The Light of the World, A Memoir by Elizabeth Alexander
The list of the author’s accomplishments is long: Pulitzer Prize-nominated poet, Yale professor, composer of “Praise Song for the Day,” which she recited at President Barack Obama’s 2009 inauguration, mother, and wife. When her husband, a trim, 50 year-old health-conscious chef and artist, dies suddenly of cardiac arrest, leaving her a widow and their two children without their father, Alexander is plunged into shock and grief as she mourns the loss of their love which “began in an instant and progressed inevitably.”
Although a sobering reality, yet this 200-page memoir is not a walk through the valley of the shadow of death. It is instead a written still life of what she and her husband, Ficre, a man who was “profoundly peaceful and peace-loving,” created through their shared commitment to marriage, family, friends, and a conscious way of living. Her writing is full of images of the Eritrean food Ficre created in his New Haven restaurant, the art he created in his studio, gardens and poetry, books and music. It’s a life that revels in the kind of luxury that comes not from purchasing power but from two people practicing their own enjoyment and idea of what it is that constitutes life’s deep pleasures.
Alexander knows how to bend the language to her purposes, letting the reader into her life, but only so far. It’s not an orgy of oversharing, nor a demand for pity. Like a poem, the reader becomes privy to bits and pieces of a whole, a glimpse at days they shared that Alexander says she can “only call divine.” Perhaps the clearest picture that comes through is of a partnership that worked, and a suggestion of the secret sauce for its success: “Each of us made it possible for the other. We got something done. Each believed in the other unsurpassingly.”
Read The Light of the World and visit, “a house where the piano was played, a house where we sometimes read poetry at the dinner table…” a place where the inhabitants loved living in an organized and open way that always welcomed family and friends, yet where the author hopes that “noone is fooled by my competence.”