On May 17, 2015, Jayson Greene was the loving father of a two-year-old daughter, Greta. The next day, after a piece of a windowsill in disrepair fell on her head from eight stories above, Greta was dead. The accident made the New York Times.
Greene, a senior editor at the digital music magazine Pitchfork, was 33 at the time. He and his wife, Stacy, were shattered. To go on, he did the only thing he could to try to process his loss: write.
“I was writing thoughts down in the days immediately following her accident,” Greene said. “I’m a person of words. They’re the way I process everything. Writing was a way not to be blinded by grief, and to maintain a connection with Greta as my wife and I went about our lives. I honestly believe it kept me alive.”
The journal he kept, Greene said, was never meant to become a book—although his mother suggested the idea to him after he shared his writing with her. But he did publish an op-ed in the New York Times, entitled “Children Don’t Always Live,” in October 2016. When agent Anna Sproul-Latimer of the Ross Yoon agency read it, she knew she had to help it become a book.
“It was some of the best writing I’ve seen about grief,” Sproul-Latimer said, adding that she represents “a lot of writing in this space,” including that of an organization dedicated to confronting and normalizing loss and mortality called the Order of the Good Death. “There was something about the particularity and the energy and the humor in his writing that shouldn’t work but did. It really arrested me.”
As a result, Sproul-Latimer took a trip from Washington, D.C., to New York specifically to meet with Greene, using a classic cover. “I did the little ‘I happened to be in the neighborhood’ thing,” she said. “We talked about how we both thought there wasn’t enough space in the zeitgeist for people interested in talking about grief.”
Determined to make that space, Greene began work on writing a manuscript called Once More We Saw Stars, while Sproul-Latimer sold world rights to Knopf editor Jordan Pavlin. (The manuscript has since been picked up by Spectrum in Holland and Hodder in the U.K.) The book is tentatively due to release in March 2019.
In her cover letter pitching the book, Sproul-Latimer compared Greene to a handful of creative heavyweights, noting that the book combined “Paul Kalanithi’s intellect with John Green’s curiosity, Louis CK’s rueful melancholy with Jim Henson’s sweetness.”
Pavlin saw something similar. “I cried my eyes out reading his proposal, and yet came away from it uplifted and changed,” she said. “I think that is how I expect that other readers will respond to this work. You walk away from not only the story but the particular way in which Jayson tells it—which is partly the result of his gift as a writer and of his gifts as a human being—with a heightened awareness of the fragility of life but also the unconquerable power of love. That is a remarkable literary feat, and an existential feat.”
Greene—whose second child with Stacy, a son, is less than a year old—is halfway through the manuscript for Stars, which, when finished, should total around 70,000 words. Greene hopes to share his experiences with others in similar circumstances, he said, in order to help them feel a little bit less alone in the universe.
“It wasn’t just for me to live in privacy and silence—I wanted it to mean something in the world,” Greene said. “And I wanted it very badly not to be a book about anguish. Anguish is in it, but it’s not about anguish. I wrote this book in some ways because my family survived. Greta is gone, but she’s still with us. I want the book to be life-affirming and hopeful, because I’m alive to write it. And I think that’s important.”
CORRECTION: This article initially used an early version of the manuscript's name, and mistakenly attributed foreign rights. We regret the error.