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David Leavitt Discusses Crossword Puzzles and Grief on PBS NewsHour

Creative Writing professor and author shares what drives him to complete the New York Times crossword every day

David Leavitt, Professor of English and Co-Director of the University of Florida’s Creative Writing program, was featured recently on PBS NewsHour where he discussed the personal meaning behind the New York Times crossword.

David Leavitt must finish the New York Times crossword.

“I can’t say that this is always or even usually a pleasure, because it isn’t. Yet the need — one might even call it the compulsion — to get the crossword out of the way never abates,” Leavitt said. “Even on Election Day, I did the crossword. Even when I was in the hospital recovering from an emergency appendectomy, I did the crossword.”

Leavitt, a Creative Writing professor at UF and author, was featured on PBS NewsHour recently as a part of their “In My Humble Opinion” series, sharing what compels him to finish the crossword.

Speaking in the Keene Faculty Center, Leavitt explained how memories of his mother filling out the crossword laid the groundwork for this ritual.

“Where the Times crossword was concerned, she was both an aficionado and an intellectual athlete,” Leavitt said. “For example, she could do the crossword in pen. She rarely had to erase anything and, on occasion, without looking at the down clues.”

Leavitt’s mother passed away suddenly in 1985, and when he returned from the hospital, he found her half-finished crossword puzzle. “I finished it for her,” he said.

The crossword became an avenue for Leavitt to address his grief, one which has taken on a new meaning over the past year.

“Indeed, especially since the pandemic started, I have found myself wondering — and I say this with full cognizance that you may regard it as wishful thinking — if she might not have left behind the half-finished crossword on purpose, as if to say, no, you will never solve the mystery of grief. Don’t even try. Instead, solve this. Solve this,” Leavitt said.

To learn more about Leavitt — including his latest novel, Shelter in Place — click here.