Wednesday, December 18, 2013

WaPo Publishes Obituary Collection

Looking for a stocking stuffer for the obit writer in your life? Here's just the thing.

On Dec. 10th, The Washington Post, in partnership with Diversion Books, published "21 Lives In 2013: Obituaries from The Washington Post." This 121-page ebook, written by the newspaper's top-notch obituary writers, commemorates the lives of Nelson Mandela, Chinua Achebe, Esther Williams, Virginia Johnson, Gussie Moran, Josh Burdette and many more. Marilyn Johnson, author of "The Dead Beat: Lost Souls, Lucky Stiffs and The Perverse Pleasures of Obituaries," also penned the introduction.

Best of all? The book only costs $2.99. Click here to learn more.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Copy Editor Copy Edits His Own Obit

Michael J. Trojanowski, 77, a retired Detroit News copy editor, died on Nov. 9 of emphysema and complications from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. But before he died, the "consummate professional" reportedly copy edited his own obituary.

I wish I had met Trojanowski when he was alive. Not only was he a former journalist for the Associated Press, he was a fellow overnighter.

Saturday, September 14, 2013

What Do We Owe The Dead?

Our fearless leader, Andy Meacham, discussed obituaries that are less-than-lauditory with HuffPost Live this week:

Wednesday, September 04, 2013

Sarah Silverman writes an obit

For her dog

September 4, 2013

I wrote an obituary type thing:

Duck "Doug" Silverman came into my life about 14 years ago. He was picked up by the State running through South Central with no collar, tags or chip. Nobody claimed or adopted him so a no-kill shelter took him in. That’s where I found him -- at that shelter, in Van Nuys. Since then we have slept most every night together (and many lazy afternoons.) When we first met, the vet approximated his age at 5 ½ so I’d say he was about 19 as of yesterday, September 3, 2013.

He was a happy dog, though serene. And stoic. And he loved love.

Over the past few years he became blind, deaf, and arthritic. But with a great vet, good meds, and a first rate seeing-eye person named me, he truly seemed comfortable.

Recently, however, he stopped eating or drinking. He was skin and bones and so weak. I couldn’t figure out this hunger strike. Duck had never been political before. And then, over the weekend, I knew. It was time to let him go.

My boyfriend Kyle flew in late last night and took the day off from work to be with us. We laid in bed and massaged his tiny body, as we love to do – hearing his little “I’m in heaven” breaths.

The doctor came and Kyle, my sister, Laura and I laid on the bed. I held him close – in our usual spoon position and stroked him. I told him how loved he was, and thanked him for giving me such happiness and for his unwavering companionship and love. The doctor gave him a shot and he fell asleep, and then another that was basically an overdose of sleeping meds. I held him and kissed him and whispered to him well passed his passing. I picked him up and his body was limp – you don’t think about the head – it just falls. I held him so tight. And then finally, when his body lost its heat, and I could sense the doctor thinking about the imminent rush hour traffic, I handed him over.

14 years.

My longest relationship.

My only experience of maternal love.

My constant companion.

My best friend.


Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Jerry Vondas Dies At 83

Jerry Vondas, the feature obituary writer for the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review for 15 years, died on Aug. 20 from an infection stemming from an automobile accident in March. He was 82.

“Jerry chronicled the lives of so many people in the city, from all walks of life,” said Tribune-Review Editor Frank Craig. “His words provided comfort to many families in a time of grief and made him a well-known, well-loved figure in our community. He took great pride in his work, and he leaves a wonderful journalistic legacy.”

For more, click here.

Sunday, August 04, 2013

"Little Black Trains" Giveaway

The Society of Professional Obituary Writers is giving away three copies of "Little Black Trains" by Bob Chaundy on the Kindle.

To enter, send an email with the subject line, Little Black Trains. Include your email address and favorite quote about death or obituaries in the body of the email. You do not have to be a member of SPOW to participate.

Deadline is Aug. 10.

Winners will be selected at random from all properly-formatted entries.

JUST PUBLISHED: "Little Black Trains"

Freelance journalist Bob Chaundy has published a new comic murder mystery featuring, you guessed it, an obituary writer!

Here's the summary for "Little Black Trains: A Tale of Life, Death and Commuting" (Shaftoe Publishing, June 2013):

A prominent BBC reporter is murdered in mysterious circumstances. Her colleague, Ben Murray, has to produce her obituary for that day’s TV news bulletins. Ben commutes each day by train with another obituary writer, Steve Graham from The National Herald newspaper. Listening to Ben’s stories convinces Steve to move from sport to obituaries at his paper. Despite their shared profession, they differ in the subjects they choose. While Ben deals with the famous, Steve prefers the Morris dancer who performed before The Queen with a ferret down his trousers or the singing bus conductor. Sometimes Steve includes more details in his obits than is good for him. One thing they agree on, though, is that obituaries are about life, not death.

Among the odd characters they and their clique encounter on their daily commute is an old woman they call The Crone. One day, Steve spies her in the street and decides to follow her out of curiosity. As a result, he becomes accidentally embroiled in a web of murder and intrigue that sucks his friends in too and provides him with plenty of material for his weekly obituary column.

During his two decades at the BBC, Chaundy produced hundreds of obituaries for television and the Web, so he has the inside track on what it really means to be an obit writer. "Little Black Trains" is his debut novel, and one he describes as "by far and away his best."

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Indian obits

As Factiva has added more Indian and Pakistani news sources I've been glancing at their obits. The subcontinent is a huge source of English-language journalism and other writing. What I particularly like about it, beyond the details of lives abroad, is the stylistic differences to American and modern England English.

Check out the first graf here for vocabulary: "is no more" stedda "died." Also "doyen," "breathed his last" and "last remains." Later: "broked," "condoled,"

The attention to the manner of death reminds me of 19th century obits, which frequently included dramatic accounts of the deceased's last moments. You almost never see that nowadays.

Tea doyen Hemen Barooah passes away
580 words
31 July 2013
Assam Tribune
Copyright 2013. Assam Tribune (P) Ltd.

GUWAHATI, July 31 -- Hemendra Prasad Barooah, the doyen of the State's tea industry is no more. According to senior journalist Wasbir Hussain, who authored the biography of Barooah, the tea planter had gone to Bangkok on July 27 for a medical check-up. Today around 2 pm Bangkok time, he returned to his hotel from the hospital and when he was taking his lunch he suddenly felt uncomfortable and despite the best efforts of the doctors of the hospital which was conducting the medical check-up, Barooah breathed his last around 3-30 pm Bangkok time. Hussain said the senior executives of Barooah's company will rush to Bangkok tonight and after consulting the members of his family, would arrive at a decision on where to bring the last remains of Barooah. Abhijit Sarma, a former chairman of the Assam Tea Planters' Association (ATPA) said Barooah was 86. According to Sarma, Barooah was accompanied by one of his nieces in his journey to Bangkok.

Barooah leaves behind two daughters and a host of relatives. 

A Harvard University alumnus, Barooah set up a corporate house Barooah and Associates with its headquarter in Kolkata. He was a chairman of the Indian Tea Association (ITA). The ITA got itself involved in the construction of the Pragjyoti ITA Centre for Performing Arts at Machkhowa in the city during his tenure as its chairman. Barooah was also a founder of the Assam Tea Brokers Pvt Ltd, the first tea broking house of the State. He was also a chairman of the Bengal Chamber of Commerce and founder and chairman of the Kaziranga Golf Resort. 

Barooah is also known for his involvement in cultural activities and as an art connoisseur. He produced the Hindi feature film Ek Pal directed by Kalpana Lajmi. Dr Bhupen Hazarika scored the music for the film, Sarma said. Wasbir Hussain said Barooah also collected 600 paintings of doyens like M F Hussain. Barooah was honoured by the Central Government with the Padmashree this year. Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi while condoling the death of Barooah, described him as a distinguished industrialist. 

His death is an irreparable loss to society, said the Chief Minister. Asom Gana Parishad president Prafulla Kumar Mahanta has condoled the death of Barooah as a great loss to the society. State BJP president Sarbananda Sonowal also mourned the death of Barooah. North Eastern Tea Association chairman Bidyananda Barkakoty mourned the death of Barooah. Barooah will, however, continue to inspire those involved in State's tea industry and would remain icon of the industry.

 Abhijit Sarma, past chairman of the ATPA deeply mourned the death of Barooah and said the State's tea industry has lost a leader with his death. Wasbir Hussain described Barooah as a multi-faceted personality and for him the tea business was not the only passion. He was a social and cultural ambassador of Assam, because of his immense interest in art, culture and music of the State. It will be difficult to fill the void, he added. 

Gautam Prasad Barooah, retired tea executive and a close associate of Barooah described his demise as a big loss to Assam. He said that Barooah worked silently for development of the State in various spheres like industry, culture and films.

Published by HT Syndication with permission from Assam Tribune.
For any query with respect to this article or any other content requirement, please contact Editor at
The Assam Tribune Pvt Ltd

Friday, July 26, 2013

Death and the obit writer's life

Enjoyed this chance to talk about what we do, at least my experience of it, for this online magazine. 

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Can Eliot Spitzer improve his obit with a stellar comeback?

My name is Joe Coscarelli and I'm a reporter for New York magazine. I'm writing to with hopes of gaining some (potentially light-hearted) insight about obituaries from professionals, specifically in reference to Eliot Spitzer's -- a long time from now, God willing.

When his prostitution scandal first broke in 2008, there was a mention from a friend in the Times about how the scandal did not have to lead his obituary:

“I told him that I think, in the end, this incident will be a footnote to a great life lived greatly, and that he still has the ability to make enormous contributions,” said Alan M. Dershowitz, the Harvard law professor, who once counted Mr. Spitzer as a student and now counts him as a friend. “One of his goals has to be to make this a footnote in his obituary, and not make it the lead.”

A year later, a similar subject was touched upon in Spitzer's interview with Vanity Fair:

“Do you think the scandal will ever go away?,” I asked.
“No. My obituary’s written,” [Spitzer] replied with shocking finality. “And that is a very hard thing to live with.”

My question is, in light of his comeback and campaign for NYC comptroller: What would Spitzer have to do to not have his misdeeds lead his obit? Would he have to win this seat? Become mayor? President? Is there any hope for him?

I'd love to chat with any obit writers or editors you might be able to connect me with, whether via email or by phone at 212 508 0593.

Any help would be much appreciated!

Sunday, June 30, 2013

Ever Hopeful

"Writing obituaries is usually the first job a new reporter gets, a place to cut his or her teeth and learn the writing craft. Chomping at the bit to get to 'harder news,' reporters have long chafed at the seemingly boring job of compiling death notices. I am different in that I think writing an obituary is an honor and a respectful way to mark one person’s passage on this plane. I hope we all get a good one when our time comes." --Barbara Morgan

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Giving The Dead A Voice

If you'd like to add audio clips to your obituaries, but aren't sure how to do it, there's a new tool that can help. It's called Soundcite.

Soundcite was produced by the Northwestern University Knight Lab as a way to make inline audio "easy and seamless" to produce. Simply record your audio file (in AIFF, WAVE, FLAC, OGG, MP2, MP3, AAC, AMR or WMA formats) and upload it to SoundCloud. Or, if you don't have your own audio, search the SoundCloud directory for the clip you need. Then, copy the file's URL into the Soundcite page, and it'll give you the embed code for the online version of your story.

For example, I wanted to add audio to my Christopher Hitchens obit. I searched SoundCloud and found that HachetteAudio had uploaded an excerpt from his memoir "Hitch 22." I grabbed the URL, pasted it into Soundcite and embedded the code into the obit. Very easy.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Pet obits

Like writing children's books, I suspect that writing obits about one's pets is one of those things a lot of people assume they can do well -- until it's time to actually do it.  I am never sure I want to read about someone's pet who has died.  I figure it's probably going to contain elements of endearing, poignant, funny and of course, the dreaded arc of life we are "lucky" enough to watch by outliving dogs, especially, to the extent that we usually do.

I know the writer is going to go from puppyhood to dysplasia. Worst case scenario, I'll probably read about the expectant eyes on the trip to the vet's office at the end.  "Are we going to the park?"  None of that sort of thing appears in this obit of a golden retriever, written by Daniel Ruth of the Tampa Bay Times, who also just won a Pulitzer for his political columns.

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Something We Never Want To Experience

(h/t Romenesko)

Thursday, June 13, 2013

What is the future of obits?

Here are a few of my ideas:

What are your thoughts?

(Note: Additional resources available at

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Missed The SPOW Conference In Toronto?

No worries! Tamara Baluja at J-Source: The Canadian Journalism Project live-blogged Saturday's workshops. Click here to read a running commentary of the day's events.

Monday, June 10, 2013

New Facebook Group for Grimsters!

Jade Walker was asked - or volunteered - to set up a Facebook Group for obit writers. You must check it out.

On the new FB group page for grimsters, we have posted the names of the winners of the SPOW Awards which were presented during the SPOW Conference in Toronto this past weekend.

We'll post them on the Obituary Forum blog too, but we want to lure you to the FB group first.

More to come - both on this blog and our FB group page - on awards, the fabulous Toronto conference, future conferences, the future of SPOW and more!

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Riddle of the Labyrinth: a kind of extended obit

From Kathryn Schulz' review of New York Times senior obituary writer Margalit Fox's The Riddle of the Labyrinth -- The Quest to Crack and Ancient Code (Ecco Press 2013) in New York Magazine:

That beat does not normally make celebrities of its practitioners, so it says a lot about Fox’s writing ability that her obits have acquired something of a cult following. The form demands three things: a nose for interesting facts, the ability to construct a taut narrative arc, and a Dickens-level gift for concisely conveying personality.

Here is Fox's take on her craft and how she became interested in the work of Brooklyn College classics professor Alice Kober, who died in 1950.  Her cursory, resume-like obit at the time barely mentions Linear B, an endless series of pictograms unearthed in ancient Greece no one could decipher.  Yet Kober's largely unrecognized work over decades made cracking the code possible.  Fox's newly released Riddle of the Labyrinth seems like the best kind of book to come out of newsrooms, in which writers decide to take a subject that's not due at 6 p.m. today and follow it wherever it leads. 

Thursday, May 16, 2013

EBITS - the latest online obituary venture - fires a warning shot....

Pretty lame.


 MyEbituary LLC Declares Death of the Obituary with New Social Media-Based Ebits
On, users can create and interact with virtual memorial scenes

KENOSHA, Wis., May 15, 2013 /PRNewswire/ -- Conventional obituaries may have been laid to rest as MyEbituary LLC, a new memorial site startup, introduces ebituaries to the world of social media. Ebits, as they are called, allow users to create a unique type of online obituary that centers upon an interactive scene of remembrance that can be customized with various landscapes, headstones, urns and other decorations that users embed into the scene.



Hoping to change the outdated mode of conventional obituaries that have not evolved with the expansion in interactive online graphics applications, the company expects to eventually have ebits created for the approximately 8,000 people who pass away each day in the United States. According to company president Michael Boozer, "People deserve to be remembered online by something more than just a static photograph and some text placed on a webpage, especially with today's technology."

Ebits can be created for loved ones who have passed away or for current users who want to stake out a plot in the virtual world. Resembling a social media profile, allows people to write their own ebituary in advance and share their ebits across major social media networks like Facebook and Twitter. The scenes are interactive allowing visitors to show their respects by placing tributes such as flowers, awareness ribbons, crosses and other objects directly into the scene. Tributes can be embedded anywhere into the scene along with a short message of condolence that appears when hovering over it.

Scenes are designed using a variety of different landscapes or users can upload their own, such as an actual photograph of a real cemetery, allowing distant friends and relatives the opportunity to reflect upon the deceased. Headstones or urns, engraved with an epitaph, are provided in numerous colors and styles while decorations, such as plants, trees, animated birds and other objects can be embedded into the scene to create a unique place of remembrance.

"We wanted to replicate an actual cemetery or other resting place, where visitors are free to leave flowers and other tributes around a grave or other type of memorial," adds Mr. Boozer, stating that "Users can also designate caretakers to manage their ebit, who can decorate it for special occasions and manage tributes that are placed by others, just like in real life."

Other features of the site allows users to create their own "Bucket List" and write their own "Last Words" that are unlocked upon their passing. Users can also create their own family burial plot by sharing the headstones of others and placing them into their scene for a single place of reflection.

Launched in time for the Memorial Day holiday, the site is directed towards U.S. users but can be accessed worldwide by visiting via the web or any mobile device.

MyEbituary LLC was founded in Kenosha, Wisconsin in 2011

Phone: (715) 869-3248

Contact: Michael Boozer


Media Kit with Video and Image Downloads:

This press release was issued through eReleases® Press Release Distribution. For more information, visit


Web Site:

Thursday, May 09, 2013

Humorous Death Notices - an emerging subgenre?

It's not like we haven't seen funny death notices and homespun remembrances in the past, but recently we've had some great ones and after reading Antonia Larroux's, I'm wondering if we're seeing a full-scale trend


Harry Stamps

Relatedly - but not quite the same thing - the very funny Val Patterson who used his death notice to reveal his lack of PhD and his safe-stealing legacy

From a couple years ago:

Michael "Flathead" Blanchard

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Obit contest deadline is May 4!

Multiple categories to suit your style.  Get your work out there for others to see.  Read about criteria and entry procedures on the new SPOW website.

A friends's diligent search

Whose life is "worthy" of a newspaper obituary?  Standards vary all over the place, of course, with papers such as the New York Times explicitly reserving that distinction for people of significant accomplishment.

By that definition alone, Roy Harris a former Wall Street Journal repoter and CFO magazine editor, figured his friend, artist Martyl Langsdorf, deserved more recognition than she got upon her death at 96. Langsdorf's "Doomsday clock" cover illustration for the June 1947 Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists , the minute hand approaching midnight, became a symbol for the nuclear threat worldwide and, later, climate change.

But even as a seasoned journalist, Harris discovered that selling editors of the largest newspapers on the value of an obit subject is easier said than done.  Here is his interesting account of his ultimately successful struggle to gain some recognition for a singular life. 

Saturday, April 06, 2013

The Future of Obituaries

Greetings, friends. I've been invited to give a lecture at the SPOW conference about the future of obituaries and I need your assistance. If you're willing to help, please complete this 5-minute survey. I promise to share the results in June.

Thursday, April 04, 2013

New SPOW website

The new website is You will find basic Toronto conference information there and a link to register (as with the post below). At the moment the link above, "Click here to return to the Society of Professional Obituary Writers," goes to a defunct website, but that will soon be changed to go to the new one.

Wednesday, April 03, 2013

Society of Professional Obituary Writers Conference

 (re-posting the earlier item about the conference)

The 2013 SPOW Conference will be held in Toronto, Ontario, Canada, June 7-9, 2013.

Go to for a bit more information and to register.

Return to Obituary Forum for more details to be provided by local host Ron Csillag and his Canadian team.

Monday, April 01, 2013

A couple of thoughts on the NY Times obit controversy

Update:  I've thought about this some more (unlike most, apparently, I find this a tricky subject), and would qualify my post below in one way:  While I think most outraged readers of the Brill obit made little effort to get into the writer's head and imagine why he did what he did in the lede -- like, maybe this aspect of domesticity was that important to the subject?  and obits are about subject, not anyone else? -- it is still on  anyone publishing anything to anticipate public reaction.  I respect Martin and McDonald for standing behind their story (under Copernican pressure to recant), but the fact that they had no idea they might get the flak is on them.

One more note:  In discussion of this obit on the blog Jezebel, Andrea Tierson contributed this:

Maybe the Times was trying to humanize its subject. cf. the lede of the paper's Albert Einstein obit (1955): 

"In 1904, Albert Einstein, then an obscure young man of 23, could be seen daily in the late afternoon wheeling a baby carriage on the streets of Bern, Switzerland, halting now and then, unmindful to the traffic around him, to scribble down some mathematical symbols in the notebook that shared the carriage with his infant son, also named Albert."

Looks like he's being noted as world's best dad before his scientific prowess is mentioned.

Here is what is known about a New York Times obituary on rocket scientist Yvonne Brill, and the Twitter outrage that followed.The story's original lede read as follows:

She made a mean beef stroganoff, followed her husband from job to job and took eight years off work to raise three children. 'The world's best mom,' her son Matthew said.

After a lot of outraged reactions on social media, the lede was subsequently changed to read:

She was a brilliant rocket scientist who followed her husband from job to job and took eight years off from work to raise three children. “The world’s best mom,” her son Matthew said.

"New York Times Changes Sexist Obit About Scientist Yvonne Brill," the Daily Beast proclaimed.  "Responsive!" a Twitter follower noted approvingly.

Beyond reversing the order of her scientific and domestic lives and removing the stroganoff reference, the story remained unchanged.

Sullivan in a blog post today summarized her thoughts and the paper's decision to alter its lede.  She cited an interesting and useful Columbia Journalism Review article which alerts writers to avoid gender stereotyping when writing about female scientists; spoke with Martin and William McDonald, his editor (both of whom stood behind the original story); and concluded that framing the story as one about gender "had the effect of undervaluing what really landed Mrs. Brill on the Times obituaries page: her groundbreaking scientific work."

As an early and lonely defender of this obit, I would like to make just a few points:

The CJR article Sullivan cited as instructive in avoiding gender stereotypes quotes one of its primary sources saying it is legitimate in her view to bring gender discrimination issues into a profile of a woman in science:

For instance, if you’re writing a story about sexism in science or about the gender gap in leadership roles in science or you’re writing about sex-related issues specifically.

What’s not ok is to turn a story about a scientist’s professional life into one about her personal life or her gender roles..

Brill was denied the option of majoring in her chosen field of engineering at the University of Manitoba, ostensibly due to a lack of accommodations.  While I understand that obits about any minority or underrepresented group present ready-made cliches for the taking -- and that one of these can be that the subject "overcame barriers" -- not being able to major in your chosen field to me seems like an obstacle worth reporting.

No fair reading of Martin's obit could lead one to conclude that Brill's many contributions, from developing more efficient rocket thrusters to contributing to rocket and satellite designs -- work that landed her in the Inventors Hall of Fame -- were remarkable because, as the CJR piece correctly warns us against doing, "She accomplished all of this while being a woman!"

The stroganoff lede that aroused so much controversy sets up a different, and more complicated, kind of contrast -- between a woman who preferred to be addressed as "Mrs.," and who embraced some of those societal norms about gender while, yes, overcoming them.

Also on Monday, writer Paul Carr on pandodaily took on what he called "readers of the Daily Internet Outrage Memo."  It's an interesting take, and the points he makes about writing are particularly relevant.

At the same time, I would not dismiss objections to the original lede as groundless.  I can  see how it looks: after a century of consciousness raising about gender equality and seemingly great strides forward, an eminent newspaper bends over backwards to link a brilliant female scientist to her cooking.

I just think a lot of the people protesting this are getting the story wrong. 

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Society of Professional Obituary Writers Conference

The 2013 SPOW Conference will be held in Toronto, Ontario, Canada, June 7-9, 2013.

Go to for a bit more information and to register.

Return to Obituary Forum for more details to be provided by local host Ron Csillag and his Canadian team.

Friday, March 15, 2013

MSN news reporter Eli Epstein interviewed me for this piece, posted online March 14.

Thanks to Marilyn Johnson, our supporter and author of The Dead Beat, for suggesting that Eli interview me. Through the Harry Stamps obit that has gone viral, interest in obits is, as they say, trending. His obit and the reaction to it have prompted many follow-up articles and columns on the back story.

I recently gave a talk on family-written death notice and now consider myself ambidextobitrous: I work both sides of the obits street. Hoping to see you all in Toronto.

Tuesday, March 05, 2013

SPOW member in the running for literary prize

Sandra Martin, a columnist for the Globe and Mail, in December was named one of 15 writers in the running for the Charles Taylor Prize for Literary Non-Fiction.

Martin's book,  Working the Dead Beat: 50 Lives that Changed Canada  (House of Anansi Press, September 2012), offers a historical view of Canada through the lives of individuals she had written about.  In book length, she accomplishes what cannot be done in a newspaper obituary -- present a fuller context of what she calls "transformative lives."  Subjects include Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau, economist John Kenneth Galbraith, and urban theorist Jane Jacobs. 

Martin offers "a select history of Canada told through extended obituaries of both the known and the unknown, researched energetically and written graciously," writes Canadian journalist Paula Todd. "Her tone is thoughtful, her scolding scant, and almost all of the transformative Canadians are presented in the context of their own struggles."

Author Ted Barris, a journalism professor at Centennial College in Toronto and a veteran CBC radio contributor, calls Martin "the obit queen of Canada."  Working the Dead Beat includes Sandra's reflections on what she has learned from writing obituaries.  You can find her discussing the book here and, briefly, here.

Congratulations to Sandra on this important book!

Sunday, March 03, 2013

Grimmies: Awards for Outstanding Obituary Writing

Grimmies: SPOW Awards
During the Society of Professional Obituary Writers (SPOW) Conference to be held in Toronto June 7-9, the organization will present Grimmies - awards honoring outstanding obituary work that was published in 2011 and 2012.

These will be SPOW’s first awards following the death beaters’ reorganization hiatus.

As always, SPOW especially wants to recognize distinguished obit writing done by reporters and freelance writers, who regularly work on the death beat. SPOW also wants to feature news obituaries that stand out in the judges’ eyes. Obits presented on radio, television, blogs and other online entities will also be considered.

Because of the short window for submitting and judging obits this time, we will accept entries in only five categories. More than one honoree may be chosen from each category depending on the number of entries received and at the judges’ discretion.

Category 1: Body of Work published in 2011.

Submit five obituaries written by one author that were published in 2011.
Category 2: Body of Work published in 2012.

Submit five obituaries written by one author that were published in 2012.
Category 3: Outstanding obituaries published in 2011.

Individual obits (published in 2011), which you believe deserve recognition. These can be obits about famous folks or everyday people. They should definitely be well-written and reported, hold the readers’ interest and highlight the deceased’s life. If appropriate, please include a brief letter with the entered obit explaining out-of-the box approaches to the writing of the obit, difficulties that were overcome in getting the story, the obit’s impact on the community, its relevance in regards to the news of the day (i.e. elections, gun violence) or some other significance our judges might not see automatically.
Category 4: Outstanding obituaries published in 2012.

Individual obits (published in 2012), which you believe deserve recognition. These can be obits about famous folks or everyday people. They should definitely be well-written and reported, hold the readers’ interest and highlight the deceased’s life. If appropriate, please include a brief letter with the entered obit explaining out-of-the box approaches to the writing of the obit, difficulties that were overcome in getting the story, the obit’s impact on the community, its relevance in regards to the news of the day (i.e. elections, gun violence) or some other significance our judges might not see automatically.
In the past, the judges divided longer word-count obits from shorter obits in judging the various categories. This time, that distinction will not be made as the works are entered. However, the judges have the discretion to make the length of the obits a factor when selecting the honorees.
Category 5: Lifetime Achievement Award.

Lifetime Achievement Awards are designed to recognize recipients for their dedication to the craft and profession of obit writing over time. Factors include how the obit writer inspired or affected fellow obit writers, fellow journalists, funeral directors, bereaved families, readers and the community.
Anyone can nominate an obituary writer for Lifetime honors, and no entry fee is involved.

Letters of nomination should include the name of the obituary writer, a brief bio, work history, why this individual deserves to be honored and examples of obits the nominee has written.
The name of and contact information for the sender must be included in the letter of nomination.
Two Lifetime recipients will be honored at the 2013 SPOW Conference to make up for not having an LA recipient in 2012.
The nominations for nominees, who are not selected this year, will automatically be added to the nominations in subsequent years.
To Enter:

All submissions will be handled online. Send submissions by category to The deadline is May 4, 2013.

Type the category name in the subject line.
In the body of the email, include the name of the obituary writer, headline and/or name of the obit subject, name of publication, date of publication and contact information for obit writer and an editor or other appropriate person at that publication. Also include links to the obits under consideration.

If links are not available, please copy the obit text to a Word document and send as attachments to the email.
It is understood that by entering this contest, the obituary writer and the news organization grant the Society of Professional Obituary Writers permission to post the entered obituary or obituaries online and to use excerpts for purposes of discussion on SPOW's Obituary Forum blog at
Entry fees

The entry fee for each obit submitted in Categories 3 and 4 is $25. The entry fee for the 5-obit package submitted in Categories 1 and 2 is $50. Each obit included in each 5-obit package for Category 1 will also be entered in Category 3. The same goes for the 5 obits for Category 2. Each will also be considered under Category 4.

Go to Eventbrite at to pay entry fees and SPOW Conference registration. (Conference registration info has not been posted at Evenbrite yet.) 



SPOW yet lives!

The Society of Professional Obituary Writers (SPOW) will host its first conference in two years in Toronto, Ontario, (Canada, if you didn't know) June 7-9, 2013.

The event is being planned by SPOW Award-winning writer Ron Csillag and his team of merry Canadians. More to come on that.

SPOW also plans to go ahead with its annual awards - the SPOW Awards, a.k.a. Grimmies - honoring outstanding obit work published in 2011 and 2012. Another post (to be posted shortly) will provide details on that. In the meantime, dig up your obits published in those years for consideration. Outgoing SPOW director Alana Baranick (that would be me) is serving as contest coordinator.


Kay Powell, retired Atlanta Journal Constitution obits editor and winner of several SPOW Awards, including the Lifetime Achievement Award, will handle Lifetime Achievement nominations. More on that soon too.

Andrew Meacham, another SPOW Award winner from the Tampa Bay Times, has been named SPOW's acting director. He will be posting messages from SPOW on this Obituary Forum blog -

The SPOW website - - will soon disappear from the Internet. The Obituary Forum blog and the general SPOW email - - will serve as the best means for reaching SPOW.

Keep checking back for more SPOW news.

Friday, March 01, 2013

New Book Features An Obit Writer As The Protagonist

"If Claire had to look back and decide why she had the affair in the first place, she would point to the missing boy."

So begins "The Obituary Writer," a new book by Ann Hood. The story focuses on the lives of two women: one is an unhappy housewife living in the early 1960s, the other is an obituary writer living in 1919 and searching for her missing lover.

Described as part-literary mystery and part-love story, "The Obituary Writer" will be released on March 4.

Saturday, January 12, 2013

An Awesome Introduction To The Death Beat

The South Florida chapter of the Society Of Professional Journalists is sponsoring a unique writing workshop for aspiring obit writers. The goal of the "SPJ Death Race" is to help reporters learn how to write a great obituary in a hands-on -- and fun -- fashion.

On Jan. 19, SPJ South Florida will fake three deaths. Participants will take a crash course in obit writing with Miami Herald obituary writer Elinor Brecher, then spend the afternoon attending a mock memorial at an area funeral home, interviewing arrivals about the deceased and eating dessert. Afterwards, the reporters will head to the newsroom of the South Florida Gay News and write their stories.

All obits will be judged by Brecher and the "deceased." The writer of the best obit will win an awesome urn filled with the ashes of pages burned from local newspapers.

"Why are we doing this? Because it can be argued that few stories are more important than those summing up a life just concluded. Yet few journalists are taught how to write obituaries. So while we’re obviously having some fun with the process, we’re quite serious about the topic. You will learn something by the end of the day," Michael Koretzky stated.