In Memory: Mark Karlins


By Stephani Martinell Eaton

Mark Karlins, author and poet, died Jan. 1, 2022. He was 74.

He was born Sept. 19, 1947. He was originally from New York City, and many of his picture books are set there. In a Children’s Book Review interview with Luisa LaFleur he said, “To see the Brooklyn or Manhattan Bridge stretching across the water fills one with longing . . . I easily return to New York in my stories.”

He graduated from Bard College in New York.

Mark authored six picture books for children. They include Starring Lorenzo –And Einstein Too, illustrated by Sandy Nichols (Dial, 2009), Music Over Manhattan, illustrated by Jack E. Davis (Doubleday, 1998), and Salmon Moon, illustrated by Hans Poppel (Simon and Schuster, 1993). Mendel’s Ladder, illustrated by Elaine Greenstein (Simon and Schuster, 1995), was a Smithsonian Notable Book that year.

His most recent book for children is Kiyoshi’s Walk, illustrated by Nicole Wong (Lee & Low, March 2021). Editor Cheryl B. Klein chronicled the purchase of Mark’s manuscript on Twitter saying, “That poetry comes from the way the world within us meets the world outside us. The story was simply but richly written, with images that would translate beautifully into illustrations, and in Emily Dickinson’s terms, it DECAPITATED me.”

Marks’s books are known for their lyricism and humor while exuding heart and wisdom. A tribute from his friend and fellow-writer, Uma Krishnaswami: “When I first met Mark I realized at once why I had loved his picture books—Starring Lorenzo and Einstein Too, Salmon Moon, Music Over Manhattan. He radiated the gentle whimsy and the deep respect for children that made those books so endearing. Over the years, Mark became a VCFA workshop co-leader, colleague, and friend. When he and Mary Lee moved to New Mexico, I was thrilled to have him join the writing group I’ve been part of for over twenty years now. Mark sometimes signed off emails with the line, ‘Writing for change.’ I asked him once, after laughing at the sly pun, ‘Seriously, what do you hope to change?’ He thought for a minute, then said, ‘I suppose myself, mostly.’ He’d delve into revision with abandon. That’s what he did with Kiyoshi’s Walk:

“He’d send pictures of his young grandson, regale us with the latest baby and toddler antics. He loved to offer up surprising, obscure literary trivia. I miss him, but I’m so grateful to have walked the writing trail for a while, in his company.”

Mark was known as a devoted writing teacher. During his career, he taught at Vermont College of Fine Arts for their Writing for Children and Young Adults MFA program. He also taught at Smith College, MIT, Tufts, and the School of the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston. In addition, he offered many courses for adults as well as workshops for elementary and middle school students.

One of his VCFA students, Marianne Murphy, remembered his joy and encouragement, “Mark was such a wise, supportive, wonderful advisor. I’m lucky to have so many memories from our six months working together, but one memory that stands out was at our residency’s superhero-themed dance. He’d made an amazing superhero cape out of his dormitory pillowcase. He handed me a foam sword and asked me to knight my fellow students. It was such a joyful icebreaker! He helped me find the moments of joy and peace in my writing, and in the world. I will really, really miss him.”

Mark with Kekla Magoon and their VCFA workshop students. Courtesy of Suma Subramaniam.

Mark considered the hallmark of his work to be his belief “in the potential of all children to go beyond themselves.” Indeed, in a Cynsations guest post with illustrator Nicole Wong about Kiyoshi’s Walk he said, “I feel that the act of attention or mindfulness is central to the book and to Kiyoshi’s experience. Kiyoshi is not only learning about the process of writing a poem, but is also learning to become mindful and to see a deeper connection between himself and the world around him.”

LaFleur asked if given the opportunity what author would he chat with and what would he ask, Mark mused about chats he might have with Shakespeare at his time of writing King Lear or Hamlet, what meeting with Chaucer in an English tavern might be like, but ultimately settled on chatting with Homer, “We would sit by the coast at night, a fire burning, the stars above us, and . . .  I would ask him about . . . the desire to explore and take to the sea and distant lands and the desire to journey home . . . We would walk along the rocky shore and talk about Penelope’s loom.”

Cynsational Notes

Stephani Martinell Eaton holds an MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults from Vermont College of Fine Arts where she won the Candlewick Picture Book Award and the Marion Dane Bauer Award for middle grade fiction. She is represented by Lori Steel at Raven Quill Literary Agency. Connect with her at