S4-EP20: Hilma Wolitzer, 92, on Writing Through Grief and Turning Domestic Life Into Art

Jul 1, 2022


Debbie talks with an extraordinary writer, 92-year-old Hilma Wolitzer.



Debbie talks to writer and novelist Hilma Wolitzer

She recently published, at 92, a new book of short stories titled “Today a Woman Went Mad in the Supermarket.” So yes, this is someone who is “making the most of growing older.”

Hilma’s stories of sharply observed domestic life were published in the Saturday Evening Post and Esquire in the 1960s and 1970s. She has taught writing at the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference, the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, NYU, and Columbia. She’s also the author of nine novels and the recipient of national awards and fellowships.

Her husband of almost 70 years died of COVID in the first months of the pandemic. It was as if he vanished, she told Debbie.

She and Morty both got Covid in April of 2020. They were taken to separate hospitals in New York City.

She never got to say good-bye.

He died two days before she was released from the hospital and went home to her apartment.

As she tells Debbie on the podcast:

“There were his slippers next to the bed. There was a pair of his drugstore eyeglasses. He seemed to have vanished and that was the sense I tried to depict in (the final) story (of her new book). Disappearance rather than dying.” 

She was encouraged by her daughters, New York Times bestselling novelist Meg Wolitzer and artist Nancy Wolitzer, to write through her grief and to turn her COVID experience into a short story. 

She titled the new story, “The Great Escape.” It is as diamond sharp and perfect – and funny – as her earlier writing. There’s even sex. 

Hilma tells it all in this conversation:

  • What her writing process is
  • Why she writes about ordinary domestic life
  • Why and how she wrote through grief
  • What it was like, over 50 years ago, to be a woman and a writer and not be taken seriously


Mentioned in this episode or useful:


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Thanks to our media partners

Encore.org, our newest media partner, is an ideas and innovation hub tapping the talent of those 50+ as a force for good. Founder and CEO Marc Freedman is an award-winning social entrepreneur and author, most recently, of How to Live Forever: The Enduring Power of Connecting the Generations. Looking for a great gap-year transition program? Check out Encore Fellowships, which match skilled, seasoned professionals with social-sector organizations in high-impact, paid assignments.


Modern Elder Academy is a program dedicated to navigating mid-life transitions. MEA, based in Baja California, Mexico, provides the place and the tools to start reframing your lifetime of experience. Grow whole, not old. Founder Chip Conley is a New York Times bestselling author, award-winning hospitality entrepreneur and a rock star of the mid-life transition movement. His newest book is Wisdom @ Work: the Making of a Modern Elder.


Next For Me is an important new resource for the 50+ crowd focused on rewriting life. Taking a gap year or timeout may be the best way to figure out "what's next" when you're in this stage of life. Founder Jeff Tidwell explains, Next For Me "connects and inspires our generation to evolve our post-50 lives through new work, a new purpose, or a new social contribution."