Event: Olsson’s Celebration of Marjorie Williams
Where: Olsson’s Books and Records, Dupont Circle
Nearly two years after her death from liver cancer, Marjorie Williams’ place in Washington journalism hasn’t been filled. It won’t be.
At a reading on Tuesday night hosted by her husband Tim Noah, a writer for Slate who compiled his wife’s work after her death into the book The Woman at the Washington Zoo, it was easy to see why.
From her piercing yet utterly human political profiles such as the one of Barbara Bush published in Vanity Fair in 1992 to the personal essays from the op-ed page of the Post such as “Entomophobia” in which she grappled with motherhood and mortality, Williams was that rare writer who with a reporter’s curiosity, a psychologist's analysis, a mother’s mix of expectation and empathy, and a novelist’s flare pushed open the big closed doors of her city—our city—and the deepest doors of herself, and let us inside.
For this reason she was feared by the powerful, whose political pomp and polish she pierced through in piece after piece. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, former lieutenant governor of Maryland who enthusiastically read the Bush profile Tuesday night, said, “I often told Marjorie that I was glad we were friends because that meant she couldn’t write about me.”
But she was also loved by the people, who read and re-read her Post columns.
The writing that she left behind continues to be a guidebook to Washington in the 1990s, and the memoir, “Struck by Lightning,” which her colleague at the Post Liz Kastor read from Tuesday, should be, perhaps more so than any other medical account, required reading for doctors about how to and how not to treat patients.
Two years later, without her words, Washington feels too weighty, stagnant, closed. Tuesday night at Olsson’s, for an hour and a half, the door once again cracked open.