Andy Ward Visits Williston
Hang on for a minute...we're trying to find some more stories you might like.
Email This Story
“When you come to one of the many moments in life where you must give an account of yourself, provide a ledger of what you have been, and done, and meant to the world, do not, I pray, discount that you filled a dying man’s days with a sated joy, a joy unknown to me in all my prior years, a joy that does not hunger for more and more but rests, satisfied. In this time, right now, that is an enormous thing.”
Finishing the last sentence of the final chapter, Andy Ward closed the book and looked up at the speechless audience seating tightly in the Dodge Room, waiting for responses and questions.
Ward is a famous editor who has worked at Esquire and GQ magazines and is now the editor for Random House. On Monday, January 23rd, he came to Williston with a special story to tell.
When Breath Becomes Air, written by Paul Kalanithi, is a New York Times bestseller that has been reviewed countless times to be “deeply moving” and “life-affirming.” As the editor of the book, Ward said: “I never met Paul,” even though he was spending almost the whole year editing and compiling the marvelous book the world now sees and values.
Half a year before the publication, Ward said: “I was walking to the parking lot when the phone rang. And somebody told me Paul passed away.” After being diagnosed with the lung cancer, Paul Kalanithi, the 36-year-old neurosurgeon, started writing as his new profession to record his thoughts and experiences in his time left.
Ward said: “Paul was really realistic about it[his disease]. He said he would either die in one year, or in five years.” But death took his victim so quickly; everybody, including Paul himself. was expecting at least half a year more to live. Such a sudden tragedy left behind a weeping wife, an eighteen-year old daughter, and a book unfinished.
“I called Lucy [Kalanithi’s wife] to ask about what I should do with the book. And she told me it was Paul’s final wish to see the book published,” Ward said. “So I asked her to send me all the writings Paul had done in his final year of life, and I’ll see where we are at.” Eventually, with the help from Lucy, Ward managed to organize all the pieces of writings together and published the book in January 2016.
When Breath Becomes Air turns out to be a memoir so powerful and touching that it has the ability to bring tears into the readers’ eyes.
Andy Ward read several sections from the book to the Williston students and families who attended the Writer’s Workshop: “I began to realize that coming in such close contact with my own mortality had changed both nothing and everything. Before my cancer was diagnosed, I knew that someday I would die, but I didn’t know when. After the diagnosis, I knew that someday I would die, but I didn’t know when. But now I knew it acutely. The problem wasn’t really a scientific one. The fact of death is unsettling. Yet there is no other way to live.”
“This is not the kind of writing you came across everyday as an editor.” Ward said: “As I was editing it, I thought this might be something that would actually touch people.” His predictions turned out to be right.
After the publication, the Washington Post wrote: “An emotional investment well worth making; a moving and thoughtful memoir of family, family and literature. It is, despite its grim undertone, accidentally inspiring.”
Many students ordered the book after attending the Workshop. “I really liked Andy Ward’s talk. He shared an incredible story about how he published When Breath Becomes Air, and it was inspiring. ” said Sophia Schaefer ’18, “Publishing that book was a once-in-a-lifetime type of experience.”