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Ann Wroe on the art of writing an obituary

Death, Matt Batchelor (CC BY 2.0)

From The Economist comes an interview with Ann Wroe, one of their in-house obituarists. I’ve documented my interest in the profession here (multiple times) and elsewhere, and even wrote a short story about the career choice.

Wroe on the craft:

I look through the obituaries of the New York Times and the Telegraph. I’ll spot someone who looks really interesting and I’ll hear a bell going off in my head. I do it for the story, and not whether the person is famous. I love it when someone’s had a quirky career that we wouldn’t be dealing with in any other part of the paper, such as a woodcarver or a whale hunter or a firefighter.

On the career itself:

It’s odd because people think it’s a rather gloomy job, but it’s very seldom a sad job. Usually, the people you’re dealing with have lived for ages and have done really interesting things. … An obit is really a celebration of a life. It’s really a joyful thing most of the time. That’s why I love the job.

I believe a great exercise for any student of writing would be to select someone currently alive, famous or not, and write their life story in under 1,000 words. Do that five, ten, twenty times, each time a different person. The exercise will change how you approaching writing stories, from microfiction to saga-length novels.

2 thoughts on “Ann Wroe on the art of writing an obituary

  1. The Obituary section of The Economist is always a good thing to read.

    A few weeks ago the obituary writers of The New York Times were interviewed on The Fresh Air (NPR):
    http://www.npr.org/2017/04/27/525868854/for-new-york-times-obit-writers-death-is-never-solicitous-of-a-deadline

    During the whole time I longed for them to be asked: “Do you know and read the obituaries in The Economist and what do you think?”

    They weren’t, interesting interview nonetheless.
    :-)

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