Remember that time we went to a fundraiser for the Nashville Food Project and you bid on a KitchenAid mixer that you thought I needed and you ended up winning—and I paid for?
Probably not. But I know you remember the speaker that evening, and how astonishing she was, and how she mesmerized a stacked room of people with the power of her words and simple, unadorned message: feed the hungry and we feed everybody.
Tallu Schuyler Quinn was a masterful communicator—an unearthly combination of love, strength, urgency, and joy. She founded a nonprofit that tapped into a city’s need to feed the hungry, for food justice, for education for young people, and for volunteers who wanted to help.
I admired her completely. Loved her. Everybody did. I would say she was incredible except that she was the opposite: she was credible. She had work to do, and she did it, fast and well. And she did it with humor and frankness and a pure view of her mission.
So, two years ago, when news spread that she had contracted brain cancer at the age of 40, Tallu reacted with the characteristic generosity that marked everything she did. She started writing to us all, in what is surely the most exquisite Caring Bridge journal anybody ever wrote. Her posts gave us all such a window into her life, her family, her deepest thoughts, and intimate feelings.
Tallu died two months ago, at the age of 42.
Here’s the thing to celebrate, even as we’re all grieving the loss of this gigantic sunbeam. While under treatment, she was given a publishing contract to turn her writings into a book of essays. This week marks the publication of What We Wish Were True: Reflections on Nurturing Life and Facing Death from Penguin Random House.
I’m listening to the audiobook right now. Tallu herself reads the Author’s Note, beautiful and heartbreaking. The narrator for the essays, Allyson Ryan, catches the cadence of Tallu’s inimitable voice. I’m letting it all wash over me as I knit. Tallu makes me treasure life all over again.
Tallu’s degree was in bookbinding and papermaking, and she had a Masters in Divinity from Columbia University. She was a knitter, too. All this comes to bear in these essays.
Tallu was a fine baker, and she wanted everybody to have bread at her memorial service. Hundreds of loaves, large and small, baked by dozens of people, appeared. There was bread for all.