After her mother died, poet Victoria Chang refused to write elegies. Rather, she distilled her grief during a feverish two weeks by writing scores of poetic obituaries for all she lost in the world. In Obit, longlisted for the 2020 National Book Award in Poetry, Chang writes of “the way memory gets up after someone has died and starts walking.” These poems reinvent the form of newspaper obituary to both name what has died (“civility,” “language,” “the future,” “Mother’s blue dress”) and the cultural impact of death on the living. Whereas elegy attempts to immortalize the dead, an obituary expresses loss, and the love for the dead becomes a conduit for self-expression. In this unflinching and lyrical book, Chang meets her grief and creates a powerful testament for the living.

ISBN: 9781556595745

Format: Paperback

Listen to Victoria Chang read “The Doctors” from Obit:

About the Author

Victoria Chang’s books include OBIT, Barbie Chang, The Boss, Salvinia Molesta, and Circle. Her children’s picture book, Is Mommy?, was illustrated by Marla Frazee and published by Beach Lane Books/Simon & Schuster. It was named a New York Times Notable Book. Her middle grade novel, Love Love will be published by Sterling Publishing in 2020. She has received a Guggenheim Fellowship, a Sustainable Arts Foundation Award, the Poetry Society of America’s Alice Fay Di Castagnola Award, a Pushcart Prize, and …

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“At first one might think: What a gimmick, to force each poem into the narrow column of a newspaper obit! How can these compressed language gobbets be called poems, anyway? And yet after the requisite announcements (name of the deceased, time, cause of death), each obit plunges to the source of its bereavement, skewering as it darkens, until I’m let speechless, bereft, in Keats’ ‘vale of soul-making.’”—Rita Dove, Anisfield-Wolf Award juror

Obit’s conceptual brilliance is wired with intensity and intimacy. Chang writes about deep personal grief in a way that feels expansive and inviting, never sacrificing intelligence and heart… Somehow haunting and ecstatic, Obit is shaped by the skills of a remarkable poet.”—PEN/Voelcker Award Judges’ Citation

“[Chang’s] present-­tense obits hurtle forward with an improvisatory, no-­takebacks velocity, never squandering an opportunity to phrase everything just right…”—The Yale Review

“In Chang’s telling, grief shoots off in all directions, killing off dozens of other things: appetite, blame, the deceased’s old clothes. Chang sets out to catalogue them all, and does so with rangy metaphysical imagination and terse precision.” —Times Literary Supplement

“Chang’s new collection explores her father’s illness and her mother’s death, treating mortality as a constantly shifting enigma. A serene acceptance of grief emerges from these poems.” —The New York Times, “100 Notable Books of 2020”

“In [Obit], mortality is not a before and after state, but rather a constantly shifting enigma…” —The New York Times Book Review

“Exceptional… Chang’s poems expand and contract to create surprising geometries of language, vividly capturing the grief they explore.” —Publishers Weekly, starred review

“Chang’s sharp crystallizations of the pain and disorientation of death, and the way it reverberates through life, bring us to the raw heart of grief without the overblown language of classical elegy. These are poems that reproduce the logic and feeling of loss—a gift for anyone who has struggled to find words to express grief.” —NPR

“Chang has created a unique poetic construct… The feeling of hope is a theme throughout this solid collection, in variations Chang evokes with grace: ‘Hope / is the wildest bird, the one that flies / so fast it will either disappear or burst / into flames.’ Chang’s poetry fine tunes that conflagration with acuity.” —Booklist

“Anchored in bereavement, Chang’s ‘obituaries’ are also buoyed by humor. These poems observe how parts of us die when relationships change, and are a gift to us in this year of collective grief.” —The Boston Globe

“I mentioned that sometimes a poet will create a form just for a collection. In this case, Chang shaped her poems to look like newspaper obituaries. Strangely and fittingly enough, they also have the shapes of headstones. I say fitting because this collection is about grief. It’s heartbreaking and beautiful.” —Book Riot

“[Obit] marshals all the resources of poetry against the relentless emotional cascade that’s associated with death—and, very much to its credit, and as a testament to its success, the book has arrived at a kind of momentary stalemate against that cascade.”—Rick Barot

“Chang is consistently a poet who resurrects mediums, her work living within surprising spaces and forms, and both exposing and surpassing the possibilities for those structures… Chang has the rare poetic talent to follow the edges of dark comedy to find sentiment rather than irony.” —The Millions 

“Here we have unmitigated heartbreak—but heartbreak mercifully free of the usual ‘death etiquette’: platitudes of ‘after-lives’ or ‘better offs.’ Thus, Victoria Chang has created something powerful and unconventional. These poems are zinger curveballs, and often come from the graveyard’s left field.” —Los Angeles Review of Books

“These obits are fearless. They are also specific and intimate… The emotional power of Chang’s Obits comes from the grace and honesty with which she turns this familiar form inside out to show us the private side of family, the knotting together of generations, the bewilderment of grief.” —Ploughshares

“In this sea of losses, we find meditations on death, and love, and forgiveness—the normal fixings of elegy. But we also find resentment. We find fear, and irritation, and uncertainty. We find poems which speak to a more full experience of death—poems which don’t shy away from the flaws of the dead, the inconvenience and expense of dying.” —Drizzle Review

“In fluid prose that unravels her days, Chang pens small obits announcing the death of Language, Empathy, Logic, America, Memory, Optimism, Guilt, The Future, Oxygen, etc.—everything that fractures and breaks off in grief, yet remains significant.” —The Rumpus

“A sublime tribute to her mother who died and to grief itself. How does one deal with loss while trying to maintain some grace? Her delving into grief allowed me to dive deeper into mine.”—Rabih Alameddine, Lit Hub

“Grief comes in many forms. For Victoria Chang, it’s grieving the death of her mother, the loss of her father’s speech after a stroke, and the person she used to be before these events happened. Obit is grief strung into words. A deeply emotional and personal collection of poetry with the universal theme of grieving.” —Voice of London

“Victoria Chang’s lyrical study of grief, Obit, makes way for a sustained yet startling and exquisite personal history… [T]hough this moving and brilliant book deals resoundingly with death, Chang successfully injects humor, joy, and hope when and where they’re needed the most.” —Open Books: A Poetry Emporium

Obit’s elegies show us how grief radiates from a central loss inwardly toward self-examination, and outwardly toward collective grief. The various losses Chang describes are not hierarchical but radical, meaning they eschew easy connections and challenge paradigmatic notions of ‘form,’ ‘reason,’ and ‘memory,’ for example, in order to communicate feeling.” —Ploughshares

“As a lyrical case study of a person coming to accept the hard terms of such love, Obit offers both instruction and solace.” —Porter House Review

“Overall, readers who have lost parents to illness or death, have looked back on aspects of their lives to find them not what they seemed to be, will find their emotions here distilled in heartbreaking and quiet intensities.” —International Examiner 

Obit cracks open the silence around death and grief at a time when we all need it most.” —1508 at The University of Arizona Poetry Center

“Each poem is a masterwork of compression and compassion.” —Kenyon Review

Obit reckons with death by swimming inside it… grief is tended to and given space.” —The Rumpus

“A long elegy for the poet’s mother, Obit is the kind of poetry collection that creates a new genre. A reinvention of form? A symphony? A manifesto? All of the above and then some. It is heartbreaking and enthralling. It sings and instructs. It is a world all its own; one that changes ours.” —Ilya Kaminsky, The Week

“I still have yet to capture the full breadth of Obit. I suspect that this is the closest I will come: this book contains ninety-six poems about grief and loss, and every one of them is good. Every single one of them.” —The Rupture

Obit is intensely personal. It’s also somehow universal. Reading Chang’s grief on the page reflects the reader’s grief back at them. In this way, there’s comfort in sitting with another’s grief. It’s an unexpectedly healing collection.” —Book Riot

“What book could more accurately capture this year of grief than Victoria Chang’s Obit? Chang reimagines the form of the newspaper obituary to express the way grief requires that we surrender everything to its erasures. One by one, the familiar things of the world vanish, and Chang writes their obits in prose poems of merciless beauty. Grieving, we die many times, an endless series of small deaths that sweep the world clean of everything that once seemed so solid.” —Kenyon Review

“Let’s just say I was expecting it to be good, by my lord, it’s so much more… [Chang] looks at grief both directly and awry, allowing us to process our own. The collection is innovative in form (newspaper obits), structure, and style. I loved it.” —Rabih Alameddine, Lit Hub

“[Chang’s] exploration of the accumulative bereavements are especially memorable for how she renders the inexpressible—the unutterable sounds of mourning—into language that marks the reader.” —Chicago Review of Books

“The language of Chang’s obituaries goes beyond noticing that someone has passed to considering all of the ramifications that accompany death and all of the things that a person leaving this earth abandons to the living.”—Green Mountain Review

“One of the best books on grief for adults… Obit is good company when one needs to look at pain straight in the face… This book is a beautiful poetry collection about everything that departs when a loved one is gone. The poems name the void left behind, and it is a void full of questions, wonder, and appreciation for what might have been, for what will not be, and what was.”—Book Riot

Obit is heartbreaking, thought-provoking, completely absent of platitudes, and stubbornly hopeful in a way that will resonate with readers now.”—Maggie Smith, Oprah Daily

Obit (2020) won the Los Angeles Times Poetry Book Prize and the PEN Voelcker Award. The collection is a series of obituaries written in response to her mother’s death and her father’s illness. Through these obituaries, Chang mourns the many, varied things she has lost and explores the experience of loss itself.” —Book Riot

“In this book, Chang talks about how memory starts having a life of its own after a loved one dies. It takes us into the world of newspaper obituaries, reinvents it, and brings out the sociocultural impact of the dead on the living. How do you deal with the void created by the deaths of those who have completed our lives in the past? How do you keep existing and rebuild yourself from scratch when life feels like nothing but a series of losses?” —Book Riot

“A remarkable book for anyone dealing with grief (as we all are during the pandemic). Obit is as interested in consolation and acceptance as it is in the fearsome expression of the unbearable aspects of grief.” —Bookworm

As featured in:

The New York Times Book Review

The New York Times “10 Books to Read This Week”

The New York Times, “100 Notable Books of 2020”

Buzzfeed, “These Are Our Most Anticipated Books of 2020″

Vanity Fair, “Why Poetry is Having A Moment Amid the Global Quarantine”

Bill Moyers, A Poet A Day

Book Riot, “The Best Books of 2020”

Publishers Weekly, “Best Books of 2020”

Time, “100 Must-Read Books of 2020”

Book Riot, “43 of the Best Books to Give as Gifts”

NPR’s Favorite Books of 2020

Kenyon Review, “2020 Holiday Reading Recommendations”

The Boston Globe, “The Best Books of 2020”

Oprah Daily, “Pulitzer Prize-Winning Poet Rita Dove on Why Poetry Is More ‘Urgent’ Than Ever”


Longlist, National Book Award in Poetry, 2020

Finalist, National Book Critics Circle Award in Poetry, 2020

L.A. Times Book Prize, 2021

Anisfield-Wolf Award in Poetry, 2021

PEN/Voelcker Award for Poetry, 2021

Shortlist, International Griffin Poetry Prize, 2021

Finalist, Firecracker Award in Poetry, 2021