Author, NU alum Leslie Pietrzyk explores grief, loss at reading


Sam Schumacher/The Daily Northwestern

Author Leslie Pietrzyk (Weinberg ’83) speaks during the third and final part of the English department’s Return Engagement series. Pietrzyk discussed how losing her late husband, also an NU alumnus, influenced her award-winning book.

Krish Lingala, Reporter

Author Leslie Pietrzyk (Weinberg ’83) discussed how the death of her first husband influenced her award-winning book on grief and loss during a talk Wednesday.

Pietrzyk’s book, “This Angel on My Chest,” received the Drue Heinz literature prize earlier this year. The work is a collection of short stories linked by the theme of a young woman losing her husband at an early age.

Pietrzyk read a story from “This Angel on My Chest” to a group of Northwestern students and said the book was a way to explore the universal theme of loss through a personal story.

“That’s what I was looking for — the resonance of this experience, of losing someone, which is universal,” Pietrzyk said during the event.

The event was the last in a three-part series called “Return Engagement” held by the English department. At each event, prominent NU creative writing alumni returned to discuss their careers with writing students and read from their work. Weinberg senior Brendan Morales-Doyle attended all three readings with his writing class and said each one helped reassure him about his future career.

“It gives you some hope,” Morales-Doyle said. “They’re real people that are out there doing it (writing), and it shows you can go from just doing school work to actually going out into the real world and being an artist.”

Pietrzyk also went through her early development as a writer and said she was excited to return.

“I learned what it means to be a writer through my teachers, who had incredibly high standards,” Pietrzyk told The Daily. “I learned how much more I had to learn about writing.”

After writing several works about grief and loss, including her 2004 novel, “A Year and a Day,” Pietrzyk said she is relieved to be moving on. Her next novel, which is set at NU, is currently being sent to publishers.

Despite how difficult it was to write the stories, Pietrzyk said that writing is the best way for her to deal with challenges and that in the end, it paid off.

“Because this book was so personal and I had gone into such a dark, emotional place to write it, it felt so good to get this book published,” she said. “For people who don’t write, I don’t even know how they get through the day.”

English Prof. Brian Bouldrey helped organize the reading series after Pietrzyk and other writers approached his department about returning to campus.

“It’s worth doing, because I think students really want to see that there are people out there, doing their thing,” Bouldrey said.

Email: [email protected]