Letters from Max
A Poet, a Teacher, a Friendship
Other Editions of This Title:
Milkweed Editions, 9781571313690, 336pp.
Publication Date: September 18, 2018
About the Author
Conversation Starters from ReadingGroupChoices.com
1. What about the book’s title indicates how Sarah understood her and Max’s relationship? How is her attitude different than Anna Deavere Smith’s in Letters to a Young Artist?
2. Sarah includes the poems attached to her and Max’s letters. How do they work in relation to each other? Which parts of Max can you understand from his letters alone, his poems alone, and the two together?
3. Though Max talks prolifically, Sarah says Max listens profoundly. How are his words to Sarah like an act of listening?
4. How is this collection of text a meditation itself? How is poetry like an act of mindfulness?
5. Sarah says Max’s poetry “leads one away from confessional solipsism […] so that lyric complicity is between self, dedicatee, reader, and the world. In short, love” (161-2). What about these letters tied together with string make them more than just a personal correspondence between self and dedicatee?
6. Do you believe anything changed when Sarah and Max started writing letters with the intention of publishing their correspondence? Do you believe they had ever written with only the other person in mind as an audience? Can the form of a letter, with its inclinations of intimacy, contribute a feeling of affection to writing that is meant for more than just one reader?
7. Sarah thinks of “the afterlife as a place where metaphors are real. Or where there is a play (I use that word deliberately) between metaphors and reality” (227-8). After reading some of Sarah’s philosophies, can you understand why her genre is the theater? How does the theater—perhaps its dialogue or performativity—find its way into these writings?
8. How does literary art affect both Sarah and Max’s ideas of an afterlife? How does their art affect their respective ideas of belief?
In her afterword, Sarah writes that she can hear Max saying, “Don’t try to draw a lesson from this” (312). Without moralizing Max’s life, how does his story find its way into your ideas of living and love?