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I received a notice a few days ago from a scholarly organization, informing me that Mike Rose had died. Mike was a beloved teacher, scholar, and author. He had keen empathy for working people. He taught at UCLA. I met him a decade ago, and we became friends. You may have met him through such books as Lives on the Boundary, or Why School?, or Possible Lives.
Other people knew Mike far better than I, and I invite you to read what they wrote about him.
His literary agent, Anna Sproul-Latimer, who worked with Mike on his latest book, wrote a deeply personal article about him.
She wrote, as part of a longer piece:
Five days ago, just hours before what was probably going to be the last of our four editor meetings, my beloved client Mike Rose dropped dead. He woke up at dawn, sent me a quick email, walked into his kitchen, and—bam, there went the cartoon anvil of fate. Spontaneous cerebral hemorrhage. He was 77.
Mike didn’t die right away. Or maybe he did? Depends on how you define it. When the cops broke down Mike’s door Friday morning, twenty-four-plus hours after he went down, he was still breathing, but most of him had already left. In the bloodbath of his brain, only the brainstem remained functional. It kept chugging away, obliging, with the breathing and the circulating, until Sunday night…
Dramatic irony: I knew something was wrong the instant Mike missed our Thursday afternoon editorial call. He was the most neurotic man I have ever met. He would never ever ever.
For some reason, though, I didn’t take the thought seriously. I told myself he probably just got confused by technical difficulties. That he was out of pocket. That he’d call later.
“Or maybe he’s DEAD!” The idea floated around like a diaphanous scarf, something designed for a witchy Instagram aesthetic and little else. I ran its weightless silk through my fingers. I emailed it to him, as a tease. “I’m beginning to worry you’re dead!”
When I woke up Friday morning, the scarf was strangling me…
I loved Mike Rose so, so much, even though he also might have been the single most aggravating client I’ve ever had. There was no way in hell any commission I’d ever receive on his book would financially justify the time demands of our relationship, let alone the exhaustion.
I stayed in the relationship anyway. Happily. It brought me so much joy.
Never in the depths of orgiastic moroseness could Charles Schulz have imagined a neurotic ruminator more determined to wrest disappointment from his every success than Mike Rose. Neither for all the wonder in Schulz’s childlike soul could he have dreamed up a character more warm, tender, careful, open-minded, sincere, brilliant, tenacious, and faithful.
You should read Mike Rose.
Read the last two entries on his blog. The last is called “The Desk,” and it’s the story of a magical desk he owned as a child that allowed him to imagine other worlds. Sproul-Latimer described it this: “It is a tender, quiet, devastating personal essay about growing up in squalor in South Central Los Angeles. He describes a childhood at once desperately lonely and overcrowded to the point of suffocation.”
Fred Klonsky blogged about the deaths of both Mike Rose and Bob Moses in recent weeks. Mike Rose’s next to last blog post was about Bob Moses, written last May, before Moses’ death.
When I was 34 and decided I wanted to teach I was introduced to a world of brilliant thinkers who were entirely new to me. Few were more brilliant than Mike Rose. Mike Rose touched me in a way few others did. His class roots. His understanding of students whose courageous struggle to learn got them labeled in the worst way. His respect for work and labor as an intellectual enterprise. His book, Lives on the Boundary, still has an honored spot in my collection.
Mike Rose had a unique voice. He was not in the thick of policy battles. He worked on a different level, seeking to understand people and their lives.