Writer Erica Heller is the editor of a new collection of essays she gathered from dozens of contributors, asking them to imagine a final meal with someone they cherished. The collection, One Last Lunch, gathers 48 of these essays, bookended by two essays by Heller about her own imagined meals with her father, novelist Joseph Heller.
One Last Lunch: A Final Meal with Those Who Meant So Much To Us, Editor Erica Heller, launches May 12, 2020 from Abrams Books. There are many options for pre-order. I already know One Last Lunch will be a gobsmacker for me because my dad passed away last month. I plan to enjoy every essay while thinking of my own imaginary meal with my dad.
Erica talked with Rose City Reader about missing our loved ones, collecting essays, and the finished product, One Last Lunch:
Can you describe the theme of the essays in your new book, One Last Lunch?
The theme is universal longing. The fervent wish that we could have just a bit more time with someone meaningful to us whom we’ve lost. In a sense, the lunches are imagined codas to all of these relationships.
How did you get the idea for this collection?
I was extremely close to my mother. She is gone 25 years now and I still hear her voice sometimes. (please don’t put me in a straitjacket!) I still wish we could talk, argue, make up. I just realized how much I yearned for this and started wondering whether everyone else had similar fantasies.
How did you pick the 49 people who wrote essays for One Last Lunch?
Well, in a sense they picked me. It took a lot of thinking and literally thousands of emails trying to track people down who would commit to such a project. Not an easy one, to be sure. I can laugh at it now but for 2 years, all I did was beg and plead, negotiate, convince. Each one was like capturing a star in the sky, these lunches are so precious.
What is your background and how did it lead to this book?
I come from a literary family, with both a father and brother who wrote/write pretty memorable novels. I myself was an ad copywriter for 30 years. Then I wrote and published a humor book with Seymour Chwast, then a novel. This time, I wanted something completely different and boy, did I get it!
One Last Lunch feels especially poignant right now, during this pandemic, when so many people are wrestling with ideas of mortality. What do you think it offers to readers during these upsetting times?
I think it offers solace, comfort. To read these lunches, all so different, some tender, some hilarious, some scalding, really does transport you to a place of quiet fulfillment, knowing the writers actually did, in a way, get to have their One Last Lunch. Reading this is satisfying, filling, and of course, distracting.
What did you learn from editing this book – either about the subject of the book or the editing process – that most surprised you?
What most surprised me but also saddened me, was to see how many children still longed for a parent’s acceptance. The late Kirk Douglas needed to know what his father thought of him becoming an actor. The editing of this was truly a joyful experience for me, seeing how differently each contributor approached the project. Lee Clow’s lunch with Steve Jobs is a masterpiece of brilliant drawings. And in truth, helping to get some of them just over the finish line. It was exciting, but sometimes adding just one detail, like someone spilling their water or asking a waiter for more pickle, would transform a fantasy into something almost real. It was amazing.
What did you enjoy most about creating this book?
I most enjoyed seeing how much the contributors stretched their imagination, and seeing the essays for the very first time. Each one was like opening a magical present. Remember, many contributors are not professional writers, but they came through this shining. Sometimes it’s the rough spots, the raw emotion in a lunch that makes it unforgettable.
You are a writer and the daughter of a writer. Are you also a big reader? What are you reading now?
To be honest, I am regularly a voracious reader but during this pandemic, have not been able to focus on a book. I read the same page 112 times. I do have an indecently high, dusty stack of books waiting for me when this is all over. Biographies, fiction, and always, always Edna O’Brien, who for me, has always been the Goddess of Words.
It's tough to launch a book during this coronavirus crisis. Do you have any online events coming up to promote your book?
Nothing is planned yet but I do have 5,000 Facebook friends whom I intend to badger mercilessly about this book.
What's next for you?
I wish I knew. The pandemic has given me plenty (too much) time to wonder about this, but as yet I’ve not stumbled upon what will be next.
THANK YOU, ERICA!
ONE LAST LUNCH IS AVAILABLE FOR PRE-ORDER NOW AND COMES OUT MAY 12, 2020.