she was thriving.
I don't know why Nora took an interest in me. I like to think that maybe she saw her younger self in me, but this is just a fantasy. I met her at a Christmas party thrown by a mutual friend when I was about 24 and working as a fact-checker. I remember her telling me that she had started her career as a fact-checker and asking me bluntly, "Are you an intellectual?" I tentatively answered yes, and she promptly offered to arrange an interview for me with Barbara Epstein, her good friend and the editor of the New York Review of Books.
For roughly the next twelve years, during which time I saw Nora only a handful of times in person, she and I kept up an email correspondence that was partly personal but mostly professional. She asked me to contribute writing to a project she was working on. She told me about job opportunities and put me in touch with friends. She wrote to congratulate me on a published piece she had come across. She gave my name to the Huffington Post when they asked her to suggest young bloggers. In other words, she encouraged me, supported me, and promoted me, way above and beyond the call of duty, considering that she was a famous writer and I was just someone she knew.
In the fall of 2009, I got an email from her saying simply, "Call me at home." When I called her, she told me that she had been working on a play with her sister Delia called Love, Loss, and What I Wore, and that they had decided at the last minute to include a piece I had written for her about nine years earlier, shortly after we first met. She said I should come see the play and, if I approved, my monologue would be included in the script and I would start receiving royalties. Needless to say, I approved, and I now get a small but deeply treasured royalty check about twice a year.
The last time I saw Nora was two months ago, at that same mutual friend's baby shower. I had no idea she was sick, and she was just as effervescent and witty as ever. At one point, Nora and I started talking about a man who had recently died of a heart attack just hours after dancing all night at a party. She said, "You know, when people die, everyone always says they were so 'full of life.' And I always think, well, of course they were full of life! They were alive!" I laughed, innocently unaware that she was having this conversation on a whole different level.
The irony is that now I can't stop thinking about how "full of life" Nora was, and it's making it hard for me to accept that she's really gone. In addition to inspiring me with her own writing, which I admired tremendously, Nora had become a constant presence in my life -- popping up in my inbox every couple of weeks or months or years with ready praise and offers to introduce me to people she knew. Just five weeks before she died, she emailed me to tell me to get in touch with an editor she thought might be hiring. Nora always saw me as a writer, even before I saw myself that way. Even though I felt extremely grateful to her through the years, I think I also took her for granted, because some part of me believed she'd always be there. Since I can't send her an email now telling her how much I appreciate everything she did for me (and for other young writers), the best I can do is what she surely would have told me to do: write about it.