Nora Ephron

Presented by Della Mae Wood to the Calgary Women’s Literary Club
October 9, 2018

Nora Ephron will probably be remembered for her talents as a scriptwriter. Her cinematic work was remarkable. Romantic comedies such as You’ve Got Mail and Julie and Julia sparkle with her wit and warm, empathetic humor. The films When Harry Met Sally, Silkwoodand Sleepless in Seattlewhich she also directed, won her Academy Award nominations for Best Original Screenplay.

But long before her first screen credit, she was one of the leading voices in journalism: a tough reporter, an astute essayist and a feminist with a funny bone. “I just like funny,” she wrote. “If it’s funny it can come from anywhere and do anything it wants.” She also wrote deliciously about food. In fact, recipes find their way into her novel, Heartburn, a thinly disguised chronicle of her marital breakup with Watergate reporter, Carl Bernstein.

She started her career as an articulate witness of the passing scene, working first for Newsweek magazine and then the New York Post, before becoming a full-time freelancer. She wrote for Esquire and New Yorker magazines. Her columns for these publications went under the same name: simply “Women“.

One of her essays for Esquire catapulted her to national attention. “A Few Words About Breasts” brought Nora immediate fame and, in some quarters, infamy. It was shocking for the time, but very, very funny. After that, as one reviewer noted, “At 32 Nora Ephron is everywhere, and it didn’t take her long to get there.”

She chronicled what it was like being a woman in almost every stage of life in essays laced with humour, often self-deprecating. Her books I Feel Bad About My Neck and I Remember Nothing are wickedly funny with laugh-out-loud moments. While she sometimes quarrelled and quibbled about the feminist movement, she supported it fully. Her life was one of full-throated feminism. She loved being a woman.

In 2005, Nora was diagnosed with a malignant form of leukemia. Her doctors pronounced her condition terminal. She wanted few to know. She continued to write with great commitment and commensurate determination, as if to fling words into the face of the disease.

A couple of years before her death she and her publisher, Robert Gottlieb, began to put together a table of contents for The Most of Nora Ephrona collection of her writings. Though he was aware of her dire medical situation, the original impulse behind this new book was not to memorialize, but to celebrate the richness of her work, the amazing arc of her career. Mr. Gottlieb said of this: “My immediate reward was having a professional excuse to reread everything she ever wrote. No other editorial job I’ve ever performed has been so much fun.”

Nora Ephron died June 26, 2012, at the age of seventy-one. She was survived by her husband of twenty years, Nick Pileggi, her sons, Jacob and Max Bernstein, her sisters, Delia, Hallie and Amy, and six books of essays, two dramatic plays, one novel and thirteen screenplays. She always wanted to write as well as Dorothy Parker. Critics say Nora was funnier.