Though Marina Keegan ’12 drew from her own experiences when writing “The Independents,” a play about aimless 20-somethings seeking an escape from adulthood, her friends said she had already embarked on a career in writing when a car accident took her life last May. She would have been 23 last Thursday.
Her friends commemorated her birthday by collaborating on a tribute to her writing, which had earned her a position on the editorial staff of The New Yorker upon graduation. At the encouragement of Keegan’s parents, a group of about 90 recent alumni and professors selected quotations from Keegan’s writings, printed them and took photos of her words in places they found meaningful. Organizers said friends will share the photos on a website, which may become open to the public.
Both Anne Fadiman, a Yale English professor who taught Keegan during her junior year, and Vivian Yee ’12, a former editor for the News, chose an excerpt from her list of “personal writing pitfalls,” which she compiled for Fadiman’s class. “THERE CAN ALWAYS BE A BETTER THING!” it reads.
To Yee, the phrase stood out not simply as another “pretty sentence,” but rather a glimmer of “essential truth” that extended beyond elements of writing.
Fadiman said the quote illustrated Keegan’s desire to “make each piece better than the last, make each sentence better than it was a moment ago.” She could have imagined reading Keegan’s work in The New Yorker as an “old woman” and she still would have been striving to improve her writing.
“She would never stop revising, never stop being ambitious, never be satisfied,” Fadiman said. “She had an earnest desire to save the world.”
Keegan’s friends said she had hoped her words would enact change beyond Yale, as she wrote about topics ranging from saving the whales to students entering careers in finance.
Lauren Motzkin ’12, a former editor for the News, posted her quotation at a congested bus stop in New York City where passerby might pause to reflect on her words.
But Keegan’s writing resonates most poignantly among those who were close to her. José Gabriel Barcia Durán ’12, a former editor for the News who edited Keegan’s work for the WEEKEND section, said he chose an excerpt from one of her op-eds that spoke to the way in which Keegan was inspired by her friend.
“I’m writing about you. LOOK at me, I’m writing about you. You must know by now,” the excerpt read.
Barcia Duran said Keegan “really loved her friends” and would have appreciated the way in which they have immortalized” her writing through the commemorative project.
“Marina’s work will have a long life, and I only wish she could have,” Fadiman said.