We received some sad news over the weekend. Our dear friend and essay editor, Marguerite McGlinn passed away, much too young.
I first met Marguerite back in my early days at the Rittenhouse Writers Group. Marguerite possessed a certain subtle intensity that comes from being very, very smart and very determined, and she shared that intensity with the group. If anyone ever had a question regarding Shakespeare or the Classics, Marguerite was the resident expert. When I first met her, she was still teaching high school English at Mount St. Joseph Academy for girls in Flourtown, and while she enjoyed teaching, I believe she longed for more intellectual stimulation. She left her job to give over to that determination, completing two mystery novels, both set in Ireland with literary themes, and many short stories.
When Christine and I decided to start Philadelphia Stories, Marguerite was one of the first people we invited on to our fiction board. Although she was an accomplished travel writer and grammar editor (she edited the Trivium for Paul Dry Books), we knew her real passion was fiction. She served in that capacity until we came to the realization that we needed a full-time essay editor. We turned to Marguerite who we felt was the perfect choice. She knew that we wanted essays that read like stories; essays that spoke to some kind of emotional truth and that were not just glorified journal entries or a litany of someone’s daily activities. Many quarters nothing fit our stringent criteria, but there was never a temptation on Marguerite’s part, or ours, to print the best of what came in, or something that was close, but just not right for us. She believed in the quality of Philadelphia Stories, and we trusted her opinion implicitly.
As a writer, I’m happy and proud to say that we had the good fortune to publish Marguerite’s story The Sphinx http://www.philadelphiastories.org/stories/mcglinn_sphinx.html in the Fall 2007 issue. In this story, Marguerite gently captures the subtleties of what it means to be a friend and how the attention of the right boy can overcome even the strongest Catholic guilt. Much like the great short-story writer J.F. Powers, Marguerite frequently wrote stories that incorporated both her deep-felt Catholicism and her Irish roots. The conflicts in her stories were usually buried deep within the characters themselves–there was no need for flashy displays of histrionics or car chases. I don’t know if she would agree with me, but her work (especially her short stories) definitely have a modernist bent, not unlike another Catholic writer, Flannery O’Connor or Carson McCullers.
As a friend, I’m not sure what to say that will accurately do justice to how much I respected Marguerite. When I was working on my MFA at Rosemont, I would stop by Marguerite’s house (she lived very close to the college) for a quick pasta supper or a cup of tea. She was teaching at St. Joe’s by then and was invigorated by her classroom experiences. I was jazzed too, particularly that first semester, having been out of a formal classroom setting for almost 20 years, and was on fire for Shakespeare, and appalled at the grammatical ineptitude of some of my fellow students. (And if you knew me better, you would realize just how ironical that really is!) But what Marguerite and I did most during those visits was commiserate about writing, specifically, how tough it is to spend time marketing oneself, particularly if you’re not naturally the kind of person who is comfortable extolling your own virtues. I think I can say that Marguerite was frustrated to a certain extent, like many of us. She could write–of that there is no question. She had skill and control and it was clear that she knew what she was doing. The good things that happened in her stories were not by accident. She made them happen. But she did not receive the type of recognition she deserved. Publishers were mildly interested in her novels, telling her that they were well written, but ultimately there were no takers. This was a disappointment for her as it is for any of us in that situation.
This is how it goes for most writers, if we’re lucky we get some kind of positive feedback, but a pat on the back can never take the place of seeing our words in print. But ultimately we have to write to satisfy ourselves, if we don’t we may never have the opportunity to satisfy anyone else. Marguerite knew this and she kept pushing herself to be better and to work harder. She was always very encouraging to me, but also very honest. I always knew I could trust her and a person can’t ask for more than that in a friend.
I also was lucky enough to get to know Marguerite’s husband Tom. She often remarked to me that he was, “a good man,” and when he was home they always made time to spend time together. I always respected them both for that continued commitment to each other. Most people should be so lucky to want to spend time with their spouse after 30 plus years of marriage.
I’m not sure what else to say. I will miss her. We will all miss her. She had a lot left to accomplish and that makes me sad, mostly for Marguerite, but for all of us, really. As much as we want to leave our little piece of a cultural legacy behind, in the end it’s the individuals that we connect with as human beings that really matter, and Marguerite will long be remembered, not only as having been a wonderful teacher, writer, mother, wife and friend, but an extraordinary human being.
2 thoughts on “Remembering Marguerite McGlinn”
Thank you for your tribute to my dear friend, Margie. I was a bridesmaid at her wedding. We were there for each other at the birth of our children.
She was all that you say and much more. Her death has been difficult on all of her family and friends because she was so alive. The grace, dignity and bravery with which she faced the certainty that she would be leaving those she loved so much was an inspiration to me.
Thank you for writing such a touching memory of my mom. I’ve read Philadelphia Stories and while I’m biased to the “Sphinx” which I think describes such a beautiful sliver of life growing up Catholic in working class West Philadelphia, I’m constantly surprised by the talent represented in your magazine. We look forward to sponsoring a prize in my mom’s name in the not too distant future. Thanks again.