Phindie Loses a Contributor: Remembering Allison Rickert, writer, editor, and mensch

in our hollowed niche of tales, begin the task
of teaching me how to reconfigure the scope of my being. . . .
i will say to you, ‘hello,’ in a voice sandpapery and pure.”
—from “Interrupted Slumber of Stories,” a poem by Allison Rickert

Before she passed away at the age of just 24, Allison Rickert contributed several delightful articles to Phindie. She was also a writer of some intimate, brutally honest poems and journals and a promising editorial assistant at Drama Around the Globe and at Boyds Mill Press, the book publishing division of Highlights for Children.

Henrik Eger offers this personal memory and tribute to a talented young writer lost before her time.

Allison Rickert at TS Eliot exhibition.
Allison Rickert at her exhibit on T.S. Eliot.

My acquaintance with Allison Rickert began in January 2015, when she applied for an internship with Drama Around the Globe. Her application, which included the full version of the poem above, showed an intelligence and a creativity that made her stand out.

She wrote in her cover letter: “I am a recent graduate [of Millersville University] with an English degree and an ambitious dream to work within the publishing industry. . . . I also worked closely with the literary organization of Lancaster, PA, in an internship where I created an exhibit on T.S. Eliot. . . . I even took a trip to Harvard, where he went to school, to find rare photographs to include in the exhibit.”

Driving all the way to Harvard to dig up photographs of T.S. Eliot? That’s dedication.

I will never forget meeting Allison during her interview. She was edgy, with spiked hair, yet professionally dressed; bright, endlessly polite, but also cautious: she would not drink tea or coffee, not even a glass of water that I had offered, nor would she join me for lunch. Weeks later, she told me that she wanted to guard herself in case the food or the drinks had been spiked.

AR formal portraitI realized that the sensitivity which came through powerfully in her poetry had also made her sensitive to the outside world. She shared with me her MBTI personality profile: “I am an INFJ”: “Vision and meaning oriented. Quietly intense. Insightful. Creative. Sensitive. Seeks harmony, growth. Serious. Loves language, symbols. Persevering. Inspiring.” As I found out working with Allison for the next few months, that profile fit her to a T.

Her influence persuaded me to stay vegetarian. Based on her recommendation, I bought a whole box of her favorite vegetarian bars and indulged daily, Allison-style. I vividly remember her munching on vegetarian energy bars while she talked about T.S. Eliot and her beloved grandparents:

“My great-grandparents came from Italy and it’s been my grandmother’s mission to try and find her ancestors, which has proven difficult since her father was an orphan.” she told me. “I think people find much of their identity in where they came from. . . . I know that family history (especially unknown history) can hold a lot of meaning and appeal.” I connected with Allison, agreeing with her that our ancestors can greatly impact our own lives.

Following my recommendation, Allison built her own website. She opened it with the image of a dark, melancholic, and thought-provoking seascape. She developed her skills so quickly that she became the web designer for Drama Around The Globe.

I then invited her to attend the Young Voices Monologue Festival 2015, sponsored annually by the InterAct Theatre in Philadelphia. Allison’s well-written review of the festival for Phindie began with an introduction about millennials, sharing with the readers that she was a millennial like the actors. She added a most charming bio, which included this gem: “When she’s not reading (while sitting on the floor) in bookstores, she’s scribbling in notebooks and exploring bizarre music genres.”

Her review, “The Maturity of Millennials”, was the most widely read article on Phindie during that week in March. When I shared this information with Allison, she wrote, “I’d like anyone involved in the show to know how highly I thought of it.” Six weeks later, Phindie published her beautifully illustrated second article, “The Artist’s Garden: Watch the women bloom”, in which she reviewed with great sensitivity and knowledge an exhibition at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts. It, too, found many readers.

Allison moved on from Drama Around The Globe, but I was determined not to lose touch with this sensitive and talented young writer. So it was shocking when I received this email in response to my invitation to a holiday party at my residence:

This is Allison’s mother. I want to let you know that Allison passed away on September 18 from Multiple Pulmonary Emboli. Allison died very suddenly and my parents were with her when she died. She was a healthy . . . young woman who ate a healthy diet and loved to exercise. We do not know why blood clots formed in her lungs.

In listening to Allison, especially during our vegetarian lunch breaks, I had seen that there was significantly more to her than a talented writer and editor, but when her mother sent me photos and Allison’s diary entries and poems (from a booklet for all family members and friends) I saw even more of her beauty and sorrow shining through the Allisonean rainbow. Here is a small sample:

AR as cat on a hot tin roof

I’m thirteen when a boy on my afternoon bus grabs me by the wrists and tells me that my face resembles that of a Rottweiler’s. He gets in real close, his face only inches from mine. . . . I don’t tell him to let go. But I can’t help from squirming when he wrenches me out of my seat and pulls me into his lap curling his arms around me like a vice. . . .

“Your eyes would be pretty,” he says, “if the rest of your face weren’t so ugly.” . . .

I later asked mother if I’m pretty. She brushes the hair across my forehead and tells me, “Of course you are.”

“Why do you ask?”

I shrug and I don’t believe her. I start staring at myself in mirrors and it’s like the word Rottweiler is branded into my skin, seeping into the essence of my being. Rottweilers are ugly and stupid, the boy tells me, and I believe him. . . .

I am nineteen and my boyfriend is telling me while my head is laid on his chest that he kinda sorta believes that I would probably get a score of eighty to ninety on an IQ test. I ask him to please not say that. Rottweilers are stupid and ugly. He tells me, “I’m just being realistic.” . . .

I accept all of these things to be true. It is my fault. . . . Again it is my fault . . . . After all, he’s simply being realistic and these are things that I have been telling myself for years anyway. I am dull to the low end of average intelligence.

I grow to be smart enough that the reason he says those things to me isn’t because they are but because he is dysfunctional enough and dissatisfied with himself enough that he uses me like a ladder to boost his own ego. I am smart enough to see this when he doesn’t. And I am smart enough to leave him.

Ω Ω Ω

AR in carAllison, you were not only exquisitely beautiful, but way above average—intellectually and creatively. Only 24 years after you were born in Princeton, NJ, you left this life. I shall miss you. In an almost prophetic way, you wrote these hauntingly beautiful lines in your poem “Interrupted Slumber of Stories”:

take me apart the way a reader would a bookshelf. . . .
remove every tome and stack them into a teetering
pile so that their voices clamor together— . . .
listen to them like they are your own conscience. . . .

i will look up at you with my eyes at last unburdened.

Allison Leigh Rickert, I am listening to those voices of yours. Most likely everyone whose life you touched will listen to those voices, too.

And you will live on, Allison—in all of us.

AR Having Fun in New York

Allison’s poetry and other texts will be published and made available on a website (to be announced). Her life and her writing will be honored with The Allison Rickert Scholarship, or the Ally-Cat Scholarship—to support young writers who are determined to follow in her path and find their own voices.

15 Replies to “Phindie Loses a Contributor: Remembering Allison Rickert, writer, editor, and mensch”
  1. Professor Henrik Eger You are an intellectual treasure ! I live in Europe but I can try and understand you… you belong to the world, you didn.t actually abandon Europe, Germany ! I am sorry for young Allison Rickert just as I think you are at this moment ! I send you a friendly hug and all my comprehensive and supportive thoughts. Corina Sofica Bucharest, 22:21 PM
    January 9th 2016

    1. Many thanks for your kind words, Corina, you Romanian ambassador to the world. Allison Rickert would have enjoyed meeting you. She was ready to explore the world. I just heard from her mother that the family is going through all her writing and working on a publication or two.

      I’m always sad when old friends or relatives leave for good, but in this case, I’m reeling: 24, extraordinarily talented, and willing to address deeply seated issues that most people wouldn’t dare to explore–with an honesty that made me sit up from the moment I read her writing–all those things combined make it even harder for me to accept that this young artist of language who was coming into her own, cannot continue her journey, at least not in this world.

      It’s against this background that I value your comments and will alert her mother to the comments in this section.

      You may want to have a look at the two reviews she wrote. What a wonderful beginning. It’s now our turn to continue life where she was forced to give it up.

      Henrik Eger
      http://www.DramaAroundTheGlobe.com

  2. Kathryn, I appreciate your caring comments, especially as you were one of Allison Rickert’s fellow Phindie reviewers.

    I am grateful to the many people who read it. I never thought that an article like that would make it to the coveted #1 spot within just a few minutes of it going up on Phindie. Clearly, her writing and her short life hit a raw nerve.

    Her mother just sent me this note via email: “Thank you for a thoughtful, beautiful tribute to Allison I cannot thank you enough for all capturing the essence of my sweet girl, and for sharing some of her writing. I will be sure to post it on my Facebook page, and Allison’s as well.

    The scholarship is set up with Millersville University, and we are going through Allison’s writings to publish her work. I will send you the finished product. It may take us several months to finish this project, but I will be sure to include you.

    Thank you for your kindness to Allison and to us,
    Kay”

    May we all leave a gift to those who come after us — as beautiful and as thought provoking a legacy of our lives and work the way Allison Rickert did:

    “As we all wait for the weather to defrost our winter-weary bones, a grand panorama of summer awaits the active imagination to give it life. There, one can soothe the last dredges of winter depression, as well as simultaneously peer into an era where women were first gaining traction.”

    Henrik

    http://phindie.com/the-artists-garden-pafa-watch-the-women-bloom/

    1. Hello Cat,
      Thanks for your kind comment. I am glad you relate to the celebration of Allison Rickert’s life here on Phindie.
      Her mother told me today that they are going through all of Allison’s diaries, poems, letters, and other texts and hope to publish a book with her work, making it available online, once they have found everything and put it all together. I might review those materials, probably while munching Alice’s favorite vegetarian energy bars.

  3. Henrik, this tribute was lovely. Thank you for taking the time to write, for all to know Allison, her writing and her artistic spirit. This is special for those of us who didn’t have the privilege to meet her personally, to celebrate the beauty she clearly brought to so many.

  4. Tina, thank you for your kind comments. I am moved by the fact that the Philadelphia theatre community and large numbers of total strangers are keeping this celebration of Allison Rickert’s life going and making it the most widely read article for the second day running. I wouldn’t be surprised if even more people would want to read her poems, her diary entries once they all get published, later this year.

    While I’m grieving about her farewell from this earth by many decades, I wonder whether we share our joy about a young person’s breakthroughs (whether as a writer, a director, a dramaturg, an actor, a designer, etc.) often enough, or whether we just take each other for granted–only applauding when something special has happened? I certainly would like to reach out more to those budding writers and theatre artists who have much to offer, even if most of us may have no idea of how many treasures we are missing.

    Your support for actors and theatre artists on more than one level has made the Idiopathic Ridiculopathy Consortium (IRC) not only a successful young theatre company, but you also have nurtured many theatre artists. Thanks. Allison Rickert would have loved your IRC productions, no doubt.

  5. Thank you Henrik for inviting me through FB to read this article.It a nice tribute for this talented young woman, with a lot of potential, who left Earth so prematurely. Article is beautifully written and very touching.

  6. Andrew, thanks for your kind comment. I’m glad the article touched you. The more articles like this one can raise awareness about the plight of young people who pass away before their time, the better. I will alert Allison’s mother to the growing number of comments on this page so that she can see her daughter reflected through the eyes of different readers.

  7. From Allison’s Mom, Kay: Thank you to Henrik for writing the article about my sweet Allison, and thank you to all of you who have commented. She was a lovely young woman, filled with enormous potential, and we miss her spirit every day.

    1. Nan, what a kind comment. Allison Rickert would have become a great writer. In addition to her literary merits, her sensitivity to the suffering of kids and young people, especially girls and young women, could have strengthened many readers. Thank you and everyone else for showing your support.

      I have a sense that we may have more than one Allison Rickert in our midst, often without realizing how strong, how talented they are, even though they themselves may suffer quietly. That’s why the literary world and the theatre offer wonderful forms of expression and finding new friends and fellow travelers through life.

      Kind regards,
      Henrik

  8. T. S. Eliot is one of my favorites from a technical standpoint. I suspect in time Allison Rickert could have met his talent and added even more feeling. Such a loss…

Leave a Reply to Tina Brock Cancel reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.