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Remembering St. Paul’s Rosalie Maggio, a great friend to writers

With one book, Rosalie smashed the old, familiar Bartlett-ian idea that, save a handful of exceptions, anyone worth quoting was a man.

“I feel like there should be a skywriting plane circling the globe, spreading the sad news that Rosalie Maggio has left us.“ (Michelle J. Edwards)

And so there was, via the 21st-century version of a skywriting plane circling the globe: a Facebook post. Rosalie Maggio had died Saturday, Sept. 18, of pancreatic cancer. As word spread, friends and writers (but I repeat myself), wept.

Rosalie Maggio
Rosalie Maggio
There never was a better friend to writers; and those of us who lived in the Twin Cities, where Rosalie lived for years, felt especially close.  Her book, “How to Say It: Choice Words, Phrases, Sentences and Paragraphs for Every Situation,” was the go-to book for those who wanted to get it right; to move the needle, tip the balance, even the playing field.  And when others didn’t know how to say it — for example, the reporter referring to people “manning” a project, we’d refer them to the better, more accurate choice, “staffing.”  Or to the politician calling those fighting fires “firemen,” we’d suggest the better, more accurate, “firefighter.”

Easy-peasy, sensible, logical; so, what’s the big deal?  In 1989, it was a big deal. The world was very different, and gender equality was a flaming battlefield.  As someone who wrote on the subject, I called Rosalie often, not just to find the right word, but to rage, commiserate, sigh, weep and sometimes laugh.  Rosalie was an introvert and not often interested in getting together physically, but at the end of a phone line, she was always present.

“Even to know they are alive in the world with one is quite enough.” (Nancy Spain, “Why I’m not a Millionaire,” 1956).

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It was. Even when she moved from St. Paul to her mountaintop in California, the conversations continued.  We both grew in our work, Rosalie writing other books, I moving on to copywriting.

And “Oh the comfort — the inexpressible comfort of feeling safe with a person — having neither to weigh thoughts nor measure words, but pouring them all right out, just as they are, chaff and grain together, certain that a faithful hand will take them and sift them, keep what is worth keeping, and then with the breath of kindness blow the rest away.” (Dinah Maria Mulock Craik, “A Life for a Life,” 1866)

Then Rosalie gave us the gift of the quotations book! With one book, Rosalie’s New Beacon Book of Quotations by Women, featuring 16,000 quotes from 2,600 women — smashed the old, familiar Bartlett-ian idea that, save a handful of exceptions, anyone worth quoting was a man.

Susan J. Berkson
Susan J. Berkson
Rosalie’s collection of quotes by women, most found in no other collection, opened the door to new sources, new subjects and new wisdom. With choice and witty words by women ranging from Bella Abzug to Ann Zwinger on over 1,400 topics, this is an indispensable treasure trove,  a reader’s delight, and out-of-print. Hold tight to your copy and search high and low for another.

Who shall I call now to rage, commiserate, sigh and cry? Author/illustrator Michelle J. Edwards, who wrote of Rosalie, “She gave me, and I think all of us, her readers, her friends, her family, a fullness of love and support that allowed us to feel that we were up to the task at hand, be it mothering or writing a novel. Rosalie was sure we could do it.” (Michelle J. Edwards)

Rosalie did, and thanks to her, we now write on the shoulders of giants.

 Susan J. Berkson, a long-time Twin Cities resident, wrote commentary for the Star Tribune, Minnesota Public Radio and TPT.  She now writes from her home in Jerusalem.