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Remembering Lillian B. Rubin: Social Scientist, Bestselling Author, & Good Friend

By Helene Atwan

Detail from "Setting Sun #2," by Lillian B. Rubin, Acrylic 16" x 20"
Detail from "Setting Sun #2," by Lillian B. Rubin, Acrylic 16" x 20"

We mourn the loss of a good friend and wonderful author, Lillian B. Rubin, who died on June 17 having lived 90 very full and active years. Lillian wrote many important books, beginning with her classic, still in print and used in classrooms, Worlds of Pain: Life in the Working-Class FamilyShe went on to mix scholarship with her skills and insights as a psychologist, producing best-selling books like Women of a Certain Age, Intimate Strangers, Just Friendsand Erotic Wars.

I had the honor (and great pleasure) of working with her at Farrar, Straus and Giroux on her gutsy book about Bernie Goetz, Quiet RageShe was uncompromising in her support of the disadvantaged, always, and so had no tolerance for fools like Goetz. Out on tour to promote the book, she walked into the studio of a right wing talk jock who was so enraged by her thoughtful and utter rejection of vigilantism that he chased her down the studio hall yelling. She found that story, typically, far more amusing than frightening.

Lillian Rubin by Blake Knier

Here at Beacon, I was privileged to edit and publish three of her books, beginning with her searing book about her mother and her own very difficult childhood, Tangled Lives: Daughters, Mothers & the Crucible of Aging. In the course of our conversations about this book, I came to know Lillian’s determination never to be anything like her own mother, and to die independently and with dignity. A promise to herself and all who loved her that she kept.

We went on to work on two more books: The Man with the Beautiful Voice: And More Stories from the Other Side of the Couch, a book which really showcased her fluid, narrative writing skills, as well as her deep perceptiveness about human nature; and the uncompromising Sixty On Up: The Truth About Aging in AmericaLillian began that book with the candor we had come to expect of her: “Getting old Sucks!” And yet...she managed it as beautifully as it could be done. She took up art, but never really stopped writing, contributing six very strong pieces to Salon over the past four years.

In the last few months, we had decided to form a book group—just the two of us, talking about books we loved (or not) on the phone once a month. We had engaged in a heated discussion of Colum McCann’s Transatlantic (two thumbs up there) and Sue Monk Kidd’s The Invention of Wings (thumbs mostly up...) just weeks ago, and we were still trying to settle on our next two books when her daughter emailed to let her friends know that Lillian was gone. I have a lump in my throat still. I will miss you, my friend. The world is enriched by your books, by your presence.

Here are some lovely words from her daughter, Marci Rubin: www.lillianrubin.com. And here is the New York Times remembrance.



Helene AtwanHelene Atwan has been director of Beacon Press since October 1995. She holds a Master’s degree in English Literature from the University of Virginia. She began her career in publishing at Random House in 1976, and has worked at Alfred A. Knopf; Viking Press; Farrar, Straus and Giroux; and Simon and Schuster. She served for eight years on the board of PEN-New England and is the Administrator of the Hemingway Foundation/PEN Award.