In her new “Bohemian Rhapsody” column for Baltimore Fishbowl, set to launch tomorrow morning, Marion Winik continues the low-boundaries yet eerily relatable approach to storytelling that made her a popular commentator on “All Things Considered” for 15 years. Today a once-widowed, once-divorced, fifty-something single mother, Winik has been writing about growing up, parenting, relationships and various social and cultural matters since the early 80s. Her hope in her Baltimore Fishbowl column is to continue to make people feel better about themselves by revealing her stupid decisions, pushover attitude and amazing powers of rationalization. To be a boon to the self-esteem of her peers: This is why she writes.
Asbury Park, New Jersey native Winik started out as a poet (nonstop, 1981, BoyCrazy, 1986, both out-of-print but online at marionwinik.com.) In 1987, she began writing essays for a Texas alternative weekly, The Austin Chronicle, and through a series of lucky breaks, ended up on NPR. As a result, magazines like Redbook, Harpers Bazaar, Cosmo, and Men’s Journal began to publish her work and her first collection of essays, Telling, came out from Random House in 1994.
When her first husband Tony — a gay bartender/ice skater she met at Mardi Gras — died of AIDS in 1994, she was left with two young sons. Her memoir First Comes Love (1996) tells the story of their marriage and wrestles with issues like sexual preference, IV drug abuse, terminal illness, assisted suicide and whether there’s really anything good about Disney World. It was a New York Times Notable Book and has been in development as a feature film for many years now. All kinds of fancy people have been involved (Henry Winkler, Ally Sheedy, Kathy Bates, even Pink), but nothing much has ever happened.
Her next book, The Lunch-Box Chronicles: Notes from the Parenting Underground (1998) revealed the surprising bearability of her life as the widowed single mom of two little boys. It was selected by Child Magazine as a parenting book of the year and was made into a pilot for a TV series by CBS/Universal. Monica Potter played Winik, and parts were invented for Steve Carrell, Andy Richter, and a sheepdog. As you might expect, the sheepdog was the kiss of death and the pilot was filmed but never aired.
In 1999, she left Austin for a second marriage in Pennsylvania. By this time she was teaching writing — today she is a prof in the MFA program at the University of Baltimore — and working for O, More, Ladies’ Home Journal, Real Simple and The New York Times Magazine. After a talk at her old high school in New Jersey, she wrote an advice book called Rules for the Unruly: Living an Unconventional Life (2001), since adapted into a greeting card and refrigerator magnet — the real moneymakers, as she will readily tell you. The magnet was followed by Above Us Only Sky in 2005 and The Glen Rock Book of the Dead in 2007.
But what impresses people most of all, usually, is that Marion Winik was on “Oprah.” Yeah, well, it wasn’t awesome as you think. Story for another time. These days she is working on a new book, Love in the Time of Baltimore, from which chapters (“The Boomer and the Boomerang,” “Desperate Housewives of Roland Park“) will be featured from time to time in “Bohemian Rhapsody.”
To learn more about Marion Winik, go to marionwinik.com.