Marilyn Brooke Goffstein, award-winning author-illustrator and fine artist, whose work was published under the name M.B. Goffstein and Brooke Goffstein, died on December 20, 2017—her 77th birthday—following a long illness.
Goffstein was born on December 20, 1940 in St. Paul, Minn. and grew up there. In her autobiographical essay for Fourth Book of Junior Authors and Illustrators, she said that she knew from childhood that she would pursue art as a profession. That feeling, she said, stemmed from her Minnesota roots where her parents’ examples helped instill in her the idea “that work was the only real dignity, the only real happiness, and that people were nothing if their lives were not dedicated. My choice was art.”
During her years at Bennington College she studied writing, poetry, and art. It was during this time that she began experimenting with woodcarving and also with small pen-and-ink drawings, which eventually became her signature picture-book illustration style. Goffstein earned her B.A. in 1962 and by then her paintings and drawings had been featured in one-woman shows in St. Paul and New York City, and she had completed two internships at two New York City printers.
After graduating from college, Goffstein moved to New York City and pursued illustration work while working part-time as a bookseller. Though she received positive feedback on her artwork from book editors, she did not land a project until she tried pitching a project that she both wrote and illustrated. In 1996, her first picture book, The Gats!, was published by Michael di Capua at Pantheon. Goffstein’s husband, David Allender, editorial director at Scholastic Book Clubs, recalled the story of that breakthrough. “Brooke was first published in 1966 because Maurice Sendak came to a gallery show of her work,” he said. “Maurice brought his friend, Michael di Capua. Michael offered to publish her first book, The Gats! at Pantheon. And Brooke took him up on the offer. Later that year, Michael took her with him to Farrar, Straus and Giroux.”
Thus began a very prolific period that saw Goffstein often producing more than one book per year. She became widely recognized for her diminutive illustrations and her brief texts focusing on details of family life, the natural world, and people—often artists—doing meaningful work. Her title Fish for Supper (Dial, 1976), inspired by her grandmother’s day spent fishing on Minnesota’s Lake Minnetonka, was awarded a 1977 Caldecott Honor.
In addition to her picture books, some of which featured her photography or pastels, Goffstein wrote some young adult novels and published work for adults as well. Her oeuvre contains more than 30 published titles in all. Outside of her own projects, for many years she taught children’s book illustration at Parsons School of Design in New York and was also an instructor at the University of Minnesota’s Split Rock summer program.
According to Allender, Goffstein will have one final published book. “It will be a limited edition entitled Brooke’s Last Words,” he said. “It’s drawn from conversations with visitors at the Regional Hospice in Danbury, Connecticut during the last two months of her life. There will be 77 copies printed, for each year she was on earth, and available at the memorial service on January 21.”
Edite Kroll, Goffstein’s longtime literary agent (and former editor), offered this remembrance of her client and friend: "Brooke Goffstein never changed in her artist’s determination to get things right, from when I first met her in 1965 and helped proof her first book, The Gats! Like Goldie in Goldie the Dollmaker (FSG, 1969), Brooke always “fought hard and quietly” to get her words and art exactly as she wanted them. She once mentioned that it took her nine hours to get the vacuum cord in Neighbors (Harper, 1979) just right. I have always loved her books and so have been pleased to have persuaded foreign publishers that Brooke’s books would appeal to their readers as well.”
Michael di Capua, who published Goffstein for much of her career, shared these words about their working relationship: "I was lucky enough to meet Brooke 50-odd years ago, when she was a bright-eyed young woman passionately dedicated to creating her own tiny universe in words and pictures. I happily helped her out with 13 unique books, starting with her first, The Gats!, in 1966 and ending with My Editor in 1985, in which she showed—according to the catalogue copy—that 'behind every great writer stands a pretty good editor.' There was only one M B. Goffstein."
Goffstein’s family made this request in her obituary from St. Paul’s Pioneer Press: “In lieu of flowers please create something beautiful for the people around you or buy and read the book of your choice.”