Chicago author Amy Krouse Rosenthal died Monday of the ovarian cancer she wrote about in a powerful New York Times essay seeking a future partner for her husband Jason.
“You may want to marry my husband” was published online March 3 and in the newspaper March 5. It quickly went viral. It’s already one of the Times’ most popular “Modern Love” columns ever, said Dan Jones, who edits the column.
On Valentine’s Day — the day Ms. Krouse Rosenthal finished writing the essay — her husband of 26 years celebrated their romance by decorating their Lakeview home.
“All over the house, downstairs, upstairs and in the kitchen, Jason had hung music sheets with words to different love songs for Amy, with notes on each one,” said her literary agent Amy Rennert, who confirmed Ms. Krouse Rosenthal died Monday at her Lakeview home.
Ms. Krouse Rosenthal, 51, who grew up in Northbrook and Lake Forest, was the best-selling author of more than 30 childrens’ books, including “Chopsticks,” “Duck! Rabbit!” “Spoon” and “Little Pig,” “Little Pea” and “Little Hoot.”
She also wrote 2005’s “Encyclopedia of an Ordinary Life” and last year’s “Textbook Amy Krouse Rosenthal.” She contributed to NPR, made short films and gave TED talks. Her writing featured wordplay, lists, visual puns, charts and serendipitous coincidences.
She fell in love with Jason B. Rosenthal the day she met him on a blind date in 1989, when they were both 24.
“By the end of our merlot and rigatoni, I knew he was the one,” she said in “Encyclopedia of an Ordinary Life.”
In her New York Times essay, she wrote:
“Here is the kind of man Jason is: He showed up at our first pregnancy ultrasound with flowers. This is a man who, because he is always up early, surprises me every Sunday morning by making some kind of oddball smiley face out of items near the coffeepot: a spoon, a mug, a banana.
“This is a man who emerges from the minimart or gas station and says, ‘Give me your palm.’ And, voilà, a colorful gumball appears. (He knows I love all the flavors but white.)
“My guess is you know enough about him now. So let’s swipe right.”
Her husband, a Chicago attorney, said he was staggered by the beauty and honesty of her column.
“It is Amy’s gift with words that has drawn the universe in,” Jason Rosenthal said in a written statement last week. “I am not surprised that her ‘Modern Love’ essay in the New York Times has garnered the attention it so deserves. I didn’t know exactly what she was composing but I was with her as she labored through this process and I can tell you that writing the story was no easy task. When I read her words for the first time, I was shocked at the beauty, slightly surprised at the incredible prose given her condition and, of course, emotionally ripped apart.
“Unfortunately, I do not have the same aptitude for the written word,” he said, “but if I did, I can assure you that my tale would be about the most epic love story…ours.”
Ms. Krouse Rosenthal said the first word she ever uttered was “more.” She grew up in Northbrook and Lake Forest in a family of four children. She graduated from Lake Forest High School and Tufts University outside Boston.
She started out as an advertising copywriter. But one day, at a McDonald’s with her kids, “All of a sudden it felt like I wasn’t going about this living thing the right way,” she once told the Chicago Reader. “I knew I had to keep writing.”
She began doing creative writing in coffeehouses. One of her favorites was Wicker Park’s Urbus Orbis.
Her projects were rich in quirky charm. In the “Lost and Found” video she made with Steve Delahoyde, she left copies of “Encyclopedia of an Ordinary Life” in taxis, the Music Box theater and a restroom. She buried a plastic-wrapped book inside a snowman. And she left notes encouraging readers to let her know about finding them.
A Booklist review called the book “immensely readable and frequently hilarious.” Who else but the author, writer Leon Wagner asked, “would challenge a Chicago parking ticket on grounds of karma (and succeed)? Or have a professional police artist draw sketches of her based on descriptions from her father and husband?”
In a TED talk, she discussed finding unexpected charm in the everyday, like looking at an ATM but seeing an acronym for “Always Trust Magic.”
Another video, “17 Things I Made,” invited viewers to meet her at The Bean in Millennium Park at 8:08 p.m. on 8/08/08 to make an “18th thing.” She said she’d be known by the yellow umbrella she’d be carrying. When Ms. Krouse Rosenthal arrived, hundreds had gathered. Under her direction, they connected, blew bubbles and skipped through the Millennium Park fountains.
One of the participants in the gathering was her friend John Green, who wrote “The Fault in Our Stars” and “Paper Towns.” He credits her with helping to start his career by asking him to write and record an essay for WBEZ. Green said her work shows that “If you pay the right kind of attention, the mundane becomes beautiful.”
On Tuesday night, he read her book “Uni the Unicorn” to his young daughter, and thought: “Only Amy could have imagined a unicorn that believes in little girls.”
Other fans of her kids’ books include Reese Witherspoon. And author Sherman Alexie said in 2013 that “Encyclopedia of an Ordinary Life” was his holiday gift.
“Amy Krouse Rosenthal was more than a talented and prolific writer and filmmaker whose work brought warmth and joy to readers young and old,” Mayor Rahm Emanuel said. “She was a personal friend, a proud Chicagoan, and a devoted mother, wife and daughter. Amy and my thoughts and prayers are with her family, friends and all those she left behind.”
Ms. Krouse Rosenthal’s North Side home is decorated in what she called “Book Lover Modern,” with books under glass, a sculpture made of books, a book clock and a vintage library card catalog. Her favorite purse featured the cover of “To Kill a Mockingbird.” In a video tour of her house, she showed viewers a jacket made out of her book covers, which she called her “book-jacket jacket.”
She is also survived by her children, Justin, Miles and Paris; her parents Ann and Paul Krouse; sisters Katie Froelich and Beth Kaufmann, and brother Joe Krouse.
In an essay for Oprah magazine after her 40th birthday, she wrote: “How many more times do I get to cut an apple? How many more times will I put on my coat? Put a quarter in the meter? Kiss my mother?. . . . How many more times will I hold my purse up to my ear to see if it’s my cell phone that’s ringing….How many times do I get to wake up?”