Even in death, Brooke Goffstein’s words and stories will live on.
At a Connecticut hospice facility, the St. Paul native, longtime artist and author of some 30 books kept writing and telling stories until she died Dec. 20 — her 77th birthday.
Her husband, David Allender, is putting her words together one final time, calling it “Brooke’s Last Words.” He plans to distribute 77 copies — one for each year she lived — at a Jan. 21 memorial service.
“She was a pioneer in many ways ... and committed to art,” said Allender, of Bedford Hills, N.Y., who is the editorial director at Scholastic Book Clubs. “Her books will therefore live on.”
Born in St. Paul in 1940, Marilyn Brooke Goffstein was the only daughter of Albert Goffstein, an electronics pioneer and inventor, and Esther Goffstein, a teacher. She loved art and summers on Lake Minnetonka. And by the age of 8, she declared a life goal: She wanted a career.
At St. Paul Central High School, she illustrated for the student newspaper and yearbook. After graduating from Vermont’s Bennington College in 1962, she published her first book. She realized, Allender said, that the only way she could establish herself was if she illustrated and wrote books herself. She went on to illustrate, write and publish about 30 books under the names Brooke Goffstein and M.B. Goffstein, which included mostly children’s books but also some young adult novels and biographies of artists.
“She wanted to show children what was in the world,” said Allender, who met Goffstein in publishing.
The couple lived in New York, but Goffstein often returned to Minnesota to visit and teach at the University of Minnesota’s Split Rock summer program. She also drew on Minnesota memories such as the day her grandmother spent fishing on Lake Minnetonka in “Fish for Supper,” a 1977 Caldecott Honor Book.
“When she knew [Lake Minnetonka] ... you were roughing it a bit, before the mansion era,” Allender said.
Goffstein also taught the art of children’s books at New York’s Parsons School of Design. While she didn’t have children, she was drawn to their hope and love of books, Allender said. Like many writers, she had an insatiable hunger for knowledge and life, and she had little interest in the commercial side of publishing, determined not to make any compromises in her craft.
“She mainly wanted the books to be published to be shared,” said Edite Kroll, who met Goffstein in the 1960s and was her literary agent since 1981. “She just thought her words, the art should speak for itself.”
Kroll said Goffstein, a quirky perfectionist with strong attention to detail, was proud that her books sold in eight languages and were popular in Japan. When she wasn’t writing, Goffstein was reading, painting, walking and thrift shopping.
But her own story was abruptly cut short after she was diagnosed with lung cancer last February. She continued to read and write and, even when she could no longer lift a pen, shared her thoughts with her husband on spirituality, art and high school memories.
Goffstein was buried in St. Paul. She is survived by Allender and her brother Robert Goffstein of Iowa City, Iowa. Services have been held. But a New York memorial will include her plumber and electrician along with poets and scholars — indicative of how she befriended so many.
“That’s just the way Brooke would want it,” Allender said. “She had a beautiful life. Her real self and her spirit was never ill.”
In her obituary, her family asked for one thing: “Create something beautiful for the people around you or buy and read the book of your choice.”