Today, my issue of the Winter KMT magazine (an international, popular Egyptology periodical) arrived. Glancing casually at the cover on my way to the kitchen, I was startled and horrified to see a cover-story “Remembering Dr Barbara Mertz”.
This is the sort of thing written about someone who is dead, but I hadn’t heard anything about her even being ill. Flipping through to the story, I discovered she passed away quietly on August 8th of this year. (Later, I found more information on her official website.)
I should explain. Barbara Mertz is perhaps more commonly known as Elizabeth Peters, the author of the Amelia Peabody Mystery* series (she also wrote under the name Barbara Michaels). When I was about 11 or 12 my mother discovered them at the library, and rather astutetly predicted I would enjoy them. I did. Hugely. I read them all, then read them again. I became so fascinated that I started to read about Ancient Egypt. Later, when I’d gotten to college and was casting about for a new direction, I remembered my fascination with Egypt and decided to change my major to Classics (the only department with any Egyptology classes at all). And the rest is history. I studied for two degreees, discovered writing and began to write about Ancient Egypt, began to dream of working in the field of Egyptology. Through it all, I read Mertz’s books, seeking out her nonfiction and fiction alike. I read about her life, and took comfort from her unique path through the field of Egyptology. In graduate school, I took my courage in both hands and wrote her a fan letter. This is not the sort of thing I’m prone to doing, but I’m so very grateful I did when I had the chance. I’m most especially grateful that she wrote back to me, in her own hand, a short postcard thanking me for my kind words, congratulating me on my success so far and wishing me luck in my continued endeavors. It’s one of my most treasured possessions, and is hanging even now on my note-board above my desk.
So how do you write about someone who touched your life in such a profound way, yet you never met, nor even spoke to them? How do you deal with grief for a stranger that is deeper than the grief we feel for humans in general? For me, I’ll be re-reading all of my favorite books (and more than likely blogging about them) from her body of work. After all, it was her stories which inspired me so profoundly, so it only makes sense to immerse myself in them again to mark her passing. And one of the things she inspired me to do was write, so I’ll write about her work.